First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 5th May, 2018
Spring, if not summer, started this morning as I put pen to paper. Met Éireann promises temperatures today of 15 to 19 degrees – possibly even 20 – and a warm, sunny weekend. Time to break out the white wines, then.
I suspect many of us think of Portugal as hot and sunny, and therefore more suited to making red wine rather than white. But regular visitors will be aware that it produces plenty of white wines – and that they have improved out of all recognition over the past decade. Most are still relatively inexpensive and fit modern tastes perfectly: they are light to medium bodied, with plenty of fresh fruit and usually no new oak. They make great summer wines, drunk solo or with all kinds of seafood, white meats and lighter salads.
Most are made from fascinating local grape varieties, which also means Portuguese wines have a unique set of flavours, guaranteed to please the most jaded of palates, while still remaining accessible to the rest of us.
Grape varieties do not respect international boundaries, so this part of the world shares many grapes with Galicia, just over the border with Spain
Northern Portugal is cooler than the south of the country, and the wines’ lightness and freshness reflect that. Vinho verde, or green wine, is the best-known type. It is named after the verdant countryside, not the colour of the wine. (You can find red vinho verde.) Grape varieties do not respect international boundaries, so this part of the world shares many grapes with Galicia, just over the border with Spain. Albariño, best known as the grape behind Rías Baixas, becomes Alvarinho in Portugal, Treixadura changes to Trajadura, and Godello to Gouveio. This is only the start; there are plenty of other interesting varieties, both red and white. Either side of the border, all of these grapes make for mouth-watering wines. (I would avoid the really cheap vinhos verdes, which can be lightly fizzy and fairly sweet.)
Farther south other grapes are exclusively Portuguese. Encruzado, grown in the Dão region, produces superb wine, often compared to white Burgundy, with structure, minerality and an ability to age. Lisboa, Tejo and the hot Alentejo have cooler subregions, or grape varieties that retain acidity in the heat. Look out for wines made from Antão Vaz, Arinto or Roupeiro. Even the baking Douro is producing some superb whites.
I tasted a range of exciting, refreshing dry white wines. I could have included another six here. Only one cost less than €10, but all offered great value for money. So this summer, whether in Ireland or Portugal, instead of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, go for Alvarinho, Arinto, Fernão Pires, Loureiro or Encruzado. You will be very pleasantly surprised.
Bottles of the Week
Julia Florista 2016, Portugal, Vidigal Wines 12% €7.95 (down from €9.95)
A multiregional blend of grape varieties. Light, soft and very pleasantly fruity. Drink solo or with summer salads.
Dão Branco 2016, Casa da Passarella A Descoberta 13%, €18
Impeccably balanced, refreshing wine with flowing light green fruits, a touch of orange peel and a lovely long, clean finish.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Grapevine, Dalkey, Co Dublin
Aphros Loureiro Vinho Verde 2016 12%, €21.95
A vibrant, crisp dry wine with a beautifully textured palate of orange peel and juicy pears. Perfect with seafood salads or as an aperitif.
From Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Lilac Wines, Marino, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin; the Corkscrew, Chatham Street, Dublin 2; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, Co Dublin
Xisto Ilimitado 2016, Douro Branco 12.5%, €22.50
A stunning, utterly enjoyable wine, with complex but delicate saline green and yellow fruits that slowly unfurl.
From Clontarf Wines, Dublin 3; 64 Wine, Glasthule, Co Dublin; Green Man Wines, Terenure, Dublin 6; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4; Redmonds of Ranelagh, Dublin 6; Fallon & Byrne, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2