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What Exactly is Vinho Verde, And Why Should I Care?
Portugal’s refreshing, slightly-fizzy summertime sipper explained.
A note from Ab Ovo HQ: It’s with the heaviest of hearts that we have to bid farewell to Ab Ovo’s own Tim McKirdy (TM) — at least for now. Tim’s got a lot on his plate over at VinePair, where he’s recently committed even more of his bandwidth to a new project we’re all pretty excited about (more on that when it’s out of stealth mode). As such, he’s taking a step back from the newsletter for the time being. We’ll miss his writing and insight here, but you can keep up with him over at VinePair and on Instagram, where his latest piece (see below) is having a moment.
No matter where you spent the last week, if you’re in the northern hemisphere you probably spent it suffering. It’s hot out there. Problematically hot. It’s dog-days-of-summer hot, and we’re technically not even into the dog days of summer yet. Here in The States, we’re staring down a sweltering Fourth of July holiday weekend, and we require respite. We need relief. We need Vinho Verde.
There are plenty of crisp white wines out there you can turn to when the mercury spikes, and Portugal’s Vinho Verde shares the light body, bright fruit, and zippy acidity that make many of those wines so warm-weather appropriate. But there’s something extra satisfying about bone dry, high acid wines that also possess a touch of spritz. That fizziness provides an added dimension that, at a textural level, is the difference between tasting refreshing and feeling refreshing. It’s a quality only a handful of wines on the store shelf — Vinho Verde among them — provides.
Moreover, these wines just keep getting better. “To me [Vinho Verde] is an Old World wine with a New World sensibility, because they’re always changing,” Master Sommelier Alexander LaPratt said during a recent Vinho Verde tasting he hosted in Brooklyn. “You’ve really got to keep your fingers on the pulse of Portugal because things are changing at such a rapid rate. The wines were good before, but in the last 10 years they’ve made a dramatic increase in quality.”
And yet Vinho Verde still manages to deliver warm-weather refreshment and versatile food-friendliness for around $15 per bottle. It’s the ever-so-slightly sparkling summertime wine that’s worth getting to know right now.
What is Vinho Verde? First of all, it’s not “vee-no ver-day.” If you pronounce it such, everyone will know exactly what you’re talking about and nobody who matters will judge you (we certainly don’t advocate or tolerate that kind of snobbery here at AO). But in the interest of correcting an oft-mispronounced term — and of paying respect to the Portuguese language — we should note it’s more like: “veen-yo vaird.”
Produced in the northwestern corner of Portugal, Vinho Verde takes its name from the lush, verdant hillsides from which it originates. The term Vinho Verde therefore does not describe a specific grape variety, but a style of winemaking within a geographically delineated region. It’s actually made from a whole bunch of varieties (the regulations governing Vinho Verde allow for 45 different grapes!), most prominently including Alvarinho, Loureiro, Trajadura, and Arinto. You don’t have to worry about memorizing these — more than 80% of Vinho Verde wines are blends of at least two grapes anyhow. Just know they will variously impart citrus or green apple/pear or tropical fruit or peach or floral notes to the wines, alongside a solid dose of bright acidity.
Instead, spend your mental capital wondering how Vinho Verde gets its delightful hint of spritz. Historically, Vinho Verde wines were bottled so quickly after fermentation that a bit of secondary, malolactic fermentation would continue inside the bottle, adding just a touch of natural carbonation. Consumers liked this accidental textural byproduct so much that these days winemakers often add a little artificial carbonation at bottling to ensure their wines possess that slight effervescence consumers have come to expect.
As part of our larger cultural migration toward natural practices and authenticity, some producers have in recent years dispensed with this artificial carbonation entirely. So if you happen across a bottle that doesn’t deliver that fizziness upon opening, your bottle isn’t defective. You’re in fact likely holding an offering from one of the region’s higher-end producers. (Remember what LaPratt said; Portuguese wines are always evolving.)
Why should I care? Because these wines are purpose-built for the hellishly hot summer ahead. Their high acid and slight spritziness make for a refreshing pour when you need one, while their low alcohol levels (typically in the neighborhood of 10-11%) make them perfect for longer stints of daytime drinking. They absolutely beg for seafood (whether fried, grilled, or raw), citrusy or vinegary summer salads, or a classic cold meat and cheese spread. You can find other excellent summertime wines that tick some or even all of these boxes. But with most Vinho Verde wines retailing in the $10-20 range, few of them can challenge these wines on a bang-for-buck basis.
Three worth trying:
Broadbent Vinho Verde NV ($9) Is Broadbent the absolute best Vinho Verde you can buy? Possibly not. But it’s fairly priced, widely available, and a very suitable entry to the category. At this price you can stock an entire patio party and have enough cash leftover for all the fresh shellfish you’ll want to serve next to this bottle.
Quinta da Raza Vinho Verde 2020 ($13) This blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura — the latter imparting a little extra weight and texture — balances lovely green apple and pear with more summery notes of melon and tropical fruit. You can easily enjoy this on its own, but won’t regret serving next to some cold prosciutto or tangy cheese.
Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde 2019 ($11) This wine teems with green apple, citrus, peach, and honeysuckle while exhibiting great minerality and a touch of salinity reminiscent of its coastal North Atlantic origins. Those latter attributes, along with its bracing minerality, make this an easy pairing with flaky white fish or whatever seafood is coming off the grill.
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Just Following Up
Back in May we declared “To-Go Cocktails Are Here to Stay,” and we were right — for the most part. More than a dozen states have extended pandemic-era rules allowing restaurants and bars to provide alcoholic beverages to go. But not here in AO’s home base of New York City. Last week the state abruptly pulled the rug out from under still-struggling NY hospitality businesses, giving bars and restaurants just 48 hours notice before upending their business models. Tim McKirdy tells the story of how New York’s liquor store lobby killed to-go cocktails in New York seemingly overnight.
Last month, the very same Tim McKirdy wrote here in Ab Ovo about new regulations under consideration in cities across the U.S. that would limit or prohibit the installation of natural gas lines in new residential buildings (and what that means for the future of our beloved gas cooking ranges). Mother Jones provides another perspective.
Our piece on Ranch Water (and its various awful canned imitators) probably sparked more feedback than anything else we’ve published. Fueled by the ever-widening distribution and availability of Topo Chico — a critical and irreplaceable Ranch Water ingredient — the hyper-refreshing West Texas cocktail continues to gain new disciples. But as PUNCH reminds us, there’s more than one way to Topo.