Viva la Vinho Verde!


After a long, hot day of attentively tasting, spitting and assessing dozens of wines layered with complexity in a soon-to-open restaurant layered with sawdust, all I want when I get home is a wine that I can mindlessly gulp. Sure, the more refined word would be “quaff,” but that implies an element of restraint and/or social exchange that just isn’t always there when I open up that bottle. Sorry, but I’m tired, hot and thirsty. Happily, this summer, I’ve found a way to gulp my wine and have it too. Welcome to my weeknight, Vinho Verde!

Termed “green wine” for its youthfulness rather than its color, Vinho Verde is low in alcohol (typically 9-11 percent), high in acidity, and often retails at less than $10 a bottle. Your goal is to drink it within a year after bottling, at its first flush of youth. So immediate is the consumption of Vinho Verde that most producers print a bottling date rather than a vintage. And, although most Vinho Verde producers have switched to screw-cap enclosures (in Portugal, cork capital of the world no less!) in order to maintain the wine’s vibrancy and petillance (slightly sparkling nature), this effervescence fades within a half-hour of opening. In other words, drink fast for maximum fizz.

The grapes that comprise most Vinho Verde are Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, Azal, and sometimes Alvarinho (Portgual’s equivalent of Spain’s Albariño), and they are grown in the Minho region of Northwest Portugal. I certainly don’t expect anyone to remember that, but I feel like I ought to impart hard facts here and there lest I come off as a frivolous lush with a penchant for shallow wines. What you will remember about these grapes is their ambrosial flavors: green apple, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and melon with a hint of mint. Throw in that tongue-tickling spritz and the single-digit price tag and you’ve got the makings for one lip-smacking, thirst-quenching, slap-happy weeknight wine!

On one night last week, in particular, when I was actually quaffing a Vinho Verde with both decorum and company, I served Morrocan-spiced turkey kofte in a pita with fresh spinach and green apple raita. I didn’t plan the meal around the wine, or the wine around the meal; rather, I just went with my instinct that such a fun and friendly little wine would go well with just about anything. It was delicious, though I imagine Vinho Verde’s best accompaniment would be seafood. As I write this, my companions are Casal Garcia Vinho Verde and a bowl of my daughter’s Goldfish crackers—and I must say that the wine (and the Goldfish) really couldn’t taste better.

At some point soon I will start to get more serious about wine in this column; but for now, let’s just take it slowly and enjoy the simple pleasures of summer over swigs of a simple little wine. Besides, at a time when frugality prevails and we must often choose between quality and quantity—isn’t life grand when we can have both?

Four ways to go green:

Adega Cooperativa de Ponte de Lima Vinho Verde. Foods of All Nations. $8.99
Broadbent Vinho Verde. Tastings of Charlottesville. $9.95.
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. C’ville Market. $6.99.
Mapreco Vinho Verde. Rio Hill Wine & Gourmet. $8.99.