Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

A few reflections in the bottom of a glass of Vinho Verde

I’ve tasted and sometimes enjoyed a few bottles of Vinho Verde over the years, but it has remained pretty much a closed bk to me before I arrived in Porto last Friday. Thank you CVRVV (the local growers’ commission)! Your invitation was generous and your welcome warm.

So what did I learn from visiting more than a dozen producers and tasting the wine of a dozen more?

In no particular order:

Vinho Verde is pronounced ‘Vinyo Vaird’ and not ‘Vino Verdi’. (Verdi had nothing to do with it.)

White Vinho Verde’s USP is lightness, freshness, an enticing aromatic quality, crispness paired with delicious, food-friendly minerality and naturally low alcohol. At its best, it’s spot-on for today’s market.

Unfortunately it’s not all good.

Sometimes it’s very, very good – especially if it’s made (biodynamically) by Vasco Croft (much more about him on another occasion)

It’s possible to buy a 2008 Vinho Verde that’s been fermented after the 2009 crop. Some big companies are so obsessed by ‘freshness’ that they either freeze must or dose it with sulphur dioxide and keep it (cool) for twelve months or more until needed.

Wine made from searingly acidic unripe juice, dosed with sugar and carbonated (to around 1 bar.) should not be sold as Vinho Verde; but a lot is.

Red Vinho Verde is vile – especially that made from the red-fleshed Vinhão (pronounced ‘viniaouwng’ – as if by a malevolent, drunken cat with an adenoid problem). Staggeringly deep, its chief charm is an inky, elderberry-like aroma. Its downside is (no malo), fierce acidity and fearsome tannins. The locals insist that it’s terrific with fatty food. Some even delight in serving it in earthenware bowls to lessen its fruit appeal and boost its tannic and acidic structure. In short, if ever a wine has purely local appeal, Vinhão is it. Forget it, unless you have a passion for Scotch pies.

Fortunately, production of red Vinho Verde is in sharp decline.

Alvarinho (aka Albariño) is not the only northern Portuguese (white) grape variety worth making a song and dance about. Loureiro is pretty damn good and, in the right hands, Arinto can be fun too. And there are others.

Alvarinho’s considerable charms are ruined by fermenting and aging it in oak. There are no exceptions to this rule.

It’s not a terribly good idea to serve such wines with a sweet pudding. Ever.

Good, simply made Alvarinho, from ripe grapes and relatively low yields is a knock-out. It is Portugal’s answer to Hunter Valley Semillon. Whoever suggested that Alvarinho might be related to Riesling?

Some sparkling (by law, bottle fermented) Vinho Verde is excellent – though the regional commission’s recommendation that Loureiro should not be used as a base wine is puzzling. Vasco Croft’s Afros fizz, 100% Loureiro, is utterly delicious. All Vasco Croft’s wines are good. Even his Vinhão is passable.

The DOC Vinho Verde covers a huge area 34,000 scattered hectares. From a UK perspective, it’s Europe’s least well known major, quality wine region.

Despite the horrors that still exist, there are so many very good wines that it’s high time UK drinkers get to know it again.

Pinot Grigio is dead, long live Vinho Verde.

One Response to “A few reflections in the bottom of a glass of Vinho Verde”

  1. Katy says:

    Your description of the Vinhao (and how to pronounce it) is so wonderful that I’m actually intrigued to try the stuff…