Wine Culture Magazine

Exciting, complex and food friendly—and not what you think it is

Vinho Verde wines pair well with summery foods, especially seafood. Supplied photo

If there is an ideal wine for summer, it might just be something crisp, complex and refreshing from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal.

I recently had the opportunity to taste several of these wines from producers like Soalheiro. Quinta de Simaens, Quinta da Raza, João and Aveleda, and was swept away on a sea of juicy citrus, peach, melon, floral and subtly savoury flavours. The wines were perfectly delightful; the only downside was that so few of them are available in British Columbia. At least, not yet.

Now I’m dreaming of travelling to Portugal and venturing to its northwest corner, a cool, lush area caught between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and mountains to the east, bordered by the Minho River in the north and Douro River to the south.

“Verde,” of course, means “green” and there is a common misconception that the name refers to a quality in the wine, that it has a pale greenish hue, simple flavour profile and should be drunk young. But it actually refers to the abundant greenery of the region; the wines themselves range from straw to gold in colour and can be both complex and age worthy.

Vinho Verde boasts 16,000 hectares of vineyards (nearly 40,000 acres), where 16,000 wine growers produce more than 80 million litres of wine each year. The soil is mostly granitic and the weather is cool and rainy in winter, hot and dry in summer, and breezy all year round, conditions that are ideal for creating wines of bright, bracing freshness.

Although history suggests that wine has been made here since Roman times, the Vinho Verde DOC was only established in 1908. Its nine sub-appellations (Amarante, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, Sousa) produce a wide range of wine styles—reds, whites, rosés, sparkling—although the whites are the most famous. Dozens of different grapes are grown here, but there are six major white varieties (see sidebar) and three reds. Traditionally, wines tended to be blends, but more and more producers are making single-variety expressions, especially of ripely fruity Alvarinho and citrusy-floral Loureiro.

Younger wines from Vinho Verde tend to be light and fresh, low in alcohol, with fruity, and floral aromas; with age they become complex, round and intense, with aromas of honey and ripe fruits like quince, apples, pears and lychees.

Young or old, these are great patio sippers (typically with a patio-friendly price to match), but they are also terrific food wines. They are high in acid, often with a thrill of minerality and subtle saline notes, all of which makes them ideal partners for summery foods, especially seafood of all sorts from scallop ceviche to grilled octopus to lobster gratin. Aged selections also pair nicely with rich, earthy dishes like poultry, pork, mushrooms and creamy sauces.

So you might want to forget what you think you know about Vinho Verde, and enjoy what it really is: bright, fresh, complex, and perfect for summer.

Two Vinho Verde wines to try

Aveleda Loureiro 2019
(Vinho Verde, Portugal, $14) Elderflower, passionfruit, citrus, exuberant, delicate, floral.

Aveleda Alvarinho 2019
(Vinho Verde, Portugal, $17) Rich, complex, quince, white peach, melon, mineral.

Six white Vinho Verde grapes to look for

Alvarinho: Intense aroma and rich, complex, fruity character that can develop notes of nuts and honey as it ages.

Alvesso: Fruity flavours (orange, pineapple, melon, peach), with some floral and nutty notes.

Azal: High acid, fresh citrus.

Arinto: Rich, fruity and floral with mineral and saline nuances.

Loureiro: Elegant citrus and floral bouquet; most planted white variety in region.

Trajadura: Delicate tree fruits (apple, pear, peach), low in acidity.

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