Vinho Verde may be the quintessential white wine for a long, hot summer afternoon, but even as the Autumn equinox passes by, we wanted to make some fuss about two wonderful new arrivals that prove there’s more to this wine than a little spritz. Firstly let’s clear up that pronunciation - it’s ‘veen-yo vairdh’ not ‘veen-oh ver-day’ - and unusually, the name refers not to a grape or even a blend but to a region of lush green rolling hills in Northern Portugal. Although many people think the translation ‘green wine’ refers to a tint in the colour of the wine itself, it probably refers to this verdant natural setting that stretches from just below the Spanish border to the Atlantic. In fact, a more accurate translation would likely be ‘young wine’, and examples can also be found of reds and roses in the region (although 86% of production is indeed white).
Travel the area, and you’ll see grapevines hung in a beautiful pergola style, draped up high where refreshing breezes protect them from the moisture and mould that can occur in this maritime-influenced climate. These cool, wet conditions – and associated issues with mildew – largely account for why so few producers have gone fully organic in their production methods. The white wines are often blends of the grapes Loureiro (aromatic, floral and with high acidity – dubbed the ‘Riesling of Portugal’) and Alvarinho (adding a touch of tropical fruit and lemony citrus), although there are some stunning single varietal examples. For such fresh styles, it may also be a surprise to discover they can be aged, responding well to oak maturation and developing complexity and character.
So what of the famous fizz? Many of the local wines have a light fizz which can be extremely refreshing. It initially occurred because bottling was so quick after production that the CO2 – a natural by-product of fermentation – was trapped in the freshly fermented wine. These days, Vinho Verde drinkers have come to expect this subtle carbonation, so winemakers will often add an additional boost of the gas. This tingling spritz and mouth-watering acidity – think lime blossom, white melon, green apple and lemonade – mean that your afternoon glass in the garden can just as easily be taken into the evening as a superb dinner accompaniment. Whilst grilled sardines, caldeirada de peixe (Portuguese fish stew), or any take on the Spanish summer salad pipirrana are great choices that nod to both the Atlantic and regional influences. But why not add some spice? The gentle petillance seems to lend itself to partnering some heat – try some chipotle cod tacos or Keralan fish curry and marvel at how well it works. Affordable, versatile, and oh so drinkable, put Vinho Verde on your list of wines to (re)discover this season.