It’s no surprise that there’s a lot of confusion about Portugal’s Vinho Verde wine region, if there’s even any knowledge at all about it in the first place – let’s face it it, it’s not Douro, but in more than one way The Douro – the great wine region that produces Port and lots of very serious dry wine too – enters at least tangentially into this post. The Vinho Verde region is situated geograpically in Portugal’s extreme northwestern corner, just south of Galician Spain, and just north of…Douro.
Notwithstanding Vinho Verde’s immediate physical proximity to the Douro, the two climates couldn’t be more different: Douro is an upland and inland valley, and like the song says, it’s hot, hot. hot there. The extra few clicks north of Douro and the fact that Vinho Verde is much closer to the cold North Atlantic makes this region quite cool and damp. And while Douro is primarily known for its big, bold and chunky red wines, and one of the world’s greatest sweet wines, a fair amount white wine is also produced there (in addition to the rarely seen white Port). And in a sort of mirror image of Douro, Vinho Verde is thought of as a source of exclusively spritzy white wines, but this region makes a lot of reds too (The “green” (verde) part of the name has nothing to do with any somewhat figurative reference to the color of the wines, but rather that they are fresh and meant to be drunk young, regardless of their color). Go figure.
For such a relatively small place, Portugal sports over 400 native vine varieties, and Vinho Verde includes its share of the bounty. If you count both the reds and the whites permissible in the blends, there are well over a dozen (mostly quite obscure) grape varieties that can go into a Vinho Verde, which can be made into wines blended from three, four or more grapes, or with just one variety. Tonight’s wine is of the mono-varietal type, and that variety is called Loureiro (low RAY roo), which despite its relative lightness and low alcohol, punches well above its weight in terms of flavor and its overall level of dynamism.
So here’s the other connection with Vinho Verde and Douro beyond their geographic proximity. Land in the Douro is very pricey, and because just a baker’s dozen of mostly originally English and Dutch families control the region to produce their Ports (an explanation best left to another post) there’s little room for them or anyone else to make more playful and inexpensive wines, but just over the border in Vinho Verde, land prices drop precipitously, and all the pressure to produce massive fortified sweet wines or blockbuster dry reds fades into the sea mists. And it is one Dirk Niepoort, a forty-something member of a Port producing dynasty, and the winemaker of this evening’s bottle, that has done just that by crossing the border into Vinho Verde to make far more quaffable wines than Port and dry red Douros. But in choosing to work with such a characterful variety like Loureiro, Mr. Niepoort and others who have done the same can make much more accessible wines that are not just carbonated throw-aways.
I put this still and characterful white with a an appetizer of bacalhau (salt cod) and potato fritters, followed by shrimp in a spinach, cilantro, garlic, wine, and chick pea sauce with some bread to pick up the creamy sauce.
Niepoort Loureiro Vinho Verde “Docil” 2012
Very pale “white gold” color. Gregarious nose of pear, quince, lemon curd and a touch of white peach strongly followed by clear notes of vanilla cream, hazelnut, fresh herbs and a hint of toasted corn. The lightly unctuous, medium light body is packed with fresh, lively and well balanced flavors of lime, white currants, hops, nori seaweed and ginger, it finishes with a notable and long elegance.