The Wine Buff: The new Vinho Verde
The wine buff
There a few theories about how Vinho Verde got its name. First thing, it is not a grape or a blend, it is a designated region in the north of Portugal for the production of wine. And according to António Braga, the chief winemaker at Quinta de Azevedo, it's the only wine region in the world which is not named after an actual place. Geographically, it is not just one province; as the largest wine region in Portugal, it starts inland and south of Porto and stretches up to the Spanish border, with a good portion of it running along the Atlantic coast.
Chances are, you are very familiar with the light, easy-drinking style of white wine that is generally referred to as Vinho Verde. It has a small bit of summery spritz and a touch of residual sugar, and certainly if you've ever holidayed in Portugal, you are likely to have had a nice refreshing glass as a sundowner. Vinho Verde means 'green wine', and people often think that this refers to the green tinge in the wine, but in the region, a Vinho Verde wine may be red, white or rosé.
The general consensus is that the name refers to the lush green countryside. If you're an Algarve person, you need to move a bit north. This is a much cooler region of Portugal, two large rivers run through it - the Douro and Minho - and with average rainfall of 1,200mm a year, it is wetter than the east coast of Ireland. I saw this for myself in October, when I visited Quinta de Azevedo in the Barcelos commune in the northwest of Portugal. The rain was bouncing off the orange tiled rooftops of the village houses and pounding down on the vineyards.
It's an interesting region, because unlike the Duoro, where vines and olive trees dominate, here, wine has been secondary until relatively recently. With the most fertile soil in Portugal, the best land was used to grow cereals, vegetables and raise livestock, and the vines were grown on the outskirts of the plots, generally at a height on pergolas, with crops underneath. The grapes were harvested, allowed to ferment and the wine was often bottled before the fermentation had fully finished, resulting in a slight spritz in the wine from the residual CO2. These days, if you're drinking this style of wine from the region, the spritz you get is from the addition of a squirt of CO2 at bottling.
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There have been huge changes to how wine in the region is now being made. At Quinta de Azevedo, there is a blend of old and new, a beautifully restored manor house with a 15th-century tower looks out over the gardens, and a new winery is by the vineyards where the emphasis is on producing high quality white wine which has more gastronomic appeal. These wines are quite different to the well-known summery spritz, they have structure and balance, and offer a real alternative to whites like Sauvignon Blanc, crisp Chardonnay and Albariño.
The Oak Room at Adare Manor, recently awarded its first Michelin star, is hosting an exclusive Château Mouton Rothschild wine dinner on December 4. Jurica Gojevic, who received the Michelin Sommelier Award 2020, will introduce six of the iconic Château Mouton Rothschild wines, paired with chef Mike Tweedie's menu. A canapé reception will be followed with dishes of scallop, foie gras, turbot with chicken raviolo, venison and his signature dessert. €250, adaremanor.com
The Wine Foundry Avesso Vinho Verde 2018
€8.49, 12.5pc, from Aldi
An easy-drinking Vinho Verde, this is made from the Avesso grape. Fresh, crisp and light, it has plenty of crunchy apple with a touch of citrus and peach. Perfect on its own, or serve with fish.
Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde Reserva 2018
€17.99, 12pc, from Clontarf Wines, Kelly's of Clontarf, Thomas's of Foxrock, all Dublin; and Lamplight Wine Bar, Clifden; World Wide Wines, Waterford; and wineonlie.ie
From a single vineyard, this blend of 70pc Loureiro and 30pc Alvarinho has had some skin contact and wild yeast fermentation, making it textured yet fresh, with white stone fruit, citrus and a floral touch.
Aphros Loureiro 2018
€22, 11.5pc, from Baggot Street Wine, Green Man Wines, First Draft, Ely64, Redmond's, Sweeney's D3, all Dublin
From a biodynamic vineyard in the Lima sub-region of the Vinho Verde, this is made from 100pc Loureiro and fermented with indigenous yeasts and has apple, pear and tangerine fruit flavours with a crisp, mineral core.