Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along: Vinho Verde

It must be great to know a ton about wine, to be able to peruse 50-page wine lists and instantly imagine what each bottle will taste like, how it will go with your food and your mood, and whether or not it's worth the hugely marked up price, but if you're anything like me and some others in the Serious Eaters in the office, then you're firmly in the "I know what I like and I can tell when it's absolute swill, but I probably couldn't pick a Chablis out of a lineup" crowd. That said, we're young, we're smart, and we're willing to learn. And of course, we'd like all of you Serious Eaters to learn right along with us.

There are a few wines that I consider to be Great Wines For Summer, and it's hard to decide what my favorite is. Dry Rieslings are near the top of that list for me, along with crisp rosés. Also making the cut: Vinho Verde.

I first tasted Vinho Verde, the lightly effervescent white wine from Portugal at the source, at a café in Lisbon, while chowing on some seriously delicious fried croquettes of bacalhao (salty, fried fish and potato balls go remarkably well with crisp, sparkling wine). It's been one of my favorite summer wines ever since.

While the name, which translates to "green wine," is more a reference to its age (most are consumed at under 1-year old), the white versions do indeed have a slightly pale greenish tinge to them around the edges of the glass. Less common are red or rosé Vinho Verdes, but they do exist (they aren't part of our tasting).

What makes them so great to sip on a hot summer day? Well, a few things. They don't quite qualify as sparkling wines or even semi-sparkling, but you get a definite tingle on the tongue as you sip them—very much like a naturally carbonated mineral water in that sense—with the refreshment that comes along with those bubbles. While the actual aromas and flavors can vary from producer to producer, they're universally light and acidic, with a freshness that, while not necessarily challenging or complex, is easily drinkable. Helping out on this front is their low alcohol content. Most come in at between 8 and 11%, making them a good drinking wine, even for lightweights.

They're also light on the wallet: The bottles we're tasting range from about $5 to $15. Pretty sweet deal.

White Vinho Verdes are generally produced from a blend of Portuguese grapes, such as Lureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal. Alvarinho (that's albariño in Spanish), a popular grape in both Spain and Portugal (and increasingly in Australia) can also be used, though according to appellation standards, it can only be used in the specific regions of Monção and Melgaço. When produced entirely from Alvarinho, the wine will be labeled Vinho Alvarinho, and tend to be much higher in alcohol, with a deeper, sweeter, more tropical aroma.

Vinho Verde is meant to be drank when young, and the producers try to help you out on this front: On the back label, next to the certification stamp, you'll almost always find a bottle number as well as a production date. Look for bottles produced the year before you purchase them, and drink 'em fast!

What We're Tasting

I may have just been lucky all the time, but in my experience, pretty much all Vinho Verdes are quite drinkable. As a young wine, they show less complexity than wines intended to age in the bottle (another reason they're great for a nice, simple, summer fling), and with less complexity comes less of a chance for wine makers to mess things up. Hopefully, the wines we taste will add some support to this theory of mine (I wish that all of our wine tastings featured only drinkable wines; alas, this is not the case).

Since every one of these wines is produced in Northern Portugal, we'll skip our normal protocol of explaining their provenance and just let you know what we're going to have.

  1. Vidigal 2010
  2. Gazela 2009
  3. Aveleda Fonte 2009
  4. Loureiro Escolha Muros Antigos 2010
  5. Quinta de Azevedo 2009
  6. Twin Vines 2009
  7. Arca Nova 2009

We also got a bottle of Vinho Alvarinho, the Soalheiro 2010. At closer to $20, it's by far the most expensive of the bunch, and certainly an outlier in terms of style. We'll see how it tastes!

Are any of these wines available near you? Who's familiar with Vinho Verde, and who's going to discover it along with us this week? Let us know in the comments.

Wines for this tasting were provided by the producers.