You'd think any reasonable discussion of Spanish history would include a word or two about little Portugal's clout on the Iberian Peninsula—but if it doesn't, that's more than OK by the Portuguese. Spain's fiercely independent neighbor is the true gateway to Europe amid its extreme Western locale. It's older than Spain by a quarter-millennium and wants you to know it has a separate language (by my measure, the most lyrical tongue on Earth). Portugal also produces about half the world's commercial cork—and if the country's cork trade is that formidable, can the wine industry be far behind?
Turns out it's only a step to the rear, as the country's signature beverages—Port and Madeira—are world-renowned. Problem is, those entries are fortified with starches and salts, making them more appropriate for use over the stove than in the dining room. But take heart—better yet, take yourself to San Diego Wine Co. and score a bottle of the 2007 Quinta do Crasto red, straight out of the fabled Douro River Valley in the country's North. This is an outstanding little table wine, light in aftertaste (to make room on the tongue for the food) and fairly heavy in the mineral and spice department (I noticed more than a hint of cinnamon, compatible with Swiss and other white cheeses). To boot, the stingy aftertaste tricks you into thinking you've had less than your fill—so just for once, please approach this beverage with a certain restraint, lest you over-imbibe. Last time you pulled something like this, the caterer almost lost her job.In lieu of a trip to Lisbon, San Diego Wine Co. is located at 7080 Miramar Road, Suite 100, just north of the Marine Corps air station. It's open seven days a week during more-or-less normal business hours; the number is 858-586-9463. The place has a lot of good prices, not limited to the $11.95 you'll shell out for the Quinta do Crasto. Meanwhile, you'll have sampled some of the best from one of the coolest nations on the globe. Size, it seems, is more than a matter of dimension.