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Serious Eats Amateur Wine Taste-Along Report: Vinho Verde

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[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

We won't lie: the Amateur Wine Group was looking forward to Vinho Verde night. How better to spend an oppressively sticky July night than with eight frosty-cold bottles of light, crisp white wine?*

As expected when you get together ten or so wine drinkers, different favorites will emerge—some preferred the most effervescent wines; some liked the sweeter wines, with lush tropical flavors; some liked those with lime or grapefruit-like acidity.

The good news? Just about every bottle of wine had its supporters, and none had any real detractors (the exception: we disqualified one bottle, which appeared to have gone off). In short, all of these were drinkable, all of them enjoyable. Tastes varied, of course, but there were remarkably few duds in the bunch; and at mostly under $10/bottle, it's easy to experiment and find a favorite.

Answer: With twelve frosty-cold bottles of light, crisp white wine, pasta salad with homegrown tomatoes, a loaf of fresly baked bread, and a group of friends with two dogs running underfoot. A formula we highly recommend, for the record.

Bright and Lively

The widely available, cheap-as-can-be Gazela 2009 ($4-5) was an early favorite, and one that a number of our crowd would buy and take home without a second thought. It's got bright flavors of green apple and lime and a light minerality; more tart than sweet, with a little effervescence as it pours, it's terribly refreshing and pleasant to drink. Quite a few tasters went back for seconds. (More than one went back for thirds.)

While I preferred the Gazela, those who liked sweeter wines tended to go back to the Vidigal 2010 (around $7). At first whiff it's peach-nectar sweet; it's much drier than it smells, though the taste is plenty fruity, like a sweet pink grapefruit, say. There's an element that reminded us of unripe fruit—the mouth-pucker factor of an unripe nectarine came to mind.

While the Quinta de Azevedo 2009 ($8-10) actually smelled like chlorine—like, grade school swim team memories—those strange, off notes didn't come through at all in the taste. It's got those grapefruit and lime flavors, though in a slightly harsher way, like the pith, not just the juice or the zest. ("An over-zested pomelo," proclaimed one taster, somewhat but not entirely facetiously.) Still, though it's not as easy-drinking as the others, not bad at all.

The Arca Nova 2009 (around $8) was much more effervescent (in our bottle, at least); with a concentrated apple-y taste, it almost reminded us of a light hard cider.

Even Lighter

Another widely available brand, JM Fonseca's Twin Vines 2009 ($7-9), had a somewhat sharp acidity (in a sense one taster called "citric acid"); it's straightforward and tart and easy-drinking, but doesn't have much character other than that. It's thin and light on the palate, though not particularly effervescent. Essentially, we felt it didn't have much to distinguish it, but that didn't mean we weren't happy to knock it back.

The Aveleda Fonte 2009 (around $9), was my least favorite of the bunch, very light-bodied with a slightly tinny taste and a character that reminded me of flat prosecco; that said, as far as least favorites go, it's still a very drinkable one.

Slightly Fuller

Anselmo Mendes Muros Antigos 2010 (around $11) is labeled as 100% Loureiro (one of the grapes that can be used in Vinho Verde); its smell recalls apricot in a way that one taster described, with devastating accuracy, as "just like Magic Hat No. 9." With those stone fruit elements cut by a slight pithy bitterness that wasn't at all unpleasant, it was a rounder, more complex wine, with no trace of the others' effervescence; one taster called it "more like a wine, and less like a spritzer."

Different (and Likeable)

We threw the Soalheiro 2010 in as a wild card, even though it's quite different from the others. While still technically a Vinho Verde, given that it's made from one of the accepted grapes and grown in the correct region, it's produced entirely from Alvarinho, rather than a blend; as we mentioned in the intro, these wines tend to be much higher in alcohol, with a more tropical aroma.

Indeed, if you'd blindfolded us and asked us to sniff, we would've guessed Sauvignon Blanc, maybe from New Zealand; but if you'd asked us to taste, we might've guessed Chardonnay. It's buttery and full, rounder and bigger than any wine we tasted by a long shot, and at 13%, much more alcoholic. A lot of our tasters really enjoyed this pick. If you're looking for an affordable alternative to a light Chardonnay, consider giving it a try; but if you're looking for the light, apple-lime effervescence of a classic Vinho Verde, some other wines on this list are a better shot.

What Do You Think?

Did you try any Vinho Verde this week? Do you have a favorite bottle? Let us know what you thoughts in the comments!

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