Just when you expect us to be sipping red wine we’re reaching for the lively white wines of Vinho Verde. We know we’re swimming against the stream, but these energetic wines from Portugal are perfect with appetizers or to sip while cooking even if it’s too chilly to sit on the patio. And it’s so refreshing to take a break from red wines in the cooler months with a lighter meal. We received both wines as tasting samples.
There’s another reason I’m pleased to be sipping Vinho Verde. These wines hold a special place in my heart. My first memory of tasting Vinho Verde takes me to Angra do Heroísmo on the island of Terceira in the Azores Islands where we enjoyed a delicious meal of fish prepared in a clay tile. Before the fish was served, we feasted on fresh cow’s milk cheese and bread accompanied by a bottle of Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. I remember this wine because of the distinctive lacy pattern on the label and the slight bit of fizz in the wine. It was a magical meal and the beginning of a memorable visit to the Azores Islands.
An Introduction to Vinho Verde
Portugal’s rainy and cool Vinho Verde DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) occupies the northwest corner of Portugal. The region stretches inland from the Atlantic at Portugal’s northern border with Spain, south to the city of Oporto and inland nearly 20 miles south of the Douro River.
Vinho Verde’s fertile, volcanic soils were once largely planted to grapes only at the margins of other crops and trained in a pergola fashion to save room for those other crops. Today, vines are more likely to be trained on wire, lower to the ground. This aids in ripening the grapes in this cool, damp region where attaining ripeness can be a challenge.
The cool climate results in wines with higher acidity and sometimes a bit of fizz. Flavors depend upon the grape varieties used. The most common white varieties include Loureiro, Trajadura, Pedernã (aka Arinto), Avesso, Alvarinho (Albariño) and contribute a range of flavors including floral, steely and minerals. Sparkling wines are authorized in Vinho Verde and you will also find red Vinho Verde.
Nine sub-regions are defined within the Vinho Verde DOC: Monção e Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa and Paiva. The weather is warmer and drier in the north of the DO along the Minho River around the towns of Monção and Melgaço. The wines here are dry and still with a richer and riper flavor profile.
Let’s Taste Vinho Verde
Both wines we’re tasting today are made by Quinta do Ameal located in the small Ponte de Lima district within the Lima River Valley. The valley is the home of the Loureiro grape variety where Pedro Araújo was responsible for elevating the quality of Loureiro varietal wines in Vinho Verde beginning in 1999. In 2019 Araújo sold Quinta do Ameal to Esporão and the next chapter of the winery opened with increased sustainability efforts and world-wide exposure.
2019 Esporão Bico Amarelo, Vinho Verde, Portugal — light golden in the glass with aromas of ripe melon, pears and yellow peaches. Flavors lead with ripe pears and stone fruit with gravelly minerality and tart, citrusy acidity. 11.5% abv. SRP $12
The flavors are layered and complex with nice acidity. A blend of Loureiro, Alvarinho and Avesso were vinified in stainless steel with three to six months aging. Grapes are sourced from estate vineyards and grower partners in Monção e Melgaço and Baião. 2019 is the first vintage of Bico Amarelo, which translates to yellow beak.
2019 Quinta do Ameal Loureiro, Lima, Vinho Verde, Portugal — light golden in the glass with delicately floral aromas. Flavors hint of white flowers, gravelly minerals, sea salt and just-ripe citrus with hints of cedar. 11% abv. SRP $18
This lively Vinho Verde is lean, racy and somewhat tart. Winemaking took place in stainless steel with 7 months of lees contact. Loureiro is sourced from entirely from estate vineyards.
In addition to this un-oaked style of Loureiro, also look for Solo Único (stainless and concrete egg, but without temperature control) and Escolha (oak) from Quinta do Ameal. All are imported into the US by Now Wine Imports, Livingston, NJ:
- Quinta do Ameal Loureiro / SRP $18
- Quinta do Ameal Solo Único / SRP $28
- Quinta do Ameal Escolha / SRP $40
- Bico Amarelo / SRP $12
Let’s raise a glass to white wine in winter, Vinho Verde and travel memories. Thanks to Creative Palate Communications for sending these wines our way.