"One of the handicaps of these wines has always been the native grapes, which I think is a good thing," Ewing-Mulligan says. "It's confusing for us because we've never heard of them." Most American wine aficionados are unfamiliar with names such as Castelão, Trincadeira, Baga, and Aragonez (also called Tinta Roriz). But the native grapes give the wines a full-bodied, richly textured, aromatic, and fruity flavor, and create a distinct voice amid the rather standardized offerings of today's wine markets.

After an afternoon of wine talk with Olveira da Silva, we climb in the car to continue our red-wine safari into the inland area of Ribatejo, along the Tagus River valley. It's not an easy prospect. The people we meet are friendly and helpful, so much so, in fact, that they would much rather give any kind of directions than tell us they don't know how to get to that certain speck on the map. Per destination, we average about four sets of directions from a gallery of gentle people - the older gentleman talking with his friend at the bus stop, the couple in their car, the woman at the nursery. But we enjoy the backtracking, the asking, the roundabouts with roads radiating in five or six different directions. And besides, once you find these places, you'll also find some incredible reds. Ribatejo's alluvial soil and temperate climate produce some great grapes, including Casaleiro Reserva and Capucho, as well as Quinta de São João Baptista, which has been produced by the beautiful estate of the same name since the 19th century.