The first time I tasted this wine, a Portuguese red blend, it was from the 2003 vintage and it was an outstanding $7 wine -- almost $10 Hall of Fame worthy. The next vintage, the 2005, was less than impressive, overripe and flabby. The 2006 was better than the 2005, but not as good as the 2003.
This inconsistency has driven the Wine Curmudgeon crazy, since I really want to like the wine. As noted, there just aren't that many nifty $10 reds out there these says. So when the 2008 was up to the 2003's standards, I was ecstatic. This version of the Altano ($10, sample) manages to combine an Old World sturdiness with bright, dark fruit (prune-like, if that's possible). It's not especially tannic or acidic, but this doesn't seem to be a problem. Pair it with any weeknight red wine dish, like meatloaf or stuffed bell peppers.
So why was this vintage so much better than the others? I checked with the producer's Dallas representative, and he didn't mince words. There were a variety of problems with the way the wine was made, like hiring port winemakers to make table wine. These problems, he says, have been fixed by the label's new owners, and the '08 was made by winemakers who specialize in table wine. Which is good news, and I'm looking forward to the next vintage.