Jolly Green Giant – Vinho Verde

For our 6th WineKnow event on the wines of Portugal, I wanted to get people excited about Vinho Verde – those cheap ($8-15), fresh, low-alcohol, almost transparent, off-dry and slightly sparkling wines from the north.

I’m all about matching wine with MOOD. And a chilled bottle of fruity, barely bubbling Vinho Verde pairs perfectly with scorching day at la playa (ahem, a praia). Plus, with alcohol levels that range from 9-11%, these wines aren’t gonna knock you out.

Unfortunately, Vinho Verde (Green Wine) is a terrible name for a wine region. Everyone guesses that the wine is made from green-skinned grapes or grapes that are a bit unripe. In fact, the ‘green’ in the name just means that the wines are ‘young’ (released within a few months of the crush).

I mean, can you imagine telling your girlfriend that you’ve got a romantic weekend of wine-tasting in Red Wine?

The Vinho Verde region is basically the Portuguese province of Minho, which stretches north of the Douro River (which flows into the Atlantic at Porto) and the frontier with Spanish Galicia. The climate, landscapes, grapes and wines of Vinho Verde and Galicia are similar. Both look a lot more like the area around Seattle than Sevilla.

Most Vinho Verde whites are blends, and several dozen grapes are allowed in the blend, most of which you will have never had before. The best of them are Alvarinho (yes, the same as Albarino), Louriero, Arinto, Avesso and Trajadura.

The label makes it pretty clear what this wine is all about!

Unfortunately, lax labeling means that it is almost impossible to ascertain whether the bottle you’re buying has a classic profile (slightly sparkling, slightly sweet) or is bone-dry and still! There is a lot of innovation happening across the large Vinho Verde region and the information on the wines hasn’t kept up.

So I did the needful and bought a half-dozen Vinho Verdes to try.

The Praia was fruity, petillant and delightful. Tasted a bit like a fruity Prosecco but with less bubbles.

A bit more ‘serious’ than the Praia

The Aveleda was a bit drier with similar bubbles.

The Blanka was my favorite: very lightly sparkling (as in, it wasn’t obviously sparkling when I poured it), fruity but not cloying.

“Branco” on the label tells you it’s a blend of white grapes

In the end, I selected the Fifth Empire “Destino” bottling for the WineKnow event. It didn’t even have Vinho Verde on the front label because they wanted people to focus on the blend of Alvarinho and Loureiro.

Since Vinho Verde wines are so cheap, I’d suggest you do the same thing: buy 4-6 different bottles and see which flavor/sparkle profile you like best. Then buy a case and store them in a cold fridge for your next beach day.

WineKnow “Summer Whites”

We recently hosted our third WineKnow tasting event on “Summer Whites.” It was our biggest turnout yet, with over 40 people crammed into our little house. The wines that made the biggest impact were Assyrtiko, Riesling, Furmint and Chenin Blanc.

Here’s the intro to my WineKnow tasting notes, with the full document attached:


What exactly are “Summer Whites?” In my opinion, they are wines that are lighter-bodied, dry and with high acidity. In one word, refreshing.

When you’re hot and sweaty after a day at the beach, do you hanker for cold apple juice? No, because apple juice is generally sweet and a bit viscous. But lemonade? Grapefruit juice? Oh yeah!

It’s the same with wine. Sauvignon Blanc is the classic Summer White: highly acidic, lemon/lime or tropical fruits, sometimes a bit tart, maybe some savory grassiness. It’s basically adult lemonade. But we’ve all had a LOT of Sauvignon Blanc, so it’s time to expand our horizons.

Tonight we will be tasting nine different white wines from seven different countries. No Chardonnay. No Sauvignon Blanc. No Pinot Grigio. Nothing from the USA.

I’m guessing that you will have not tried half of these wines before. I’VE never tried two of these wines before!!

Remember: as ripeness/sugar levels rise, acidity falls. That’s why most of these Summer Whites are from cooler climates where it’s easier to maintain zippy acidity.

As you are tasting these wines, I want you to think about them relative to SB (acid), PG (neutral) and CD (round).

In particular, focus on:

  • Color: ranging from clear/transparent to golden yellow 
  • Acidity: that refreshing tingle on the tongue
  • Fruit: from Lime → Apple → Pear → Peach → Pineapple
  • Impact of oak ageing (butter, vanilla, oakiness), if any
  • Floral aromas, if any
  • Body (or viscosity) – a sign of higher alcohol, or fermentation on lees (dead yeast cells) etc.
  • ‘Minerality’: does it smell or taste like flint, pencil lead, chalk or salt?

Many of these wines will taste a bit or a lot like wines you’ve tried. Most of them will have something a bit different that makes them stand out. Try to isolate that component! Do you like it?

I hope that the next time you go to a party, you’ll bring the host a bottle of Assyrtiko! You and the bottle will make quite an impression!