Had a lovely pool party at one of my best friends’ house, last weekend. Lots of swimming, lots of sun, great barbecue (scrumptious filet mignon) and, of course, some wine. I’d brought a bottle of Hurluberlu, a nice, fresh cabernet franc made by natural wine producer Sébastien David in the Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil appellation: it’s such an easy-drinking, delicious summer wine with bright fruit and a lovely cherry-red color (visible through the transparent glass bottle) that it didn’t last long in the bottle. I took a glass, walked away from the table for fifteen minutes, and the rest was gone in a flash.
Thankfully, my friends had more wine in store, including a Vinho Verde called Gazela, made by Portuguese giant Sogrape. Now, the packaging, with its swarm of colorful pictures reminiscent of an aggressive travel poster, wouldn’t necessarily have drawn me to the bottle, but the contents quickly won me over. The wine was fresh, fizzy as vinho verde should be, with green apple and citrus flavors, and just a touch of sweetness to round it out. Simple, straightforward – and cheap. Under 10$ per bottle in Quebec, around 5$ in many places in the US.
At 9% alcohol per volume, it is a perfect summer drink, refreshing as can be – and as more wines should be. That’s always been one of the things I enjoy about Vinho Verde, although there, as elsewhere, alcohol content has tended to go up over the years. I’ve seen a few verdes go over the 12% barrier, as producers try to show that they can do “serious” wines.
Some of them do succeed at making high-end verdes, as the Casa de Sezim Grande Escolha 2006, which landed this spring on SAQ shelves: a more well-rounded wine, it still had the fizziness that is so pleasant in these wines from Northern Portugal, with a bit more mineral depth. More than just a summer splash, although it won’t make me stop liking the simpler Quinta de Aveleda “regular” vinho verde, at 10.5% alcohol, with a dry finish. It was my introduction to the style and remains a benchmark for me
Oh, and just a reminder. Though we never see them on this side of the Atlantic, Vinho Verdes can be red wines too, the verde referring to the fact that the wine is harvested “green”, or just on the edge of ripeness, to give it this fresh style with high acidity reflective of the cool, seaside climate of the vineyards. Having tasted the reds in Portugal, I have to say they would be an acquired taste here, with the North American love of big, fruity, oaky wines. But as with the whites, I’d sure like to have some on hand for the dog days of summer.