Periquita, 2012, red wine,

Portugal, $7.99-$9.99

For the last decade, the national wine gurus have been raving about wines from the Iberian Peninsula as the best value on the market.

They’ve all said things like: You’ve got to try them — they’re unbelievable, just phenomenal.

Well, a year ago, after reading the reviews, I got all pumped up and rushed out to the wine store to buy these great wines from Spain and Portugal, only to be disappointed.

I wasn’t set back by the quality — I couldn’t find the wines I’d read about.

Oh sure, a handful of good Spanish wines have been around for years. It’s only been in the last five years or so that I started to see an abundant supply of interesting wines from Spain at prices under $10, as well as some very nice higher-end Spanish wines.

However, except for a couple of pretty good vinho verdes and a red from the Douro region, there wasn’t much else on the market from Portugal that was easy to find. Now that’s changed, and a broader selection of Portuguese wines is showing up on wine store shelves.

Portugal has a long history of winemaking, but it was a well-kept secret. Most of the country’s wines are consumed domestically, and they’ve been slow to hit the export market because of Portugal’s geographical and political isolation.

During the 1960s and ’70s, Lancers and Mateus made a big splash on the international market, but soon after, the country and the wine industry fell under a repressive military regime. For a time, Portuguese wines almost disappeared from foreign shelves.

When Portugal joined the European Union in 1986, wine started trickling out of the country again, and during the early 1990s, the wine industry joined the modern world by adopting new winemaking techniques.

Now, the good news is that Portuguese wines are becoming increasingly available, and because of the country’s isolation, many of the wines that are showing up in the United States are being made from indigenous grapes that aren’t well known in the outside world.

I like finding a new wine, even when it’s made from a grape that I know — after all, the soil, sun and winemakers ensure that every wine is different — but discovering a wine made from a grape that I’ve never heard of is an exciting bonus.

I noticed several new Portuguese and Spanish wines on the shelves recently. The selection is still limited, but it’s nice to see some unfamiliar faces, including Periquita, a dark red wine. Although it has been made in Portugal for more than 158 years and is the top selling Portuguese red wine worldwide, Periquita has been hard to find around the Pioneer Valley. It made a first appearance here a few years ago, then it vanished, and now it’s back.

Periquita is a very interesting and complex wine made from indigenous grapes that are grown in the southwestern coastal area. The dark skinned Castelao Frances grape, also known as ‘Periquita’ (or parakeet, in English) is 79 percent of the wine, and the balance is equal parts of two of the arid region’s other intense grapes, Trincaderia and Aragonez, which is called Tempranillo across the border in Spain.

The company that produces Periquita was founded by Jose Maria Da Fonseca in 1850. The wine comes from the family’s Vila Nogueira de Azeitao estate, on the Setubal peninsula across the Tagus River from Lisbon. After eight generations, the estate is still in the family and run by Da Fonseca’s descendants including award-winning winemaker Domingos Soares Franco.

According to the winemaker’s notes, Franco ferments the wine with the skins for a week — that adds to richness — and then ages it in oak barrels for five months. The result is a deep, ruby red wine that is fruity and slightly tannic.

Franco recommends drinking the wine as soon as you can get the cork out of the bottle. But if you want to wait, Periquita will keep up to six years if properly stored on its side in a cool, dark place.

I enjoyed just sipping the wine, and I also had it with cheese, which smoothed it out a bit. I also found that Periquita paired well with a rich beefalo chili.

The wine is pretty widely available, especially in West Springfield and Ludlow stores, but if you can’t find it ask for it. Wine merchants are usually glad to order it. Periquita is distributed by Palm Bay International in Massachusetts.

This is a very good wine at an excellent price. If you like a big red wine with a lot taste, I recommend trying this and other Portuguese reds. They’re unbelievable values.•

Wine suggestions in the $10 a bottle range are always welcome. Warren Johnston can be reached at