Row after row of just-flowering grapevines pass outside the window, and then plum trees, apple orchards, a pair of hunched-over workers grafting new vines to plants. Then the Jeep of vineyard owner and winemaker José Luís Olveira da Silva begins to climb a 45-degree hill. Olveira da Silva is my guide on this portion of a quest for the best red wines Portugal possesses. Critics suggest the country is poised to follow in the footsteps of Chile and Australia by producing highly praised and underpriced reds. Like a storm chaser, I see the gathering clouds of critical praise and want to witness the tornado before the rest of the world watches it on the evening news. I want to taste a glass of great red on the land where it was made before the Merlot crowd wipes the memory of Matuse from its mind and begins ordering en masse.
The itinerary: seven wineries (plus one wine center) in three days. The Douro, Portugal's esteemed port region to the north, produces notable reds, but three other regions are garnering the best buzz: the Estremadura, the Ribatejo, and the Alentejo. In the central and southern part of the country, in a rough semicircle around Lisbon, it's these regions that are drawing savvy wine enthusiasts. We picked wineries across these three regions, most mentioned by critics as vineyards to watch, and hit the road. All offered knowledgeable tastings and stunning scenery.