What do Arinto, Baga, Castelão, Alfrocheiro, Rabigato, Códega do Larinho and Esgana Cão (which, rather evocatively, translates as "dog strangler") all have in common? They're all Portuguese grape varieties, which means they are grown in the place that is currently winning my award for most exciting wine country in the world that the U.S. doesn't know enough about.
Wine's been made in Portugal for at least a couple of thousand years. Wine lovers here tend to know about one or two Portuguese categories—the crisp whites of Vinho Verde, sweet port from the Douro Valley, fizzy pink Mateus in its oddly shaped bottle. But there are terrific wines being made up and down the length of this country, white and red, from a plethora of local as well as international grapes. Plus, the quality of the country's winemaking is at an all-time high. Here's a start: Four Portuguese regions worth looking into, with a recommended wine or two for each.
The hot plains of the Alentejo region in southern Portugal (it covers a third of the country) produce both old-school, dry, brambly reds as well as fruitier, full-bodied, more intense versions. They're typically blends of red varieties, often featuring the Aragonês (Tempranillo) grape. The smoky 2010 João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Reserva ($19) is a great example. Whites are less common, but the tropical-fruited 2012 João Portugal Ramos Vila Santa Loios White ($9) is very good, and an excellent deal.