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Monday, September 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 70.0° F  Overcast
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Viva! Saúde! It's time to consider Portuguese wines
A vineyard in the Douro valley.

The 2013 Portuguese Wine Invasion descended upon Madison briefly a few weeks ago. Doug Weber, who works at the distributor Purple Feet, arranged for the four winemakers involved to make an unscheduled stop at Square Wine Company. The group was traveling across the Midwest by van, spreading the gospel of Portuguese wine to markets where consumers may not be familiar with what the country has to offer.

The invasion itself was organized by Ryan Opaz, proprietor of the long-running popular Iberian-based website Catavino. Opaz moved to Portugal recently from Spain and wanted to share his love of the diverse wines available from his new home.

For a country the size of Alabama, Portugal boasts incredible geographic and climatic diversity -- everything from rainforest to desert, coasts to mountains. There are 12 major rivers. There are over 250 different varieties of grapes.

And while the Douro River ranks with the Rhine and the Rhone as one of the great viticulture areas of the world, the rest of the country is equally riddled with regional offerings like young Vinho Verdes and the elegant reds of the Dao region.

The problem is that relatively few of these wines make it to the United States. After port, Portugal's famous fortified wine, the most common bottles here in Madison are Vinho Verdes, or "green wines." Semi-sparkling, these are inexpensive hot-weather sippers that are refreshing with light fare such as fish or salads.

Aveleda is a large producer and is the most commonly available. The Aveleda Vinho Verde 2011, $8, is tasty wine for the money. Its estate bottling is a slight step up at $10. There's a bit of fizz to both, and they're enjoyable alone or with food.

With Portugal's plethora of grape varieties, most wines are a blend of a few types. But the country's wine industry has followed the international trend to bottle by single varietal. The first to be singled out was Alvarinho (Albarino in Spanish). This is meant to be consumed young, and often the bottlings have a little effervescence. Aveleda's 2011 Alvarinho, $10, is refreshing but I personally find it too bracingly acidic.

A few stores offer the Catedral Reserva 2008 ($11). This is an elegant Dao red and a good value. With a beautiful nose and deliciously round plum flavors, it doesn't have a lot of structure. But a moment in the refrigerator and it tightens up into a delightful summer quaffer.

Likewise the widely available Twisted Douro 2010 from Dirk Niepoort ($16). This has wonderfully complex flavor, but is flabby until a moment's chilling transforms it into a brilliant accompaniment to grilled meat.

Among the best Portuguese wine available here is Auratus 2011, a stunning Alvarinho and Trajadura blend ($16). It may be one of the better white wines at this price point, period -- clean, crisp and utterly captivating. Minerality gives way to a honeyed, royal flavor without being sweet. Auratus means "golden" in Portuguese, and this medium-bodied bottle captures sunny glow in liquid form.

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