Today's wine of the week is contributed by Emily Lightfoot, who has been toiling behind the scenes at JancisRobinson.com for four years now. Emily, originally from Australia, worked in various media positions before falling for wine. She has been tidying up our tasting notes to great effect while juggling children and study that resulted in a WSET Diploma earlier this year. You will be hearing more from Emily.
From €4.48, $8.29, £8.95, 1,500 Japanese yen, 79 Danish krone, CA$16.80, 95.90 Brazilian real
Good-quality white Vinho Verde is an underappreciated bargain that we should all be drinking a lot more of. It's also extremely useful when the evening glass of wine is not the last item on the day's to-do list.
Anselmo Mendes, Muros Antigos Loureiro 2016 Vinho Verde is my house white wine, my go-to for busy weekday evenings. At just 12% abv it will see you through any early-evening tension (my children's bedtime springs to mind), without the weight or alcohol that might suck you into a Netflix vortex when you really MUST. KEEP. GOING.
Vinho Verde is a youthful (hence verde, or green) style of wine from Portugal's northernmost Minho region, wedged into the top north-west corner on the Atlantic coast and just south of Spain's Rias Baixas (where the now-ubiquitous Albariño hails from). It's generally cool and wet – by Iberian standards, anyway – and so, just like Rias Baixas, produces refreshing, lighter styles of wine.
As all Purple Pagers know, Portugal has broadly undergone a quality revolution in recent years (see, for example, Time to learn Portuguese?), so good producers are making much better wines from riper, healthier grapes. The intensity and alcohol of good Vinho Verde has increased as a result, so these are not the thin and watery Vinho Verdes of old – yet still refreshing, light-bodied and relatively lower-alcohol wines.
Portugal has stayed true to its roots during decades of global Chardonnisation, doggedly continuing to make original, interesting wines from indigenous grape varieties. Broadly speaking, Portuguese wines have traditionally been blends but are increasingly being produced from single grape varieties too. Vinho Verde is no exception: white Vinho Verde is typically made from a blend of any of Azal, Arinto, Trajadura, Loureiro and Alvarinho (Albariño), but more single-varietal wines are emerging. Each variety grows best in different parts of the region, depending on the local climate, which here is dictated by elevation and proximity to the Atlantic.
Loureiro is a very old, high-quality variety that grows best in the slightly drier, warmer inland subregion of Lima, which, as The World Atlas of Wine points out, is capable of making the most 'complex and ripe' styles of Vinho Verde. Loureiro means 'laurel-scented' and the wine definitely has an edge that The Wine Society describes as 'meadow fragrant' and sets it apart from your average Vinho Verde.
As with food, so often the more specific a wine's provenance, the better the quality – single-varietal Vinho Verdes from their relevant subregion are likely to be higher in quality than your bog-standard multi-regional blend. Vinho Verdes with more specific information on the label will more often than not give you a more pleasurable drink. The word 'Escolha' (albeit in tiny font on the back label) is worth looking for too. It translates as 'choice' and, as in New Zealand slang, is good news; the wine has been tasted and rated as outstanding by the regional wine authority.
Anselmo Mendes is one of the top winemakers in the region, born and bred there and making wine under his own label since the late 1990s. He likes to experiment with winemaking processes not usually associated with zesty, youthful white wines such as skin contact, barrel maturation and lees contact.
This wine is a particular bargain as it's got so much more flavour than the average Vinho Verde. The Loureiro grapes (all from the Lima subregion) are destemmed and spend some time with the skins before a long, cool fermentation and then four months on the lees. It is a light-bodied wine, but it's full of flavour; citrusy and super-refreshing and with more complexity and intensity than you'd expect for the price. As Julia wrote when she tasted the 2016 vintage earlier this year, it's a 'wonderfully fresh' wine that is both 'light on its feet and yet intense'.
This is a wine that has prompted friends to go out in search of other Vinho Verdes – greater endorsement hath no wine! The lovely packaging helps too. It would work as a great aperitif, or accompanying the usual suspects such as seafood, white meats, and Asian dishes. In summary, it goes with pretty much everything, and every house should have a stash of it. The producer's own notes says it would last seven years but mine is all long gone before next month's Wine Society order.
Both The Wine Society and Clark Foyster import this wine into the UK; it's listed by Bottle Apostle and Theatre of Wine too. Wine-searcher shows it is widely available in the US and of course Portugal, as well as in France, Spain, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Romania, Denmark, Canada, Brazil and Japan.