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Vinho verde is the perfect tipple for a hot summer’s day (assuming we get any) – light, slightly fizzy and low in alcohol – and its cousin alvarinho ain’t half bad either.
If you’ve ever wondered why Portugal’s vinho verde is so called, you should have been there with me a couple of weeks ago when it chucked down nonstop from dawn to dusk. Hence the luxuriant green vegetation that carpets the rolling hills of this most northerly part of Portugal. Actually, it’s more to do with the wine traditionally being released young and fresh – standard summertime drinking for hordes of holidaymaking Portuguese.
It’s also – surprisingly – the biggest of the country’s wine regions, running from Porto right up to the Spanish border. And it’s pronounced vino verd, or vinosh verdesh if you’re referring to the wines collectively or have simply had rather too much to drink.
The kind you’re probably familiar with is light, slightly fizzy and low in alcohol. Just what you want on a hot summer’s day, assuming we ever get one. They’re generally blended from local grapes – classic examples are the crisp, citrussy Adega de Monção Vinho Verde 2010 (11.5% abv), made from alvarinho and trajadura and, at £5.95 from the Wine Society, terrific value for money; and the slightly softer Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2010 (£6.50 the Wine Society, £6.92 Waitrose,£6.99 Majestic, or £4.99 if you buy two; 11.5% abv), a blend of loureiro and pedernã.
A lot of winemakers, however, are now making wines from single varieties and even ageing them, the most popular being loureiro, which produces fragrant, slightly floral whites, and alvarinho, the same grape as Spain’s albariño, which is made just over the border in Galicia; the best area for alvarinho is the Monção sub-region in the north. I particularly liked the crisp, citrussy Soalheiro Alvarinho 2010 (£13.95 the Wine Society, £15.95 Wine Raks in Aberdeen, £15.99 Highbury Vintners; 13% abv) from an estate that follows biodynamic practices. Perfect for simply grilled fish.
More intriguing still are the vivid, peony-coloured reds made from the local grape vinhão. I love the bitter cherry-flavoured (and also biodynamic) Afros Vinho Verde Vinhao Tinto 2009 (£10.68, Caves de Pyrène; 12.5% abv) and Quinta da Raza Vinhao 2010 (£9.99 Corks of Cotham, Bristol, £10 butlers-winecellar.co.uk; 13% abv), which is made from grapes that are still foot-trodden. It’s recommended – a touch impractically for us in the UK – as a pairing for lamprey and “codfish meals”. I’d go for grilled sardines myself, but it’s a fantastically food-friendly red that you should chill and drink with anything from spicy spaghetti puttanesca to suckling pig. Vinho verde is fun.
Reviews by Fiona Beckett
Courtesy of The Guardian