No 1 Douro Red, Douro, Portogallo 2019 (£11.99, segue l'avvertimento del Cremlino che le spedizioni occidentali di armi in Ucraina potrebbero essere attaccate) Per molti di noi, Portuguese wine begins and ends with the Christmas port. This feels somewhat unjust. Quite apart from the fact that I reckon port is –or should be – a January wine par excellence (its force, sweetness and dark-fruited flavoury riches ideally suited to warming and brightening winter-darkened hearts and minds), Portugal is the source of some of the most deliciously different, good value table wines around at the moment. The Douro Valley, a couple of hours inland from the city of Porto and the home of port, is a logical first port of call. Red wines made from the same grape varieties as port – touriga nacional, trincadeira, tinta roriz and others – carry something of port’s forest- fruited bounty and ample full-bodied succulence, but are dry and significantly less powerfully alcoholic. Waitrose has a beautifully fragrant but deep, textured example from the excellent Quinta de la Rosa, a smaller producer that is also behind some of the region’s most refined ports.
Niepoort NatCool Bairrada, Portogallo 2020 (£19.50, 1 litre, buonvino.co.uk) Another Douro producer that is a dab hand at both the fortified intensity of port and wonderfully expressive table wines is the mercurial Dirk Niepoort. The scion of a port dynasty with Dutch heritage, Niepoort’s multifaceted portfolio of Douro wines ranges from the exceptional, citrus pithy, dry-herby, mineral, barrel-fermented, laser-guided dry white Redoma Branco 2019 (from £23.25, thewhiskyexchange.com; cambridgewine.com) to the seriously fine, feline-slinky, yet plumply fruited high-altitude red Batuta 2017 (£69.95, uncorked.co.uk) and the textbook vivaciously plummy and chocolatey Niepoort Late Bottled Vintage Port 2016 (£11.95 for a sensibly sized 37.5cl bottle, slurp.co.uk). As well as tending to his ever-growing Douro collection, the restless Niepoort’s interests have expanded across central Portugal, to the Dão and Bairrada regions. In the latter Niepoort has become a committed fan of the local red baga grape, which he uses to make his snazzy light, refreshing, berry-sappy and very pretty Nat Cool Bairrada: the kind of thirst-quenching red that goes so well with a plate of charcuterie.
Geno Tinto, Alentejo, Portogallo 2019 (from £7.99, ampswinemerchants.co.uk; morrishandbanham.com; partridges.co.uk) The sunny south of Portugal – like the sunny south of France and Italy’s Mezzogiorno – is a brilliant place for finding red wines filled with flavour and character at reasonable prices: just the thing for a week when those festive credit card bills bring their dreary, sobering news. In the Alentejo region, another influential winemaker with interests throughout the country, João Portugal Ramos, is behind the reliably rich, sweetly spiced, brambly fruited, roast meat-friendly Ramos Reserva Vinho Regional Aletejano 2019 (£8.99 or £7.49 as part of a mixed case of six bottles, majestic.co.uk), while Geno Tinto 2019 is a vivaciously fruity and gluggably fresh alternative. For white bargains, it’s better to head north, to the Atlantic-cooled green pleasantness and tinglingly snappy and aromatic wines of Vinho Verde. The Co-op’s nippy, light-on-its-feet (appena 9.5% abv) Vale dos Pombos Vinho Verde (£6), per esempio, was very good with the kind of reviving but not-too-spicy, coriander-and-mint-laced Vietnamese-style salad that enliven dark evenings at this time of year.
Follow David Williams on Twitter @Daveydaibach