Upscale Portuguese Reds 

Put aside the port and try these dry reds

Portugal is rightfully famous for its outstanding dessert wines. Whether you prefer tawny or ruby style ports, those fortified sweet red blends are the perfect close to a sumptuous meal. More than 82 different grape varieties are allowed in port, though about a half-dozen dominate. More recently, Portugal's native grapes have found their way into dry red table wines, and over the past 10 years or so they have cracked the U.S. market. Typically priced less than $10, these wines provide a lot of bang for the buck. This week, though, we decided to explore more upscale Portuguese reds. Here are the panel's top three:

2008 Caves Bonifacio Alicante Bouschet, $12.99

Alicante bouschet is a French hybrid grape that has found a home in Portugal. It opens with lovely floral aromas of rose petal, sweet cherry, strawberry and plum, backed by intriguing notes of kalamata olive. That olive comes through on the palate, coloring the ripe berry flavors. This is an elegantly complex wine with notes of vanilla, leather and mint that linger nicely on the finish.

Jose Maria da Fonseca, Periquita Reserva, $14.99

The predominant grape in this pick is periquita, also known as castelao, and it produces a wine with big, ripe fruit aromas. Luscious cherry liqueur melds beautifully with notes of earthy strawberry, currant, coffee, tobacco and cinnamon. Sweet plum and blackberry flavors lead off in this fruit-forward, well-balanced wine with a velvety finish.

2009 Monte Cascas, $15.99

This wine is a more traditional blend of touriga nacional, touriga franca, tinta barroca and sousa. The lively aromas are subdued at first, but build with time in the glass, revealing plum, dusty cherry, raspberry, touches of spice and mineral. Round and ripe in the mouth, the flavors in this wine echo all those fruit aromas with panache. Silky smooth tannins come through on the finish.

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