I was really warm walking home from a Vinho Verde tasting in late March. The temperature had risen to about 25oC,and I was not only thinking about wines for the coming summer, but also about deploying the patio furniture. While I wisely held off on the latter — the weather has become more seasonally cool — it’s certainly not too early to think about what we should be drinking when the furniture finally comes out. Vinho Verde is a great way to welcome the summer.
The term “Vinho Verde” means “green wine”, and it is often observed that this region, tucked in the northwest corner of Portugal, is lush and green due to the copious spring and winter rains, along with the temperate climate influenced by the nearby ocean. But in fact the term refers to the youthfulness of the wines: not only are they bottled and sold young, they are meant to be consumed young.
Vinho Verde has some interesting traditions that are worth mentioning. As an agricultural area with a focus on diversified farming, vines were grown on unproductive land, along the edges of fields, and high in trees, so that food crops could grow underneath. The archival photo to the left shows an example of pruning an “enforcado”, a vine growing in a tree. But the requirements of increasing grape production have resulted in almost all grapes being grown in modern vineyards as illustrated above right.
A second tradition is that most of these wines were bottled so young that carbon dioxide from a secondary malolactic fermentation remained in the wine, giving it a slight sparkling or frizzante texture. Today, most of the wines that have a noticeable sparkle have been injected with CO2 at bottling, and this is clearly the case with several of our samples.
Combining my experience at the Vinho Verde tasting with observations of what seems to be generally available through our LCBO, I think it is useful to put these wines in three categories. The first is a set of very inexpensive generic Vinho Verde DOC wines that retail in the $9.00 - $11.00 range. These tend to be off-dry, are fresh and light, and usually have obvious CO2 carbonation. I found two of these on the general list shelves currently, and I’m sure that more will be around soon as summer wines begin to reach us.
The second group are perhaps a little more serious, and seem to sell in the $12 – $16 range. These may be either blends or named varieties, but are usually dry. While they may have some frizzante character, I don’t think they are so obviously carbonated.
The third group are single variety Albarinho wines, from the sub-region of Monção e Melgaço. The Albarinho grape is the same as the Spanish Alvariñio, which is well-known as the signature grape from the Rias Baixas, just north of the Portuguese border.
Here are six wines that are currently in the LCBO. You can use these notes and comments as a guide to finding Vinho Verde wines this summer, as more examples are brought in for the season.
The first two wines were both basic Vinho Verde blends at $8.95. These wines have obvious CO2 carbonation, with large coarse bubbles. Both were refreshing and pleasant, with low alcohol, and ideal as summer quaffers to be served quite cold. I’m envisioning patios and nibblies – I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying these!
• 2010 Alianca Vinho Verde DOC, 10.5% alcohol by volume (abv), $8.95. This has a watery, lemon colour, obvious large bubbles, with a fresh citrus and banana nose. It is off dry, with a light body, a crisp and fresh palate with apple and citrus flavours, and a pleasant short finish.
• 2010 Aveleda Fonte Vinhe Verde DOC, 10% abv, $8.95. This has a watery lemon colour, obvious large bubbles, a slightly herbaceous nose with citrus and lanolin. It is off-dry but crisp, with a pleasant slightly bitter taste.
My only warning about wines in this first category is that they can be rather sweet. My personal preference is for the driest versions, and I suggest that you look for examples with the old sweetness code 1 rather than 2.
• 2010 Quinta de Gomariz Vinho Verde DOC, 11.5% abv, $12.85. Still a blend of the “permissible varieties”, this wine has a definite straw colour, with a nose of lemon and melon. This is dry, with a slight frizzante feel, and a refreshing citrus palate.
2009 Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima Loureiro, Vinho Verde DOC sub-regiäo do Lima, 11% abv, $13.95. This is from the single variety, Loureiro. It is pale straw coloured, with an interesting bitter lemon and herbs nose, perhaps a hint of lanolin. It is dry, has good acidity with an attractive bitter edge.
I looked through my notes from the wider tasting, and found that a slight bitterness was a common thread on the Loureiro wines. Overall I quite liked the Loureiros I sampled, and suggest keeping a special lookout for these.
The final group focused on the Albarinho grape. At the original Vinho Verde tasting I noticed that the Albarinhos shared a pronounced herbaceous quality, and in fact the sample at the tutored tasting event was a dead ringer for a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. The following two have a little of that quality, although it is by no means dominant.
• 2010 Aveleda Follies, Alvarinho, Vinho Regional Minho, 12.5% abv, $15.95. This is a regional non-DOC wine (like a French vin de pays), and none the worse for that! The colour is watery lemon, with a nose of fresh herbs, flowers and lemon. It is dry, with good acidity, lemon and stone fruit flavours, with a medium and slightly bitter finish.
2010 Varanda do Conde Vinho, Alvarinho-Trajadura blend, Verde sub-regiäo de Moncao e Melgaco DOC, 12.5% abv, $13.95. This blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura has a light lemon appearance, with a nose of herbs and lemon. The palate is dry, with good acidity, flavours of herbs and lemon, and a drying and slightly bitter finish.
I expect that more Albarinhos will be available shortly, but if you have trouble finding some to try, consider substituting a Spanish Albariño.
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