A New Vinho Verde
I’m a sucker for a little bit of spritz. Wines with a tingle on the tongue might not be the most sophisticated of libations, but they sure can be refreshing and easy to drink. The classic example of the style is Vinho Verde, a wine that was traditionally bottled young (the ‘green’ verde refers not to the colour – the wines can be red, white or rosé – but to their youth) with a little carbon dioxide spritz from the fermentation. Today, however, true ‘just-fermented’ spritz is perhaps more likely to be encountered at RAW or the Real Wine Fair; in modern, whistle-clean Vinho Verde today it is more likely to be the result of a little carbonation. That, I think, removes a little of the magic; I’m not such a sucker for that kind of spritz. Stylistically, it seems to me to be something of a strait-jacket; I would think it difficult for a producer to say “I’m making serious/rich/flavoursome/ageworthy wines”, styles which might allow them to raise prices a little, when still pumping carbon dioxide into the wines.
Some Vino Verde producers also seem to have recognised this and today there is a broad array of more serious single-variety wines available. Of the Vinho Verde grapes Alvarinho seems to be a popular choice for this treatment, the locals perhaps spurred on by the success of Albariño (the same grape variety) in Rias Baixas in northern Spain. It’s not admittedly a new phenomenon – the first varietal Alvarinho wiens appeared in the 1980s, but moving away from spritz to substance is perhaps more recent. These new wines seem to have more substance and depth of flavour, and they seem to want to impress with form rather than froth. These are interesting wines and I have taken advantage of my time in Portugal to taste a few. As my notes show, though, picking out which wines follow the new mantra, and which retain the older spritzy style, is difficult.
Dona Paterna Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2013: From vines cultivated on terraced vineyards in the proximity of the region’s ancient monastery and church. This is the first wine I tasted which seemed very different to the ‘traditional’ view of spritzy Vinho Verde. An extra year in bottle may also have helped of course. A touch of gold to the hue. A nose rich in confident fruits, pears and apricots. The palate has substance and real presence in the mouth, and the expressive fruits are backed up by succulent acidity, wonderful for Portugal’s warm climate. Good depth to this one. A real success. Alcohol 13%. 16/20 (July 2015)
Reguengo de Melgaço Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The Reguengo de Melgaço is an ancient manor house built on the orders of Queen Dona Leonor in the 16th century. In the 1990s it was acquired by the Cardadeiro family, and 7.5 hectares of Alvarhinho were planted (and the manor house converted into a hotel). This has a much paler hue than the Dona Paterna. The fruit character on the nose leans towards a greener style, greengage and apple. The palate has a lovely freshness and lift, with bright acidity, and in part this is also down to a little spritz here. Despite the use of a single variety and very modern packaging this still nods towards the traditional Vinho Verde style. A good refresher though. Alcohol 12.5%. 15/20 (July 2015)
Quinta da Lixa Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: This seems to be a very large operation producing a very broad range of wines. This wine has a pale hue. The nose seems dominated by ripe banana, which to me always suggests the use of cultured aromatic yeasts. With time the aroma seems to fade, or perhaps I simply become accustomed to it, in the same way one doesn’t notice the stench of chlorine at the public swimming baths after a while. The palate seems rather innocuous, although banana still rules here. It feels very commercial in character. Alcohol 12.5%. 13.5/20 (July 2015)
Via Latina Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The Via Latina label belongs to Vercoope, a Vinho Verde co-operative. High hopes here were not realised sadly; the nose gives a sense of freshness but it feels somewhat anodyne. The palate has the same character, showing a slightly steely backbone but no real character or depth of fruit. It has the spritz of traditional vinho verde, as well as a plumpness of texture that suggests a gram or two of residual sugar. Nice acidity gives it freshness, and that spritz brings a somewhat salty edge, but ultimately this is one of the less appealing wines tasted here. Alcohol 12.5%. 14/20 (July 2015)
Palácio da Brejoeira Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2013: The Palácio da Brejoeira is an imposing neoclassical manor house that dates to the early 19th century, while the vineyard is a more recent (1970s) addition. Bottle number 36577. A pale-gold hue in the glass. The nose is full of orchard fruit notes, with a bitter frame, peach skin and pears, with a good bite to it. The palate shows moderate depth, nicely lifted by fresh, confident acidity which carries along the fruit flavours very nicely. The fruit here has an appealing bitterness, recalling orange pith and almond husk. Straight, quite long, nicely composed, clean into the finish. Very good, an enticing wine. Alcohol 13.5%. 16.5/20 (July 2015)
Soalheiro Vinho Verde Alvarinho 2014: The original varietal Alvarinho – the vines were planted in 1974, and the first Alvarinho released in 1982. A pale golden hue. The nose is full of soft orchard fruits, ripe pears and dessert apples, with a fresh citrus twist. Everything seems in place on the palate, which has a nice depth of fruit matching the nose, fresh acidity, and a bright sense of harmony and confidence which few of the other wines tasted here seem capable of matching. Impressive, a very polished style, very complete. Alcohol 12.5%. 16.5/20 (July 2015)