Value Vino – Great wines for under $15

The unfortified red wines of Portugal are almost totally unknown in San Antonio and difficult to find to boot, which is why I've set out to remedy the situation with a two-part foray into the species. Part I ran in the November 15-21 issue, which can be found online at

JP Vinhos, which produces the Porca de Murça we talked about last week, strikes again with an even less expensive entry-level red, the Santa Fe de Arraiolas, a product of the Alentejo on Portugal's eastern border with Spain. A zingy, "hot" nose gets your attention and keeps it with spicy rhubarb flavors followed by a modest, vinegary note that is not at all out of place. Honest. Especially at just over $5 if my calculations are correct.

Eight and change (for tax) should get you a bottle of Tinto da Anfora from both a region (Setúbal) and winery better-known for a fortified muscatel. We tasted an '01, and suspect that a newer vintage might be fresher; as it was, the mature, cooked fruit still had plenty of lifting power, and the finish was rewardingly long, perhaps due in part to a touch of cabernet in a blend also containing aragonez, the Portuguese term for Spain's tempranillo.

Moving up slightly in price, the '03 Altano from the Douro is mature for its age, a little pruny on the palate and needs a hunk o' flesh to make it really work. There are hints of profundity, but of a fleeting nature.

A princely nine bucks nets a regional wine from Extremadura north of Lisbon, the '02 Quinta de Pancas. This deep plum baby also sports cigar-box and olive notes, smooth tannins and a decently long finish - and I hate to reveal that it's made entirely (or so it seems) from cabernet sauvignon, the franchise grape par excellence. Try it anyway - decanted.

The only franchise that might be suggested by the Dom Martinho, a second label of the Alentejo's Quinta do Carmo, is that of the globe-trotting Rothschild-Lafite folks (the Guggenheim Museum of the wine world), the winery's relatively recent owners. Rode hard and hung out to dry, this fascinating fellow offers funky plum, saddle leather, earth and a lot of complexity - just not a lot of  fruit (apart from perhaps some dried cranberry). Look for a vintage newer than '01; they're out there.

Even older (though not produced every year), was our final bottle, the 2000 Aliança Foral Grande Escolha from the Douro. Tar, tobacco, licorice, and dark fruits just beginning to fade were the standout signifiers of this blend of tinta roriz, touriga nacional, and tinta barroca. It was good with a slab of Cordobes, a Spanish sheep's cheese, the Portuguese equivalent being just as hard (or more) to find than the wines.

Hunt for these modest Portuguese trophies at Central Market, where wine "rock star" Heidi has devoted most of a rack to Portuguese reds and whites. Whole Foods is trying hard as well, and with a little encouragement ... and Saglimbeni Fine Wines also stocks a few.

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