Written by: Madison Cope, Intensive Sommelier Training Student
When most of us think of Portuguese wine, we think of the sweet, lush, and intense fortified wine called Port. But the world of Portuguese wine is so much more versatile and refreshing, as Eric Entrikin, Master Sommelier, explained at a lecture and tasting of Vinho Verde hosted at ICC’s California campus on May 22nd.
The region’s name, Vinho Verde, translating to “Green Wine,” truly captures the character of this region’s wines – light, crisp, and fresh like Portugal’s green and verdant countryside. Located in the northwestern corner of the country, Vinho Verde experiences a cool and rainy climate that is moderated by the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Home to complex valley systems and varying elevations, Vinho Verde boasts numerous microclimates that divide the appellation into nine sub-regions. And the predominantly granite soils lend a beautiful level of stony minerality to the finished wines.
What makes Vinho Verde truly stand out, however, is the distinct qualities of the region’s grapes. Portugal is home to thousands of indigenous varieties (rivaled only by Italy in sheer number), and many of them are highlighted and celebrated in Vinho Verde’s wines. From Trajudura to Loureiro, these varieties are not on most of our tables – but they should be! At this guided tasting event, Eric Entrikin introduced us to some of these distinctive and alluring wines, and the common threads were evident – searing acidity, a light body, low alcohol, vibrant and fruity. These were truly palate-cleansing wines that left our mouths ready for the next bite!
Fun Fact: Eric Entrikin MS used a wine from Vinho Verde to swish with before taking the blind tasting portion of his master sommelier examination because of its high acid and unparalleled ability to cleanse the palate!
While many traditional Vinho Verde wines are blends of multiple white varieties, some single varietal Alvarinho and Loureiro do exist. Eric further explained the unique notes of each distinct variety.
- Loureiro: Highly floral. Rose and freesia combine with ripe lemon citrus and tropical fruits. Juicy and refreshing with bright minerality.
- Alvarinho (aka Albariño): The most intensely aromatic and floral of the common indigenous varieties. Orange peel, peach, toasted almond. Also the richest of Vinho Verde’s whites.
- Avesso: Notes of orange and peach, toasted almond, citrus, apple, and pineapple. A slightly waxy texture is balanced by high acidity.
- Azal: Green apple, lemon, lime with sharp acidity.
- Arinto: Rich and flavorful. Citrus, apple, pear. One of the region’s highest quality grapes.
- Trajadura: Delicate with notes of stone and tree fruit. This variety is the least acidic of the Vinho Verde varieties.
While Vinho Verde wines are not particularly complex, their simplicity yet firm structure make them highly drinkable and perfect “food wines.” So what do they drink well with? Eric suggests pairing Vinho Verde whites with salads, white fish, chicken, anything with citrus, or simply as an aperitif! For Vinho Verde reds, he suggests roasted and grilled meats and lamb. And for Rose, Eric recommends pairing with charcuterie, shell fish, and even Asian cuisine.
For those who love Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, these wines are similar in profile and a great divergence from what you usually drink. What’s more, you will find high-quality Vinho Verde at very low prices, making them a great value and perfect for picnics during the spring and summer months. But don’t let these wines age, Eric warns, they are best drunk in their youth!
So with Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, go and pick up yourself a recent vintage from Vinho Verde that you (and your wallet) won’t mind sharing at your next summer barbeque. Saúde!