Yeah, yeah, we all know that Vinho Verde doesn't mean green wine, right? Verde refers to the young, fresh wine style from the Minho region of northern Portugal, low in alcohol and perfect for spring and summer drinking. Indigenous grapes like Loureiro, Arinto, and Azal add flavor and complexity to these blends, but they also make great single-grape varietal wines with their own unique character.
This region, as with the Douro Valley, insists on the continued use of traditional grapes in place of international varieties; their innovation lies in experimenting with the local grapes, making new styles of wine, and focusing on the export of lesser-known classics. These include a deeper, richer style of whites, rosés, and reds, and many of the quintas are opening guest houses for a burgeoning wine tourism trade.
At a recent visit to Saxon & Parole in New York City, Master Sommelier Laura Maniec, a brand amabassador for Vinho Verde wines, led a tasting where we sampled some of these richer whites and rosés. The classic Vinho Verde wines are generally released three to six months after harvest and are meant to be enjoyed within a year of its release. When Maniec visited the region, she fell in love with aged Alvarinhos from the northern sub-zone of Monção Melgaço, which can express characteristics similar to that of an old Riesling: petrol, stone fruit, and big minerality. Unlike a typical Vinho Verde, she says, these wines can age like a Riesling and are "insanely good," if you're patient enough to let them age. Luckily you don't have to wait, as all of the wines listed here are of the fantastic 2011 vintage.
[Editor's Note: While not all wines are available everywhere yet, they are generally under $15 retail, where available.]
Arinto, Dom Diogo, 2011: Arinto is the grape here, more rich and ripe than expected, with a crisp, citrus minerality from the granite soil. Reminiscent of a sparkling apple cider, with a creamy mouthfeel.
Loureiro Selecção, Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima, 2011: Light citrus notes with powerful floral aromas, particularly apple blossoms, followed by full apple on the palate and a long mineral finish.
Vinhão, Boraçal, Espadeiro, Las Lilas, Vinho Verde Rosé, 2011: Wild strawberries jump out of the glass, and finish with raspberries and other wild berries on the palate, with a creamy, round mouthfeel. A slight carbonation from the somewhat typical residual CO2.
Espadeiro, Quinta de Carapeços, 2011: A more complex rosé here, notes of charcuterie and smoked meats, yogurt (yes, notes of yogurt—talk to Laura!); fresh but off-dry with a bright acidity.
Alvarinho, Solar de Serrade, 2011: Spanish wine lovers will recognize this as the more well-known Albariño, as it's spelled in Spain. So, not surprisingly, we find a very floral wine, full of jasmine and lemon, with an "I won't be ignored!" volcanic minerality.
Alvarinho, Soalheiro, 2011: Floral aromas abound here, especially lilies and citrus blossoms. Soalheiro translates to "sun trap," and the ripe fruit is evident in this rich Alvarinho, with flavors of grilled clementines and white peaches.