Enter spring. Most of us know that this wave of warmth can quickly return to winter leaving us thirsty for spring and summer.
With warmer weather also comes the season of Vinhos Verdes and rosés. For this week’s edition we will focus on the fun crisp wines of the Minho province of northwestern Portugal.
For those not familiar, these wines are admired for their lower alcohol content (8.5 percent to 11 percent) along with their touch of petillance or spritz; crisp, fresh acidity; and often a hint of residual sugar.
The light carbonation is measured at below one bar of carbon dioxide pressure. For comparison, Champagne has six bars of pressure. The name “Vinho Verde” translates to “young wine” but a literal translation means “green wine.” This is appropriate as the hue of the wine is, indeed, green. The idea of a touch of sweetness may turn some away, but don’t scoff just yet. While some producers make a sweeter style, there are also dryer versions for those with palates that prefer dry wines. A good indicator is a wine’s alcohol content. At a glance, one can find a wine’s alcohol by volume on the label and seek out a higher or lower ABV. Lower ABVs will denote a slightly sweeter wine because of sugar left unfermented, also referred to as “residual sugar” or “RS” for short.
There are three styles of Vinhos Verdes: red, white and rosé. However, considering the recent spring weather, we are going to focus on the white and rosé.
There are 12 permitted grape varieties for white wines, but typically only five make up the style: Arinto, Azal, Avesso, Trajadura and Loureiro. Say that list five times fast! For the rosés, the most commonly used varietals are Padeiro and Espadeiro.
As with several famous wines, the effervescence of Vinhos Verdes began as a wine flaw. Initially, the flaw was caused by undesirable malolactic fermentation in the bottle. Ironically, this flaw became favorable and has since been fixed by replacing malolactic fermentation with a slight artificial carbonation. Of course, the most famous accidental wine flaw was from Champagne, France. Without this accident, we may not have ever figured out the elegance of what true sparkling wine could become.
The wines of the Minho district of Portugal are often referred to as “porch pounders.” The silly namesake alludes to some truth. The wines are ideal for afternoons on the patio with light appetizers and less intoxication. The whites offer notes of pears, green apples and quince. The rosés are identical in mouth feel but offer notes of strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Crisp acidity makes them refreshing and great food wines. They are designed to be unpretentious and simply enjoyed for what they are, porch pounders. These fun and festive backyard wines tend to be affordably priced, averaging $8 to $15.