Pronounced: veeng-yo vaird

From: Portugal, on the West Coast of the Iberian Peninsula

Aging Potential: In the passenger seat of your car on the way home from the store

Serving Temp: Very Cool. For the whites from 40F to 45F. For red and rosé from 45F to 50F

Flavors: Crisp, Clean, Acidic – in a good way, Fresh Citrus Fruits and Berries depending on whether its White, Red or Rosé

Cost: Almost always below $20, Often as low as $12

On a restaurant night out, are you often tempted to pass the inevitable wait time with an artisanal cocktail? Alas, the drink before dinner has the poor manners to upset the taste of the wine that you will soon be enjoying with your food. Next time, when looking for something to sip on while waiting for your table try something that will always be kind to your upcoming meal –  like the refreshing light wine of Portugal, Vinho Verde.

Like many other old-world wines, it’s named from the place of origin, NOT the name of the grape, (More on grapes later.) These revitalizing wines, whether red, white or rosé are released early, from 3 to 6 months after harvest. That’s very different from the wines we often enjoy that are fermented and aged for several to many years. Vinho Verde is also lower in alcohol, typically hovering between 8.5 and 11 percent, compared to wines with more typical alcohol levels of 13 to 15 percent.

You may have enjoyed white Vinho Verde with its bright citrus flavor by the pool or as an aperitif on a sunny, hot afternoon. But it’s way more than just a cooling drink. There’s history, politics and culture in that glass. With over 19000 grape growers cultivating the vines of 45 indigenous grape varieties you know that the Vinho Verde region has a whole lot of wine making going on. Portugal’s largest wine region has been producing wine since before 100 AD, and was one of the first to export wines to European markets. Celtic tribes were probably the initial farmers to capitalize on the verdant landscape with a maritime climate like Seattle or Vancouver.

Here’s what you should expect when enjoying a glass. Whites are full of the citrus flavors of lemon, lime and stone fruit. (Stone fruit is wine-speak for fruit like peaches, nectarines or apricots with a large pit or stone in the middle.) Reds and rosés are more berry-centric with reds having a slight bitterness in the aftertaste.

The winning crisp flavor in the whites probably comes from two of the most popular and quality grapes most often used. They are Alvarinho, the tangy grape called Albarino in Spain or Loureiro an indigenous Portuguese grape with a distinct flower aroma that is sometimes even made into a single varietal wine.

Yummy Single Varietal Vinho Verde!

Order the white Vinho Verde with lighter fare, like salads and seafood, fish with a white or herb sauce or veggie entrees. Spicy Asian foods or even Mexican can go great with the zing of the white.

Reds and rosés are made from a couple of dozen other grapes, ones with names you don’t often run across but sing when they are used here. Vinhão is the most widely planted and adds both acidity and structure to the wine. Although seafood is the dominant cuisine of Portugal, you’ll see grilling going on all over the country and lighter meats like pork and chicken are super with the reds and rosés. They also pair well with fish that is “meatier” like monkfish in a rich dark sauce, grilled portabellas or mushroom burgers.

I’ve said nothing about the spritz that you may encounter when enjoying this “cheap and cheerful” wine. (Eric Asimov from the New York Times hung the moniker on the bottle and it stuck because it’s a great descriptor.) You may or may not have just a slight fizz when you drink Vinho Verde. The effervescence comes from history; it was a natural by-product of fermentation in the past. Today, some winemakers boost the wine with a little carbon dioxide because it’s often associated with it, but you can find bottles with and without the spritz. Many single varietals are lovely and smooth tasting without the tickle.

It’s the perfect time of the year to taste Vinho Verde. Break out a bottle and check out these two recipes that are made-to-order for this appetizing refresher. A good wine pairing always makes food more fun.

Pair rosés or reds with the Strawberry Balsamic Salsa Topping Seven Minute Salmon here:

And the white pairs beautiful with a Arugula and Radicchio Salad with Mole Vinaigrette:

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