The best, least appreciated summer sippin' wine: Vinho Verde from Portugal

photo of wine bottleNot sure why but Vinho Verde [ VEE no VEHR day] doesn't get much respect from the sophisticates out there. The wine snobs, the "connoisseurs" or the collectors don't rave about the summer utility of this Portuguese white. Perhaps they prefer to limit their consumption of Portuguese choices to the venerated Port wine sector which overshadows Portugal's VVs.

But this light, slightly spritzy and refreshing yet refreshingly affordable wine is just what the 90-100 degree weather and crappy economy demand right now. I know there's a faction of VV fans out there but few reveal their secret affair (akin to fans of Jersey Shore). Most wine shops and even high-end grocery stores carry a small selection of these lime-lovin' alcoholic Perrier-esque quaffs so it's not like you can't find 'em. So let's drink them while the drinking's good.

Vinho Verde translates to "green wine," but this isn't a euphemism for its color. It refers to age: You must drink Vinho Verde while its still young and fresh or it loses its tart, lemony one-two punch. Low in alcohol – rarely above 12% – they mostly hover around 9% and with price around $9. With the low alcohol comes the opportunity to try a few and drink many around the pool or on the patio without getting trashed.

The grapes for Vihno Verde come from the northernmost region of Portugal called Mihno, not far from the Spanish coastal wine region of Rias Baixas. The climate is cool so the grapes don't get completely mature and thus are lower in sugar – resulting in lower alcohol in the finished product (more about how wine is made). The grapes used are fairly obscure outside of the region: Loureiro, Paderna and Arinto, among a few other foreigners.

Vinho Verde is an official Spanish DOC (what's this?), and, even though the name is largely associated with the barely bubbly white, you can find bottles with red and rose wines under that moniker. The more expensive VVs are made from Alvarihno (aka Albarino in Spanish) and can be a little more complex but who's looking for that when you just need something simple and light to quench your thirst as you glisten in the sun?

The flavor of VVs will vary between or be a combination of limes and lemons, a tart acidity that wakes up your mouth, an aroma of fresh cut grass and florals, and occasionally pitted fruit like peaches and nectarines. Nothing complicated yet absolutely fabulous. They rarely have vintages on the labels, but they carry born on dates like Bud on the back label. This year, look for 2010 only and don't let anyone sell you an "aged" 2009.

For food pairings, the region is near the coast so drink and eat like the locals: pair it with fresh, unadulterated seafood. And the lower alcohol allows friendship with spicy food. Or a way to keep you fresh during Game Night.

Good ones to look for:

  • Broadbent Vinho Verde, $8
  • Casal Garcia Vinho Verde, $10
  • Esta Vihno Verde, $8
  • Alianca Vihno Verde, $10


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August 23, 2011

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