The Green Wines

by Giovanni PereiraClick on the SEARCH icon and enter his ID number (22763) to be taken to his personal page

First published in the UMA News Bulletin under the pen-name "Caramba" ("Hovering" the cursor over a Portuguese word will often reveal the English translation.)

Comer um peixe grelhado numa esplanada de praia acompanhado de um verdinho bem fresco é um luxo que nenhum português dispensa quando, na época estival, goza o seu merecido descanso.
(A grilled fish by the beach, accompanied by a bottle of vinho verde, well chilled, is a luxury no Portuguese wants to miss during his well earned holiday in summer.)

The fine wines of Portugal are unfortunately mostly unknown abroad, with a few exceptions like Port and the popular rosés like Mateus and Lancer. Yet this rugged handsome country produces some of the most unique and diverse varieties of world class wines.

For one, from the northwest corner of Portugal, in the province of Minho, comes a very distinctive wine – vinho verde (green wine) – but they are 'green' only in the figurative sense for the wine derives its name from the ever verdant valleys of rich soil and abundant rainfall in a region which resembles a huge amphitheatre, the inland high ground forming a semi-circle facing west towards the Atlantic Ocean.

It is truly one of the most beautiful areas of Portugal, where every arable piece of land, no matter how small is neatly cultivated. The province of Minho embraces such towns like Braga, the religious capital of the country, Barcelos, Basto, Lima, Monção,…

The vinho verde vines are literally allowed to grow practically anywhere, like they did in Roman times, climbing trees, extending over trellises bordering fields and framed by ramadas or bowers covering paths and patios, creating oases of much appreciated shade in summer. In the fields the region's vines stretch along wires from cordon posts and cruzetas, church-like crosses some six feet high. It is the height above ground which produces grapes that are lower in natural sugar but higher in malic acid – characteristics of unripe grape, thus producing light wines with low to moderate alcohol content, generally 8 to 11%, but still slightly acidic, after a second fermentation has converted the malic acid to lactic which is milder and more palatable.

The vinho verdes are most notably distinguished by retained carbon dioxide – giving the wine the famous fizz or sparkle that is its hallmark. Wine buffs call it pétillance, Portuguese wine-makers agulha.

There are many grape types used in the demarcated growing areas – the best known white grape variety being Alvarinho, mainly encountered in the Monção region, right up against the Spanish border, yielding a wine of lemony or straw colour and a bright and fragant bouquet, marvellously thirst quenching with its zest and crisp finish. It is however a wine best consumed 'young' within two years and is excellent with all types of shellfish, white meat and spicy food but remember always chilled. Goes well with Chinese food too.

Not many are aware that vinho verde can also be had as a red wine. The colour is in fact vermilion purple with a sharp and astrigent aroma. The red variety is actually more important locally but is very much an acquired taste. Grilled sardines make a compelling partner for vinho verde tinto, having a dense, oily flesh. Delectable especially when charred.

So if one is planning a picnic in the country park or going off to the beach on a hot day, pack a bottle or two of verdinho in your hamper. It won't be a bad idea but a word of caution. Because of its slightly higher acid content, too much in the evening may lead to wild dreams for those prone to indigestion!