Wines from Portugal’s Minho region go way beyond the fizzy and quaffable.
Do you think Vinho Verde translates to “green wine”? You’re not alone. It’s a common misconception, especially since it’s sometimes packaged in a long, slender green bottle and has a pale chartreuse hue in the glass. But the name of this Portuguese wine actually means “young wine,” a reference to the fact that it’s bottled soon after fermentation. If you’ve tried one, it’s most likely been one of the low alcohol, slightly spritzy and easy-drinking patio pounders that goes down super easily on a hot day. But upon further inspection, you’ll see that Vinho Verde is not quite that easy to pigeonhole.
“The biggest misconception is that they are all cheap and cheerful frizzante white wines,” says Jill Zimorski, a Chicago-based sommelier. “Granted most is white and they are often spritzy, but there are wines of all styles produced, including plenty of serious, age-worthy wines.”
Okay, hang on a second: what about that almost-sparkling, light-bodied style, which, though arguably not particularly cerebral, has an easy-like-Sunday-morning charm? “It’s appealing in the same way that Champagne, or Prosecco, or Kabinett Riesling is appealing,” explains Zimorski. “It’s guzzable and relatively modest in alcohol, and it pairs with our favorite junk food category – fried things.” (She says it’s really great paired with fried baby sardines or octopus tenders.)
This style of Vinho Verde is generally made with a blend of local grapes, including Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal, fermented in stainless steel, bottled unaged, and meant to be consumed soon after purchase for that fresh, zippy citrus flavor and prickle on the tongue. It has garnered legions of fans, and with good reason. “[It] keeps its identity as a lighter-style wine with minerality and high acidity, but is also a wine that is exuberantly refreshing, crisp and light,” says Bruno Castro Almeida, product manager for Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes. (Not to mention the fact that it’s as easy on the wallet as it is on the palate.)
But if you want to take things up a notch in quality and complexity, look for Vinho Verde made from 100% Alvarinho, which is produced in the Moncao e Melgaco section of Alvarinho (a subregion of Minho), from producers including Muros Antigos and Contacto, says Taha Ismail, beverage director for Mike Isabella Concepts based in Washington, D.C. Zimorski believes Quinta do Ameal and Soalheiro are also outstanding producers.
And, if you are seeking out Portugal’s answer to Viognier and Muscat, varietally-labeled Vinho Verde made from the Loureiro grape is just the ticket. “Its elegant aromas range from citrus fruits like lemon to floral notes like rose,” says Almeida. Zimorski agrees about its florality, describing it as having notes of apricot, jasmine and orange flower water. “Structurally, it [doesn’t] have the phenolic bitterness of Viognier and [is] lighter, fresher and not so viscous, with brighter acidity.” Heady and intoxicating, Loureiro Vinho Verde cozies up to spicy aromatic Indian dishes, curries and seafood.
Though they don’t account for a large percentage of the region’s total production, rosés are also produced in Minho, generally from the same grape (Vinhao) used for the area’s red wines. “[Rosé Vinho Verde] is extremely high in acidity and tannins, and slightly bitter,” describes Ismail. It’s kind of like rosé on steroids and, he says, the perfect pairing for the traditional Portuguese suckling pig. Rosés can also be made from Espadeiro and Padeiro, Almeia points out. “[Those] with intense wild fruity aromas are served mostly as an aperitif or to accompany sushi; sweeter styles pair well with dessert with red fruits, like cheesecake.”
With tricky to pronounce indigenous grape names and an unfamiliarity of the wines beyond the spritzy varieties, how can curious oenophiles begin to tackle Vinho Verde? Almeida says start with fizzy low alcohol blends, then try Loureiro and Alvarinho, “to discover the world of flavor Vinho Verde has to offer.” Sounds like it’s time to do a little exploring.
Bottles to Try:
2014 Lima Vinho Verde ($8)
Pale lemon in the glass, the wine has aromas of citrus and green apple and a touch of minerality. The palate has crisp lemon and green apple, vibrant acidity and a medium-length finish. Try it with ceviche, shellfish or grilled chicken salad, or by itself well-chilled on the patio or by the pool.
Vera Vinho Verde Branco ($12)
Made from 100% estate grown fruit, this wine’s bracing acidity brings with it a little aging potential. It boasts clean flavors of lime and grapefruit, and a slight effervescence to keep it fresh.
Nortico Rosé ($15)
This Provence-style rosé has aromas of candied watermelon. The palate has a slight bitterness, with flavors of red berry and a hint of salinity. Pair it with grilled Arctic char, grilled shrimp or fruit and cheese.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.