Some of my favorite wines have their origin in the south of France, Spain and Portugal.
In France’s northern Rhône Valley, where syrah dominates, Hermitage and Côte Rôtie are the leading appellations. But the best wines from others can approximate the substance, resolve, intense fruit and spice of those two but at more affordable prices.
I really enjoyed the 2015 E. Guigal Saint-Joseph ($33) and the 2017 Ferraton “La Matinière” Crozes-Hermitage ($26). While these wines may be somewhat less structured and complex than Hermitage and Côte Rôtie, they are more expressive with plenty of bright, fresh fruit, hints of spice and a smooth texture.
In the French commune of Maury not far from the border with Spain, Dave Phinney, the creator of “The Prisoner,” the popular California red blend, is putting his signature on wines from grapes grown on the region’s steep vineyards of mostly old grenache vines. Under the moniker Department 66 (a reference to its administrative division, also known as the Côtes Catalanes wine region), the wines he makes are potent, intense and luscious. The 2014 D66 ($38) is dark and deep with spice, earthy and stony notes. The 2015 Others ($25) shows fresh, dark fruits, earth and floral notes, and a supple texture.
Across the Pyrenees, Ribera del Duero produces many of Spain’s most prestigious wines. Tempranillo is the premier red grape. From García Figuero, the 2016 Tinto Figuero 12 ($32) is a Crianza aged 24 months, 12 in barrel. It has a balance of fruit and oak, fresh cherry and plum, with notes of licorice, smoke and dark chocolate; light tannins and lively acidity support the supple texture.
From Spain’s Galicia, Valdeorras (Valley of Gold) has a wine-growing history that dates at least to the Romans. Today, it is known for value wines such as the 2016 Pagos De Galir ($17). Bright cherry fruit is balanced with a supple, juicy finish.
Neighboring Portugal has long been a premier source of fine table wine values. These days, wineries are contending at premium levels, too. The Symington family, a fifth- generation port producer and one of the most respected names in Portuguese wine, offers several good table wines.
From the family’s famed Quinta do Vesuvio vineyard, the 2015 “Pombal de Vesuvio” ($28) is full of bright black fruits, a touch of minerality and rich tannins. Similarly, from Prats + Symington, the 2017 Post Scriptum de Chryseia ($27) reveals animated fruit matched with fine tannins.