The Green Wines of Portugal
It’s hot here in the Algarve. I have the fans going indoors. The doors and windows are shut to keep out the heat, and it really is rather hot down by the pool. I tend to swim early morning and late afternoon. And one does get through a lot of drinks, usually ice cold ones of course.
I’m writing this on a thursday, and I went next door for elevenses because Sheridan said she had bought this bottle of wine that came from the far north of Portugal, and would I like to try it.
Way back in the dim and distant past I bought myself a birthday present which I still own and treasure. The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson.
I like wine and I like maps so it was a much treasured work. The section on Portugal is way out of date. Back in the seventies there were the Port lodges, so there was a whole section on the Douro area. There was also a short section on algarvian wine, which faded away to nothing over the years, and is only now being revived. There was nothing in the Alentejo. That area back then was put down to wheat. However, the intriguing area for Hugh Johnson was the far north, or Minho.
For the record the northern boundary between Portugal and Spain runs along the river of that name. It is a small stream, tree lined, and what you might call truly rural. It isn’t substantial, you could throw a brick across it. The wine from that area is called Vinho verde, or green wine. Let me give a couple of short quotes from the Johnson page describing this area. “The name describes its fresh, slightly underripe style, not its colour, which is red (three quarters of it) or almost water-white.”
Usually these days we buy the water-white. Being slightly under-ripe it has a delightful freshness which is just the thing to drink in the hot summer. It is refreshing. You drink it cold, and when a bottle is first opened the wine exhibits a scintillating burst of bubbles. For me, the best wines are those that have a very low alcoholic content. I dont like to be put to sleep mid-day by 12%+ alcohol, although I do have a more expensive one of these wines that does have a high alcoholic content, and is rather well made, but the usual wines from the supermarket shelves are rough and ready thirst quenchers, and in the summer heat that is what one needs given the absence of decent beer or cider.
Let me go back to Hugh Johnson.
“The vines are grown high up in trees and on pergolas round the little fields. In late summer the sight of the grape-bearing garlands along every road gives almost pagan pleasure. The grapes are picked early and fermented briefly — the object being wine with a low alcohol content and a decided tartness which continues to ferment gently until it is drunk.”
Sheridan’s bottle was a red. I assumed it would need to be drunk cold, which, of course, brought forth a surprised response, but if this red is described as vinho verde then it is going to have, or should have, that element of tartness, and I think such wines need to be cold.
I tried it at room temperature and it was pleasant enough, but insisted on an ice cube for my top-up. Everyone agreed that it was better served cold.
My own grapes are wrapped up in muslin to protect them from the birds. Since there is no rain for six months and the stream dries up there is a problem for the birds. I try to keep a bowl of water in the garden so the birds dont need to attack the fruit, but some of the birds do get a taste for grapes. It’s difficult keeping them out, but I do try. However, parts of the garden do look a bit odd.