30 Second Wine Advisor: Vinho Verde, cheap and good

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In This Issue

 Vinho Verde, cheap and good
Light, crisp and gently fizzy, the "green wine" of Portugal makes a great summer quaff, but you should drink it fresh or not at all.
 Gazela Vinho Verde ($5.99)
Priced around $5 or below, this screw-capped Portuguese refresher may be the low-end wine value of the year.
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Just about everyone has an opinion on this frequently asked question. For casual sipping, we're sold on the stemless Riedel O.
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Vinho Verde, cheap and good

The conventional wisdom about Vinho Verde, the so-called "green wine" of Portugal, has long been simple and frustrating: To enjoy it properly, you need to drink it in Portugal, as it's too fragile, fresh and light to bear the rigors of trans-Atlantic travel.

But now at least one mass-market brand is defying that wisdom - and making a compelling case - with a Vinho Verde that sells in the U.S. for as little as $4 to $6 for a bottle.

Gazela, a brand from Portugal's giant Sogrape, the corporation that brought us (and indeed still brings us) the much-maligned Mateus rosé, appears to have solved the Vinho Verde problem through two simple measures. First, it now prints a bottling date (not a vintage) in fine print on the back label, making it possible for consumers to choose the freshest wine in stock.

Second, in a move that some might consider a sign of the End Times in a wine from the home of the international national-cork industry, Gazela now comes tightly sealed under a sturdy metal screw cap. This is a strong positive, both for retaining freshness and for banishing the possibility of "cork taint" that has been a serious issue with Gazela in the past, perhaps because the economics of producing a wine at this low price point can't accommodate the cost of quality control in natural cork.

Despite its name and an undeniable brassy glint in some samples, Vinho Verde isn't named for its color but its youth. "Green" wine, as noted, is best enjoyed within a year after bottling at the most. Just to confuse the color issue a little more, the Vinho Verde wine region (Denominação Origem Controlada in Portugal, echoing the Italian DOC) lies along Portugal's misty moisty Costa Verde ("Green Coast"), north of the Port region and bordering Spain's Galicia on the coast of the Atlantic.

Some of the more authoritative Vinho Verdes are made from the Alvarinho grape, Portugal's translation of the Spanish Albariño. Most of the less expensive, light and frothy bottlings, though are made from less-familiar indigenous grapes, which like the Spanish Cavas featured in Wednesday's edition may add a few more little-known grape varieties to your life list. Gazela, for instance, incorporates four such grapes: Loureiro, Trajadura, Azal and Pedernã.

Crisp, usually dry (although some export labels add a bit of sweetness), relatively low in alcohol and given a light fizz by injecting carbonation - much like a soft drink - Vinho Verde is hardly a wine to contemplate or conjure with. But a decent brand, and Gazela certainly qualifies, rewards the taster with clean, crisp refreshment and no "off" flavors.

Gazela Vinho Verde ($5.99)


Straw color, transparent and very pale, glints of brassy green. It pours up with a very brief froth and leaves random bubbles behind, but it's petillant, not truly sparkling. Simple, delicate white-fruit aromas focus on a hint of musky melon; light carbonation adds a prickle to the crisp, dry flavor. Simple, sufficient acidity for balance, light in alcohol at just 9 percent, very refreshing. Sealed with a Stelvin-type metal screwcap to retain its clean, fresh character and banish cork taint. Top value for the price - a fine everyday quaff for summer sipping. U.S. importer: Evaton Inc., Stamford, Conn. (Sept. 5, 2007)

FOOD MATCH: Splendid as a refreshing summer aperitif, fine with all manner of shellfish, it was an excellent match with the simple, quick shrimp-and-ham paella featured in the Sept. 6, 2007, 30 Second Wine Advisor FoodLetter.

VALUE: A single-digit price might not buy complexity, but at the $6.99 price I paid, it's a whale of a bargain, and better still at its widely available price points in the $4 to $5 range.

WHEN TO DRINK: Soon. Vinho Verde is made to drink young and fresh, and even a year will diminish that a bit, although the sturdy screwcap on more recent bottlings will help preserve freshness. Check the back-label bottling date and choose the 2007 if you possibly can.

Vinho Verde = "Veen-yoo Vehr-deh"
Gazela = "Gah-zeh-lah"

For a short fact sheet on Gazela Vinho Verde, scroll down to the section on "Sogrape Vinhos" and click the link for "Gazela 'Vinho Verde' White" on this importer page:

Look up retail vendors and compare prices for Gazela Vinho Verde on Wine-Searcher.com:

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