A Primer On Portuguese Table Wines

Great wines from Portugal that aren't port or Madeira

Portuguese wine is having a bit of a moment. With all due respect to the country's famed port and Madeira, these days we're most excited about its reds, whites and rosés.

We're not talking about light, fizzy Vinho Verdes, but rather mineral-driven whites and rich, elegant reds that are perfect for pairing. Portugal is making a slew of these right now, and though the quality has surged in recent years, the price hasn't caught up yet. After buying a bottle or two, you'll have plenty of money left over to finance your Portuguese feast.

Here are four things to know before you buy:

Start with Douro.

Douro, the region that produces the nation's namesake fortified spirit, is also one of its best for still wines, and many port producers are producing fantastic table wines for a steal (like this entry-level red from Ramos Pinto, $12). But the Douro is also home to plenty of producers specializing in unfortified wine. At the helm are the Douro Boys, an organization of five of the region's pioneering wine estates, among them, Quinta do Crasto and Niepoort. If you're looking for quality, pick up a bottle from a Douro Boys producer.

There's plenty to explore in other regions, too, like the full-bodied, citrus-laced whites from Dão and the super-ripe, powerhouse reds from Alentejo. If you're a fan of Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo, look to Bairrada, where wines made from the red Baga grape are a traditional match for suckling pig.

Know (some of) your grapes.

This is where it can get confusing, so don't sweat the small stuff. Portugal is home to hundreds of native grapes, and the majority of the wines are field blends consisting of two, three or four varietals. So though you might be familiar with Touriga Nacional, the country's most famous red grape, don't worry too much if you're new to Alfrocheiro or Jaen. They're there to add balance and nuance.

Impress your wine-geek friend.

Any oenophile will thank you if you show up with a bottle of Colares, one of the rarest wines the country has to offer. The vines, many of them 100 to 150 years old, are planted several meters deep in the sand dunes along the coast near Lisbon. Reds are high in tannins and acidity, while whites are full-bodied and often come with a hint of salinity. There aren't many of these to go around, but if you can track them down, they're still surprisingly easy on your wallet: A bottle of the white 2010 Adega Viuva Gomes Malvasia will set you back $30 for 500 milliliters.

Pair them with food.

High acid wines are ideal for pairing, and Portugal is rich with them. Across the board, these are wines that should be served alongside your meal. Pair whites, like Alvarinho, Arinto and Encruzado, with seafood (think: sardines and bacalhau, or a Portuguese clam boil). Serve a muscular red, like the 2011 Quinta do Vallado Douro, $13, with a gorgeous bone-in rib eye.