Vinho Verde


“NV” stands for “non-vintage,” though on the face of it, that’s a ridiculous proposition. All grapes are harvested in a particular year; hence those dates on wine labels and the notion that some vintages are better than others so the wines from those years are more valuable. However, wine does not have to be made from grapes harvested all in the same year. The great example of this concept occurs in Champagne, the famed French region of prestigious bubbles, where something more than 80 percent of the product is non-vintage, though the term “multi-vintage” is really more useful. Champagne producers maintain stores of reserve wines to blend with the wine from the current vintage being used (generally about three years old) to ensure a consistent house style. Other wines employ the multi-vintage trope, including, surprisingly, Portugal’s Vinho Verde, “surprisingly” because Vinho Verde tends to be a fresh young wine intended for immediate consumption. In France, bottles plucked from roadside stands, service stations and highway convenience stores are often multi-vintage (or really “nonvintage”) and fairly anonymous; examples I have tried range from truly awful to not too bad.

Anyway, today we look at three “nonvintage” products that happen to be remarkably diverse.
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The Calamares Vinho Verde nv, Portugal, offers a bright gold color and mild, almost subliminal effervescence. The blend of grapes is 40 percent arinto, 30 percent trajadura (also known as treixadura) and 30 percent loureiro. Enticingly fresh and clean, the wine delivers notes of roasted lemon and lemon balm, quince and ginger, green apple and lime peel in a saline, limestone-inflected setting; while it’s a wine of the moment, this Calamares is not ethereal, instead possessing gratifying body with an almost talc-like finish touched with candied grapefruit. Acidity is flagrantly crisp and flint-like. Nine percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $7, and do I have to tell you to buy it by the case to drink this Summer?

Imported by Vision Wine and Spirits, Secaucus, N.J. A sample for review.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut, nv, Champagne, France, is one of our favorite Champagnes, and I was surprised to see that I have never written about it on this blog. It’s a blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 35 percent chardonnay and 25 percent chardonnay, all from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. The base wine of the present manifestation is from 2010, with the addition of eight percent each from 2009 and 2008. The color is medium straw-gold; the all-important bubbles are myriad, prolific and dynamic. My purpose in purchasing this Champagne was to balance a scallop dish rich in butter and cream, and the clean, incisive acidity of the Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Brut and its scintillating limestone minerality did just that. (Plus, you know, it’s Champagne.) The bouquet offers notes of lemon, seashell, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and honeysuckle, all quite subdued, and threads of cloves and crystallized ginger; it’s fairly full in the mouth, but not heavy or obvious, leaning more toward a well-knit and elegant character enlivened by crispness and energetic effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid about $60.

A Terry Theise Estate Selection, imported by Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y.
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Now comes the wine that inspired this post, the Steven Kent Winery “Evening Vinesong” Grenache nv, Livermore Valley. Produced in a minute quantity and available only to the winery’s Collector’s Circle, a bottle came into my hands via a generous benefactor. The wine is 100 percent grenache — previous editions were a blend — with 60 percent of the grapes grown in 2010 and 40 percent in 2011. Depending on the “year,” the wine ages 24 to 36 months in second-use and neutral French and American oak barrels. The production was 139 cases. The members of the Collector’s Circle who snatch a few bottles or a case of Evening Vinesong Grenache are lucky indeed; this is a beautiful and pure expression of the grenache grape, fruity, spicy, a little raspy and briery. The color is medium ruby-garnet; aromas of red and black currants and cherries are highlighted by pert mulberry and winsome notes of anise, lavender, brambles and dried rosemary (with some of that herb’s pithy, piney quality). In the mouth, the wine is sapid and savory, deftly balanced and integrated; oak is a whisper here, and so is a hint of loam, both forming a background to the wine’s lithe suppleness and elegance. Red and blue fruit flavors are permeated by sandings of cloves and allspice, the whole enterprise ending with a fresh, wild note. I gave LL a glass of this when she came home from work one night; she took one sniff and one sip and said, “Wow, that’s wonderful!” There’s your review. Excellent. For information call (925) 243-6440 or visit stevenkent.com

Boy, we’ve had a lot of fun with these wines, pairing them with a variety of fish and seafood dishes like grilled swordfish and tuna, shrimp in a spicy Mexican preparation and also chicken with a citrus marinade. The wines, samples for review, originate in three regions: the vast Vinho Verde, north and east of the city of Oporto; Douro, the Port region east of Oporto, athwart the Douro river; and Alentejano, far to the south and lying southeast of Lisbon. I don’t know how widely available these wines are, so definitely mark them Worth a Search. By any measurement of charm, you won’t be sorry.
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Most of the vinho verde we encounter in the USA is meant for immediate consumption, being young, simple, fruity, slightly spritzy in some examples, a wine perfect for a summer afternoon or evening on the patio, on a picnic or at the beach; chill it, slurp it up, forget it. The Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 2011, on the other hand, benefited from just a little age and reveals more structure and depth than the typical model. A blend of 70 percent loureiro grapes and 30 percent pedernã, the wine was made entirely in stainless steel tanks. The color is pale gold; the wine is very lemony and spicy, very dry and crisp, with subtle undertones of pear and peach and dried seaside herbage and salinity; it displays a slightly roasted and earthy nature that comes across as tangy and savory, all fueled by vibrant acidity and scintillating limestone minerality. The finish is characterized by a fairly austere chalk-and-steel quality. 11 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Manuel Vieira. Drink up. Very Good+. About — are you ready? — $10, representing One of the Greatest Wine Bargains in the Cosmos.

Imported by Evaton, Inc., Stamford, Conn.
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Next on this roster of delightful Portuguese white wines is the Herdade do Esporão Verdelho 2012, Alentejano. This light gold wine, made in stainless steel, is composed 100 percent of verdelho grapes. This is so fresh, clean, spicy and savory that it’s irresistible, though it does not possess the bright saline property of the previous wine. A bouquet of roasted lemon, ginger and quince opens to notes of lime peel and grapefruit and hints of jasmine and mango; plenty of limestone minerality and crystalline acidity keep the wine sprightly and vibrant, while an ardent spicy nature and pointed citrus and lightly tropical flavors make it downright delicious. (I’m having a glass as we speak with a serving of tuna salad for lunch.) The mineral and spice-flecked finish is surprisingly substantial for a wine at this price. 12 percent alcohol. Winemakers were David Baverstock and Sandra Alves. This could go into 2014. Very Good+. It will set you back all of 12 smackers, denoting Good Value.

When was the last time you saw a label that said “Since 1267″? Imported by Aidil Wines & Liquors, Newark, N.J.
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If you’re looking for exotic grape varieties to add to your list, try the Kopke Vinho Branco 2011, Douro, which is a blend of 50 percent arinto grapes, 45 percent gouveio and 5 percent rabigato. The color is pale gold; seductive aromas of roasted lemons and grapefruit peel, yellow plums, almond blossom, thyme and rosemary (with the hint of the latter’s resinous quality) are wreathed with lime and limestone; the wine is spicy and savory, cool and clean, partaking of a brine-laden sea-breeze and marsh grass quality and enlivened by brisk acidity and a bell-tone limestone element. The finish is almost audaciously earthy and minerally, deft and persistent. Of this trio, the Kopke Vinho Branco 2011 comes closest to the marriage of power and elegance. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Francisco Gonçalves. Drink through 2015. Excellent. About $16, a Great Bargain.

Imported by SFW USA, Union N.J.
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