Spain and Portugal share a remarkable landscape that is home to some of the planet's most interesting wine grapes and fascinating wines.
Tempranillo is Spain's premier red grape. The mature, earthy, multifaceted 2009 Hacienda Zorita Abascal Vineyard Reserva ($30) from the Ribera del Duero in north central Spain is a fine example.
In Navarra, near the border with France, Hacienda de Arínzano also produces notable tempranillo-based wines. The 2016 Rosé ($20) is fresh and delightful. The deeply fruited 2012 Tinto ($20) includes cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The 2010 La Casona ($40), with 25 percent merlot, delivers intense fruit and notes of toast, chocolate and tobacco.
Wines from cariñena (carignan in France) and garnacha (grenache in France) offer exceptional value. Taste this quality in the fleshy, blended 2013 Corona de Aragón Special Selection ($16) and the jammy, 100 percent cariñena 2015 Bodegas San Valero "Particular" ($15) from Cariñena the region. Also seek out the fresh and smooth 2014 Las Rocas Garnacha ($14) from neighboring Calatayud.
And as you hunt for winter warmers and holiday wines, remember Spanish Sherry. This fortified wine comes in several styles. The most food-friendly is "fino," the lightest, driest and lowest alcohol (15 percent). A special kind of fino called "manzanilla" is made only around the coastal town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda, where producers such as Bodega Delgado Zuleta produce especially delicate wines, including "La Goya" (375 ml, $17) with noticeable saline and mineral elements.
Other Sherry styles are darker, deeper and more complex. Typically designated "oloroso," a fine example is the Williams & Humbert Don Zoilo 12 Years Old ($25), a richer, slightly spicy wine with 19 percent alcohol.
Between fino and oloroso, the rare "palo cortado" is a distinctive and highly prized style. The multilayered Williams & Humbert Dos Cortados Aged 20 Years (21.5 percent alcohol, $45) demonstrates elegance and freshness with depth and intensity.
Portugal, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Spain, is famous for its Port wine, fortified but made only with red grapes. Particularly this time of year, I love sipping on a Tawny Port. Extensive aging in casks creates mellow wines known less for complexity, purity and finesse.
Ten Year Old tawnies are a good introduction to the style. Graham's ($36) is distinguished with almond and fig. Warre's "Otima" (500ml, $30) is notable for orange and toffee notes.
A Twenty Old Tawny should provide more complexity and intensity but still taste fresh. The Dow's ($60) also displays enticing notes of raisin, nut, honey and date.
A special Tawny that would make a fine holiday gift is the Taylor Fladgate 325th Anniversary Reserve ($40). Packaged to reflect the special occasion, it brings bright fruit, fine depth and spicy richness.
Portugal also is a premier source of fine table wine values. I tasted three rather amazing wines recently from Quinta dos Murcas using indigenous grapes. The 2015 Minas ($25) has mouthwatering fruit with earthy notes and accents of licorice. The 2015 Margem ($65) is intense, yet pure and graceful with savory notes. The 2012 VV 47 ($100) is amazingly concentrated, lush and complex.