Drink Up Portugal's Spritely Vinho Verde
Back to the future
There was a time in the 18th century when Vinho Verde was more than sweetness and light. It was a time before grapes were trained on trees and trellises to save land for food crops and treated more like a food crop themselves.
That’s the era that top producers of estate wines in Vinho Verde are returning to. Adding modern viticulture and winemaking techniques to tradition, they are crafting serious white wines.
As these dry wines come to the fore, so do the grapes they are made from. White Vinho Verde can be made from a blend of 15 grapes, but only a few of them truly stand out. According to consultant Anselmo Mendes, Alvarinho, Loureiro and Avesso are the stars of the region. Alvarinho and Loureiro are increasingly found as varietal wines, while Avesso more often appears in blends.
In the far north of the region, Alvarinho makes the richest and priciest wines, creamy and ripe, but always with more lift and acidity than its Spanish counterpart, Albariño.
In the central area, in the Lima Valley, Loureiro is the grape of choice. The wines are round, full of citrus and mineral flavors and textures. Elsewhere, blends reign supreme.
Bone dry—just taste that freshness—fruity when young and capable of aging for several years, these are world-class wines that stand in complete contrast to the branded wines. These represent an exciting wine style that’s awaiting discovery.
Unlike the branded wines, many of these wines will actually improve with a year or two in the bottle. The wines reviewed here should be at peak.
Casa do Valle 2013 Grande Escolha (Vinho Verde); $17, 90 points. This wood-aged Vinho Verde is a world away from the light and sweetened wines. It is rich, almost Chardonnay-like in its smooth, creamy character. At the same time, it still shows its origin in its tight acidity and a crisp aftertaste. Drink now, or better in a year.
Wines & Winemakers 2013 Toucas Alvarinho (Vinho Verde); $19, 89 points. From the northern Vinho Verde region of Melgaço which is the natural heartland of Alvarinho, this tangy, fruity wine bursts with acidity and creamed apple flavors. It is still young, a lively and fruity wine that will benefit from some calming down and broadening out. Drink from the end of 2015.
Anselmo Mendes 2012 Muros Antigos Alvarinho (Vinho Verde); $16, 90 points. This is a rich and full-bodied wine that’s ripe and generous. It has spice, ripe apple and crisp pear-skin flavors along with tight, mineral acidity. Aidil Wines/Old World Import.
Quinta do Ameal 2011 Loureiro (Vinho Verde); $15, 90 points. This is a fruity, floral Vinho Verde that’s very crisp and citrusy. It has bright acidity, a light, dancing character, and green fruits, grapefruit and a mineral texture that should come together deliciously for the summer. Oz Wine Company. Best Buy.