Spain and Portugal offer some of today's best wine values
Indigenous Iberia: The sheer volume of grapes grown and wines produced in the Iberian Peninsula helps to greatly lower the price of the region's wine. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
The world over, muscat grapes make hauntingly aromatic sweet wines. But only in Setubal, a coastal area near Lisbon, does it become so multilayered in flavor that it resembles sweets much more dear like older Sauternes. And the price is ridiculously low.
2004 Jose Maria da Fonseca Moscatel de Setubal: Amber-orange color, tasting of raisins and spice; never-ending aftertaste. $11 (375 milliliters)
Spain's great red, one of several stalwarts for blending in Portugal, tempranillo has more nicknames than a weekend wrestling card (among them: cencibel, tinta roriz, aragonez, ull de llebre). Expect beauty in several waves, from first sniff to last whisper of aftertaste.
2009 Alente Red Blend Alentejo Portugal: Sixty percent trincadeira (another solid Portuguese red), 40 percent aragonez; good tannic spine fleshed out with dark fruit flavors. $14
2006 Bodegas Bilbainas Vina Pomal Rioja Tinto Reserva: Elegant, perfumed, hints of leather and vanilla; about three bucks a year. $21
What touriga nacional does is take the perfume and elegance of cabernet sauvignon (dark red fruit diaphanously turned out) and bacon-wraps it in chalky, round-the-mouth tannin to clean up whatever morsel of delish you're biting through. It has long been the backbone to sweet port, but these days it also services even more deliciously as a dry wine.
2008 Prazo de Roriz Douro Portugal: Liquid chocolate-covered dried cherries; soft, even slick, tannin; long finish. $16
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.
Bill St. John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 30 years.