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Ep 393: A Trip to Vinho Verde and a Fresh Outlook on these Wines

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 09/28/2021

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This is an audio travel diary in a way -- it is bringing things we've covered in the past (Episode 291 has details not in this show) to real life application, since I just returned from a trip to the Vinho Verde region. After talking about a tasting of Ports at a few lodges, we discuss Vinho Verde. This show is not about the fizzy base tier wines, but about the premium wines that are single grape varieties, made with better grapes by meticulous winemakers. It's a new look at an old region!

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I need to thank the Commission of Vinho Verde for hosting this trip to the region and setting up such wonderful experiences that really gave a 360˚ view of this region.

Photo: ©Wine For Normal People, Vineyards of Aveleda

After talking about a wonderful tasting at Graham’s Port Lodge in Vila Nova di Gaia (across the Douro from Porto) and Quinta do Noval, we discuss some important things about Vinho Verde that augment Episode 291 from my time there. This show is not about the base tier wines – fizzy, cheap and cheerful versions, but about the premium wines that are single grape varieties and made in interesting ways. It’s a look into the diversity that Vinho Verde has to offer, beyond what you may know!

 

We discuss some key points on Vinho Verde:

  • There are nine subregions (see below for more detail). Depending on whether they are in the north or the south, closer to the Atlantic or inland, styles and grapes vary enormously.

 

  • We talk about the thing that wowed me the most: how very different the aromas and flavors of wines of this region are based on the soil they grow on – granite v. schist

 

We discuss the main grapes and their general flavor profiles:

  • Loureiro: A grape with herbal bitterness, that’s floral, and creamy. It’s the top grape of coastal areas.

  • Arinto: The MVP that adds acidity and minerality to blends, this is the base of most Vinho Verde sparkling wine.
  • Trajadura: Although very light in flavor with low acidity, it adds body to blends. I found it tastes like stems – woody but not oaky. It’s great with Loureiro and Alvarinho.

  • Alvarinho: The same grape as Albariño from Rias Baixas on the western coast of Spain. Here the grape seems more tropical, but more acidic because unlike the Spanish, the producers in Vinho Verde do not put the wine through malo-lactic fermentation so the acidity is a bit sharper. The grape is from this region and interesting versions show rosemary and other savory herbal notes with salinity. We discuss the various permutations of the grape – there is experimentation with oak, amphora, eggs (stainless steel and concrete), and extended skin contact and what those versions are like.

  • Avesso: An unusual grape, it represents only 2-3% of production because it is so tricky to grow. When it is good it is like pears, red apple, flowers and the texture is creamy, even though it doesn’t undergo malolactic fermentation. It’s a grape/wine worth seeking out.

  • Azal: A rare grape grown only in some of the subregions, it is like citrus and herbs. It is usually marked for blending but the varietal wines are high in minerality and acidity and not short on fruit flavor.

Photo: ©Wine For Normal People, Arinto Grape in Sousa

And the reds:

  • Vinhão: In its best form smells good – like incense, violets and lilies, but I found it can also smell like goat poop, band-aid, and dirt. It is lower in alcohol and very acidic (some versions are tannic). An inky, light style red with lots of flavor, this is really a local wine, made in a very local style, not for broader consumption. It is used in rosé but often blended with Touriga Nacional, the famed grape of the Douro/Port.

  • Espadeiro: Another hard to grow grape, it is late ripening and tastes of strawberry and cherry. It is used for rosé. As well.

  • Touriga Nacional: A lighter version of Portugal’s star grape from just over the mountains in the Douro.

 

 

Regions and their main grapes:

Lima: Herbal, fresh and grassy Loureiro is their wine. The wines are lovely.

 

 

Ave: Both single variety wines and blends of Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Alvarinho. The Alvarinho + Trajadura blend is common and produces green herb, tangerine notes. Producer: Sao Giao

 

 

Cavado: Similar to Lima, with fresh Loureiro and some Arinto for very acidic sparkling wine, Alvarinho that is peachy, floral and acidic.

 

 

Sousa specializes in floral, talc-like and acidic Loureiro , Arinto for sparkling and for blending to add body to Loureiro, Alvarinho as the more serious wine that has lime and flint notes, and Trajadura, which is light and rounds out blends. Producers: Quinta da Lixa, Quinta das Arcas (Arca Nova)


Photo: ©Wine For Normal People, Quinta das Arcas in Sousa

 Amarante is in the southeast. It makes a lot of different grapes but we focused on the Avesso grape, which is floral, like pears and red apples, bready (from lees contact) and creamy, as is the nature of the grape.  I love this grape, it belongs in the full whites category with Rhone whites, Priorat whites, Verdejo, and Fiano. Producers: A&B Valley Wines, Curvos

 

 

Basto is in the southeast as well, with Douro on the other side of the mountains. Avesso, Arinto, Azal, and Alvarinho are the main grapes. Azal is a rare grape that is acidic with green apple, citrus, herbal, lemon, grass, mineral notes and and acidic yet savory quality. (I mention that only about 10 -15 pure Azals made in the world, Quinta da Razas in one of them). Producer: Quinta da Razas

 

Photo: ©Wine For Normal People, Harvest team at Quinta da Raza in Basto

Monçao e Melgaço  is the home of Alvarinho! There is traditional Alvarinho and then there is so much experimentation with the grape that flaovrs range enormously. The standard bearers show tropical fruit, lime, and floral notes with characteristic strong acidity because the wines don’t go through malolactic fermentation. Granite v schist soils make a difference and any number of styles from sparkling to oak aged, to amphora aged to skin contact wines are being made. Producers: Soalheiro, Adega de Monçao, Quinta da Santiago.

 

I did not visit the subregions of Paiva and Baiao so we don’t discuss them in the show, but they are in the south and specialize in Arinto, Avesso, Azal, with some Loureiro.

 

All in all it was a lovely trip! The producers are open to the public, so it’s an easy and fun few days to plan if you love white wines and want to learn something new!

 

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