Warm weather has arrived and it’s time—even for us devout red wine lovers—to look in different directions for great summertime wines, and also to see just how sharp your local wine merchant is. Go into the shop and tell him or her that you want a pétillant wine made from Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, Azal, or Alvarinho grapes. If you get the correct answer, you can reassure yourself he knows what he is doing, and you’ll also have a fun, refreshing wine—Vinho Verde.
Vinho Verde is from the Minho region in the far northwestern part of Portugal. It can be red, rosé, or white, although most are white. The name literally means “green wine” but translates as “young wine,” and is meant to be drunk young, preferably within a year of bottling. So if you find a 1999 Vinho Verde tucked away in a forgotten corner somewhere, it’s more like finding a 1999 Bud Light than a white Burgundy.
These wines are fresh and have fruity aromas and flavors. They are injected with carbonation much like a soft drink. So while not sparkling, they are “fizzy.” The official term is the French word pétillant (pay tee ya[n]), or slightly sparkling. Although the bubbles die fairly quickly, the nice acid zing keeps the wine refreshing.
Vinho Verde is great by itself on the back deck or by the pool, and is absolutely wonderful with shellfish. It’s also great with spicy food because it is low in alcohol (8-12%). Alcohol enhances the effects of hot spices, which is why a nice juicy Zinfandel from Lodi causes spicy to become painful, and why beer is the beverage of choice with Indian food. The final reason to buy lots of this wine is that it is ridiculously cheap, often in the $7.00 or $8.00 range. Low alcohol plus inexpensive means buy several bottles.
Thousands of producers of this wine exist, and often a dozen or so can be found in a single store. Here are a few that are particularly good:
Gazela is pale straw color with hints of brassy green and simple white fruit flavors with a hint of melon. The carbonation adds a bit of pizzazz to the crisp dry flavor. A great match for shellfish and great by itself.
Casal Garcia is one of the more fruity examples with peaches and citrus on both the nose and palate. It is particularly good with carnitas and guacamole.
Twin Vines has an interesting twist on the nose and palate—fresh nectarines and lime. Great especially on its own on the deck.
Don’t try to seriously contemplate these wines. They are just easy, fun wines to drink in the summer. If you haven’t tried them, now’s the time.