Wine Sipper 

Portuguese Reds

Most wine lovers are familiar with Portugal's fortified dessert wines, but it's only recently that their table wines have attracted attention. A trip to Canada a few years back marked my first real experience with the dry red wines of Portugal. The taxes in British Columbia favor local vineyards, and while I was impressed with their whites, I found most of the reds less satisfying. But when Yellow Tail retails for just under $20 Canadian, you have few alternatives. Enter Portugal reds. I discovered a dozen or more remarkably good wines from the Douro Valley all under $15. This week's tasting confirmed my initial impression. Though the panel had their favorites, all the wines were impressive, from the least expensive (around eight bucks) on up. The top picks from Portugal:

2001 Campo Ardosa, $30

Bernahard Breuer from Germany's Rheingau purchased 20 acres of hillside vineyards in the Douro in 2000. His goal was to make world-class wine from the indigenous grape varieties. This blend of Touriga Francesa, Touriga Roriz (Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barocca spends two years in new French oak, which it carries very well. The aromas are rich and voluptuous, becoming more complex with time in the glass. Ripe plum and blackberry flavors dominate along with pepper, spice and toasty oak. This is a big wine with rich, ripe tannins that will only get better with age.

2004 Dow Vale do Bomfim Douro Riserva, $11.99

This is the first vintage of this dry red from the Symmington Port family, a beautifully balanced blend of Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz and Tinta Barocca, fermented in stainless steel tanks with only six months in two-year-old oak. The result is a fruit-forward charmer with plump plum flavors backed by red berry and cassis. The tannins are smooth and soft and there's a light touch of spicy vanilla on the finish. A definite best buy.

2002 Quinta do Vale Meao, $46

The family owned vineyards were first planted back in 1877 and have been producing for decades what has previously been one of the few notable table wines from the Douro under the Ferreira label. Francisco Olazabal went out on his own in 1998, continuing the tradition for quality with his blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinto Barocca, Touriga Francesa and Tinta Roriz. This is a creamy, rich wine bursting with dark berry flavors and firm, ripe tannins. Dark roasted coffee, herbs and a touch of tar all come together in this age-worthy effort.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op; and Cindy Limber and Kevin Settles, Bardenay.

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