Posted by: tomciocco | September 5, 2013

A SHINING, SOLITARY FACET OF VINHO VERDE

The totality of the Portuguese wine landscape is an only partially known quantity even to the most erudite oenophiles. This ancient country on Europe’s western edge that is only the size of the state of Indiana hosts close to 400 native vine varieties, and because so much of the Portuguese landscape is still so rural and remote, there are almost surely more that are known only to the farmer in whose tiny plot the vines grow.

With the possible exception of Touriga Nacional and Tinta Roriz (which is none other than Tempranillo), none of these 400 grape varieties are even recognizable as grape names to hardly anyone – without the context of a discussion about wine, what would you say Arinto, Jaen, Encruzado and Castelao were? The irony is is that this little nation does have quite a few very well know wine producing regions, the most famous of which is undoubtedly Port, followed by the likes of Douro, Dao, and the wine from which this evening’s wine emanates, Vinho Verde.

Vinho Verde, which means “green wine” in Portuguese, and which refers to its youthful nature and not its color, is situated in Portugal’s extreme northwestern corner, and its geographical extension for such a relatively small nation is absolutely huge (close to 150,000 acres under vine!). Not surprisingly, this enormous appellation is cut up into a bunch of sub-zones, and tonight’s wine originates from one of the most northwesterly ones called Ponte de Lima, just a stone’s throw from the border with Galician Spain. Much of what the world knows as Vinho Verde is white (there is red Vinho Verde) super tart, vivaciously spritzy, very low in alcohol (usually around 9%) and bottled in tall, thin, green-glassed bottles. Apart from the white part, none of that applies to the wine we drank tonight.

So back to the obscure. This particular Vinho Verde from the Ponte de Lima sub-region, unlike most of its other bubbly and blended brothers, is made from a single grape variety, and is dead still. That single, and yes, quite obscure variety is called Loureiro (low-RAY-roo), though in Ponte de Lima, Loureiro can be blended with an equally arcane variety called Trajadura. Non-carbonated Ponte de Lima Loureiro is very much the norm, and though these wines are never associated with high alcoholic gravity, most clock in at about 11%, and this one perfectly conforms to that norm. And also quite unlike the light and zippy versions of Vinho Verde, Loureiro-based wines are more highly scented, rounder in texture, and with a certain modest richness as well. Though every bit a Vinho Verde – as much as any of its effervescent cousins, Loureiro shows a deeper, more complex side of Portugal’s biggest wine zone.

I paired this great little wine with a Portuguese-style green gazpacho made from garlic, onion, cucumber, green pepper, cilantro, vinegar and olive oil garnished with bread cubes and fried bits of chorizo, followed by pan fried filets of pike seasoned with Portuguese paprika and parsley wrapped with presunto (Portuguese prosciutto) with a lemon and fresh tomato pan sauce and a side of white rice with potatoes and peas.

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Quinta do Ameal Vinho Verde Ponte de Lima Loureiro 2011

Very pale golden color. Very expressive nose of peach, muskmelon, bay leaves, hay, aromatic yellow flowers, white spices, and toasted corn. In the mouth the wine has a tightly-wound, chalky, bitter/tart structure that is well-balanced by a cohesive round softness, with flavors of citrus, gooseberry, white currants and almond nougat. Very clean, fresh and long tonic water finish.

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