words and photos by Michael Cervin

Though wine has been made in Portugal for centuries, most wine drinkers cannot name a single wine from there with the possible exception of Port. Portugal has varied wine regions and the Vinho Verde region in particular is producing exceptional juice. I had the opportunity to visit Portugal in May of 2010 to explore this diverse area and to be a judge on a six-member international panel to award the Best of Vinho Verde awards.

The way is works, a group of Portuguese judges filters through about 300 wines first, so when the international judges showed up from the U.S., Canada, Brazil, England, Germany and Norway; we were confronted with the top 30 from which we award the best five. It is a daunting if pleasurable task.

 During this time, I spent four days meeting 15 different producers and tasting through some 160 wines and learned much about Portuguese wines.

What is loosely termed Vinho Verde (literally “green wine”) constitutes the main white and some red wines of Northern Portugal. The name suggests green, but in reality it means “joven” or young wines that are meant to be consumed less than a year after bottling, though many of these young wines are actually better with age, even up to five years. Yes the joven wines are light, bright and crisp with a sharp acidity, but time in bottle allows them some maturity which softens them and drops their acidity.

Overall the white wines here are not complex wines but that does not mean they are one-trick ponies either. The main white grapes are Alvarinho, Loureiro, Trajadura and grapes like Azal, Arinto and Avesso. Though these grapes make simple wines, to make a good wine is not a simple process.

“When the fruit is ripe you have to pick fast or the acidity will drop too quickly,” says Paulo Rodrigues of Quinta do Regueiro. Producers who are sincerely creating the best of the region and names to look for include Afros, Provam, Quinta do Regueiro, and Quinta de Gomariz. The Vinho Verde region covers 75,000 acres with roughly 30,000 grape growers. Many of the old trellis systems are still in use; arbors and arched systems routinely 10 feet off the ground.

At Afros, owner Vasco Croft employs biodynamic winemaking whereas Quinta de Gomariz is probably the best expression of where the wines of Vinho Verde are heading. The demographics of wine drinkers are changing and these wines reflect that. There is minimal residual sugar, lots of acidity and a slight effervescence, making these wines young, bright, and fresh, easily drinkable and very compatible with a variety of food on your plate.

The best news is that these wines are pretty inexpensive, usually between $10 and $15 in the U.S. They are strongly recommended and you’ll be pleased with the quality compared to the price you will find in your glass.

Curious about the awards? The top five Best of Vinho Verde winners for 2010 were:

  • Casa de Vilacetinho, (Arinto),
  • Corga da Chã, (Arinto),
  • Quinta da Levada, (Azal),
  • Quinta de Gomariz, QG (Avesso),
  • Quinta de Gomariz, QG Branco (Alvarinho and Trajadura).

So if you see these on store shelves, pick up a bottle and experience the best of Portugal.






About Michael

Michael Cervin has been writing about the wine industry for over a decade from his home in Santa Barbara, California. His publications include Decanter, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, The Tasting Panel, Wine & Dine, Wine Country This Week, Santa Barbara Magazine, IntoWine.com, and more than 60 other publications. He is the restaurant critic and travel writer for the Santa Barbara News-Press. Past wine and food judging experience has included The Best of Vinho Verde in Portugal, the Monterey Wine Competition, the California Central Coast Wine Challenge, The Taste of Rum Festival in Puerto Rico, the Firestone Chef’s Challenge (with celebrity chef Bradley Ogden), the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, the Paso Robles Winemaker’s Cook-Off, and many other competitions. Michael is the author of the Moon travel-guide Santa Barbara & the Central Coast and is a co-author of the Moon wine travel-guide, Moon California Wine Country, to be released in April 2011. His first book, Generous Fiction was released in 2009. Check out his wine, food, and travel photo-blog: www.CervinItStraight.com and www.MichaelCervin.com