Vinho verde, the Portuguese white wine, is almost, in the right light, green. It’s often spritzy and can even be sweet. But it is cheap, usually $8 or less, and it somehow always tastes better than it should. So don’t discount vinho verde — and especially if it’s a long, hot summer with too many traffic jams and cranky bosses.
Our vinho verde primer is here and last year’s review is here. Keep in mind that several companies control the market, often selling the same wine under different labels. My retailer, in fact, had four vinho verdes this year, including one for $12, but all four were made by just two producers.
I bought the Caves de Cerca Famega ($7, purchased), which was one of the best-made vinho verdes I’ve had in years. It wasn’t as soft drink fizzy as so many others, and it had more fruit (lime?) and less sweetness. Don’t worry, though, because it’s still light and sweetish, with just 10 percent alcohol. It’s just not as cloying as vinho verde can be.
This is wine for people who want a glass when they get home from work but don’t want to consult their wine oracle about what to drink. Which, actually, is something we should all do more often.
Portuguese wines are all the rage. Quality has improved markedly over the past couple of years, as has availability. Sales are growing, and not just for the the most common wines, like vinho verde. Higher quality and even more expensive red and white table wines, the mainstay of any wine business, are becoming more common and more popular.
In fact, I have had a half dozen or so top notch Portuguese wines over the past year, and that so many of them have been so good and have cost around $10 is worth an eventual Portuguese wine post. Until then, consider the Prazo ($17, sample), a red blend made with tinta roriz, the Portuguese version of tempranillo, touriga nacional, the classic port grape, and three others. As such, it could have been heavy and cloying, which was not unusual for this style of wine in the past.
But it's fresh and clean — an almost New World-style tempranillo, with lots of red fruit, acid to balance, and soft tannins on the finish. A conscious effort has been made to steer the Prazo away from the typical raisiny, gooey style, and it shows. My only concern was value: It is it worth $17? Probably, given how many annoying, over-ripe California wines cost that much. Serve this with spring and summer barbecues, and think about it as a gift for the red wine drinker who wants to try something different.
The first time I tasted this wine, a Portuguese red blend, it was from the 2003 vintage and it was an outstanding $7 wine — almost $10 Hall of Fame worthy. The next vintage, the 2005, was less than impressive, overripe and flabby. The 2006 was better than the 2005, but not as good as the 2003.
This inconsistency has driven the Wine Curmudgeon crazy, since I really want to like the wine. As noted, there just aren’t that many nifty $10 reds out there these says. So when the 2008 was up to the 2003’s standards, I was ecstatic. This version of the Altano ($10, sample) manages to combine an Old World sturdiness with bright, dark fruit (prune-like, if that’s possible). It’s not especially tannic or acidic, but this doesn’t seem to be a problem. Pair it with any weeknight red wine dish, like meatloaf or stuffed bell peppers.
So why was this vintage so much better than the others? I checked with the producer’s Dallas representative, and he didn’t mince words. There were a variety of problems with the way the wine was made, like hiring port winemakers to make table wine. These problems, he says, have been fixed by the label’s new owners, and the ’08 was made by winemakers who specialize in table wine. Which is good news, and I’m looking forward to the next vintage.