Saturday, 25 April 2009

Vinho Verde Tasting at the Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange, London

On Thursday, 23 April 2009, the wines of the Vinho Verde were featured at a tasting held at the Royal Exchange in London. The Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes (The Commission on Viticulture for the Region of Green Wines – but more on that later) hosted the tasting. The location was elegant, the wines were superb, the canapé were delicious and beautifully presented. Sarah Ahmed, the Wine Detective, presented a masterclass on the wines. The tasting was well-run with lots of information available on the wines, the grape varieties, the region (including interesting wine routes to try), and enthusiastic producers eagerly describing their wares. In short, it was a terrific event but, sadly, with quite low attendance (at least while I was there).

Why was that? I suspect it’s because almost everyone over the age of 40 (and many under 40) thinks of Mateus Rosé or Lancers in a squat, Bocksbeutel-type of bottle when they think of Vinho Verde.

The classic Mateus bottle

To dispel this myth, first, Mateus isn’t a Vinho Verde, as Sarah Ahmed was at pains to point out, because it sources grapes from a variety of regions and, hence, isn’t entitled to the name. And, second, even Mateus has had a make-over since the bad old days and is a much more pleasant drink now than then (not that it would be my Portuguese wine of choice).

Well, Vinho Verde has come a long way, baby, and deserves another long and thoughtful look.

To begin with Vinho Verde is not GREEN WINE, as the direct translation of the name implies. Instead, the name refers to the nature of the wine as one to be consumed young, when it is fresh and lively. With spring here now (hooray!) and summer just around the corner, the timing couldn’t have been better to feature these wines. If ever there were summer barbeque wines, these are the ones (even more so, in my opinion, than Provençal rosés). All the wines, even the reds, benefit from a little chilling, and they are superb with food, especially seafood and grilled meats – hello Summer!

While the common perception of Vinho Verde is that the wines are all white, they actually come in all the standard colours (red, white and pink – but NO green!) and a variety of styles, mainly still and sparkling. In fact, until quite recently, the majority of Vinho Verde wines were red though now more than 60% are white. All the wines are known for their racy acidity and crisp fruit character. The reds and rosés are quite savoury with interesting cranberry and strawberry fruits and good minerality.

All the wines were nice with the whites from Enoport (Acácio, Lagosta and Moura Basto) and Quinta de Carapeços (Alvarinho/Trajadure and 100% Alvarinho), to name just a few, being very enjoyable. However, it was the reds and the pinks and the sparkling wines that I found to be the real stars. Perhaps it was just the novelty of the wines, but I thought that they were the ones with the most interest as well as the ones least likely to be seen by the general public, which is a real shame.

Espadeira (aka Tinta Amarela)

The rosé wines were all made with the local grape, Espadeira (known as Tinta Amarela in the Douro). The nose tends to be quite savoury with a strong under-pinning of strawberry, cranberry and raspberry fruit and a hint of spice. The colour ranges from very pale pink to near red with my favourites being the darker versions from Quinta das Arcas, Enoport, and Quinta de Carapeços.

Outstanding among the sparkling wines were the white and pink Espumantes from Quinta de Lourosa. Their rosé espumante is made from a blend of Syrah and Jaen, neither grape a native of the region. It had the most amazing nose of geraniums.


The real stars of the tasting, however, were the inky, near-black reds made from Vinhão (which MAY be Sousão but may not – the Oxford Companion to Wine and the UC Davis National Grape Registry say it is but various Portuguese winemakers disagree). Vinhão is one of the few grapes, called teinturier, that has a dark coloured must (juice) in addition to its deep purple skin. This dark juice combined with the colour extracted from the skins means that Vinhão wines are almost black. Several of the tasters, after much debate, decided that the colour was deep aubergine and/or blackberry. While the wines can be somewhat tannic, all the ones I tasted had smooth, ripe tannins that were very pleasant and added great structure to the wines.

Vasco Croft, winemaker at Afros

My favourites among the Vinhão on offer were the 2008 from Afros (the 2007 vintage was named one of the “50 Great Wines of Portugal 2009” by Jamie Goode, the Wine Anorak) and the 2007 Arca Nova Vinhão-Escolha from Quinta das Arcas. The Arca Nova Escolha is only made in the best years. None was made in 2008 (though they did make basic Vinhão) so when the terrific 2007 is gone (and there wasn’t much made to begin with), we’ll have to wait until 2010 (assuming 2009 is a good year) before we’ll see anymore.

I also have to admit to being a bit of a dirty old lady because Vasco Croft, the winemaker at Afros, was not only articulate and delightful, he also was a dead-ringer for the young Richard Gere. A little bit of eye-candy certainly livened up the tasting for me.

In short, my recommendation is to seek out wines from the Vinho Verde. You won’t be disappointed.


As an aside - To add to the Vinhão confusion, a common problem (especially for Portuguese grapes which doesn’t aid their efforts to market their wines), the National Grape Registry records the following synonyms for Vinhão – “Azal Tinto, Espadeiro basto, Espadeiro da Tinta, Espadeiro de basto, Espadeiro do basto, Espadeiro Preto, Negrão, Negrão Pe de Perdiz, Negron, Pinta Femea, Sesão, Sousão, Sousão de Correr, Sousão do Douro, Sousão Forte, Sousen, Sousón, Sousón Retinto, Souzão, Souzão Forte, Souzon Retinto, Tinta, Tinta de Luzin, Tinta Femea, Tintilla, Tinto, Tinto Antigo, Tinto da Parada, Tinto de Parada, Tinto Nacional”. Are you confused yet?

1 comment:

Luis said...

Thanks for the information. I am learning something about portuguese wines and found this article very useful. Regards!