Wines from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal have been easier to find at American retailers in recent years and for good reason.
These light and effervescent wines have a clean and fruity flavor that match well with warm weather dishes. Combine that with their hard to pass up price – many bottles can be found for under $10 -- and Vinho Verdes wines make a savvy choice to bring to a summer barbeque or for simply sipping on a warm night.
Made from grapes grown in the lush northern Portugal valley between the Douro and Minho Rivers, Vinho Verde, or “green wines,” are not named after the verdant landscape from where they come, but for their age. They wines are young and meant to be consumed a year after production.
This short aging process creates dry, light bodied wines with hints of green apple, peach, pear and citrus. A recent move away from aging in wooden barrels at some wineries has allowed more of the natural flavors of the grapes to emerge more prominently.
Vinho Verde wines are also characterized by their “sparkle,” or slight carbonation that comes from release of carbon dioxide during the fermentation process. This effervescence, along with the wines’ low alcohol content, has made Vinho Verde wines a popular aperitif in Portugal. But in recent years, as the popularity of these wines has spread, so has their use.
The recommended temperature for serving a Vinho Verde is well chilled, about 45 to 55 degrees, making it ideal for serving on a hot day at a barbecue or picnic. The most common pairings are with shellfish, mild cheese, fruit, pasta and other summer dishes, but these wines are also created to stand up to strong flavors used in Portuguese cooking, like garlic and cilantro. The wines can even hold their own with savory meats, like pork, duck and lamb.
Because the Vinho Verde region is Portugal’s largest with a variety of soil types, it is hard to lump all of these wines together. Many are blends, though pure varietal wines can be found. Some of the most popular varietals are the Alvarinho, which can have slight peach, lemon and tropical fruit flavors; the fuller-bodied Loureiro with melon and floral flavors, the green apple and citrus flavored Azal, and the less acidic Trajadura.
Besides their refreshing taste, Vinho Verde wines are affordable and a number of delicious bottles can be found in the United States from $6 to $10. The light and dry Casal Garcia and the crisp and citrus-flavored José Maria da Fonseca 2007 "Twin Vines" Vinho Verde can both be found for about $9.