Today’s going to be a study in the beauty of contrast. The clocks have changed and it’s dark by six here in Southern Vermont, yet the weather has been delightfully warm. I’m holding onto it at long as I can—snow is in the forecast for later this week—and one way I’m doing that is by pairing the delightfully complex but refreshing wines from Vinho Verde with my fav autumnal flavors. Vinho Verde wines are a favorite in my household: they are drinkable and you can’t beat the value.
Get to Know Vinho Verde: Beyond Light White Spritzers
Vinho Verde brings to mind delicate green bottles and a slight spritz but just as the name isn’t pronounced vee-noh vair-day, the wines go far beyond light, spritzy whites. Here’s 5 things you should know about Vinho Verde.
First things first it’s pronounced veeng-yo vaird. While most of us apply the rules of Spanish pronunciation we learned in middle school to the region, it’s Portuguese rules we should follow when pronouncing it. Speaking of which…
Vinho Verde is neither a style nor a grape, it’s a region in Portugal. It’s the northernmost wine region and located on Portugal’s s west coast. With Atlantic winds and it’s distance from the equator it’s more like the Pacific northwest than Spain or Italy when it comes to climate.
Vinho Verde is one of the oldest winemaking areas of Portugal. 2,000 years old! The DOC produces whites from native grapes like Loureiro and the more well-known Alvarinho (Alvariño). Black grapes are grown to make the region’s rosé.
The region has a moderate, maritime climate and incredibly high rainfall. Canopy management is vital to production. Vines used to be trained around telephone poles and trees to keep them off the ground, helping reduce rot and allow for air circulation but the Portuguese government has helped modernize canopy management.
These wines have aromas and flavors of vibrant fruit and a naturally low ABV. That’s why they work so well with food including Asian cuisine (move over, semi-dry Riesling!), salads and seafood.
Welcome Foliage with Vinho Verde Wines
We enjoyed an incredible burst of color here in Bennington this fall. And while I usually start reaching for the deep reds at the first hint of color, something about the way the temps lingered in the high sixties—and even low seventies—had me refusing to give up on lighter wines. The color was celebratory and nearly playful, far better suited for jacketless days and spritzy wines than heavy sweaters and cozy red blends.
Even as Halloween approached the leaves and higher temps lingered. My kitchen was filled with smells of nutmeg, slowly simmering beef-heavy dishes and roasting root vegetables, but I couldn’t move toward the reds. Not with this type of beauty out my windows. And so I kept moving bottles of Vinho Verde from the cellar to the fridge and had fun pairing them with the flavors of fall harvests and spicy Eastern-influenced food. Even with the snow coming shortly I don’t see myself leaving these pairings behind any time soon, they’re far too dynamic.
October Begs for Earthy Food and Ethereal Wines
The first pairing recommendation I have is to embrace the colors by grabbing a DOC Vinho Verde rosé.
This Melodia rosé was exceptional. We enjoyed a small taste where the first thing we admired was the gorgeous medium pink/salmon hue. The aromas jumped right out of the glass. Bright, candied red berries with some citrus peel and pith. This carried to the palate but there were added notes of ripe berries and even watermelon. The acidity was beautifully balanced and we knew things were only going to get better when we added food. And the spritz? Wow.
There’s a reason I don’t bake. Well, a few. I’m bad at it, but I also don’t like to do much measuring in the kitchen. I much prefer to be led by my instincts. I went simple, but flavorful, with the pairing cutting up a whole wheat baguette (I think white wouldn’t have stood up to the wine) which I brushed with extra virgin olive oil and popped in a preheated 350° oven while I sliced a round of brie. After the brie was sliced I removed the baguette from the oven (leaving it on) and smeared on some roasted red pepper hummus and then topped with the brie and placed back in the oven until melty.
The combination of earthy flavors from the brie and pesto with the depth but brightly acidic wine was the perfect contrast.
I strongly recommend a screw cap Vinho Verde rosé. The spritz lasted the three days the wine did. Also: this wine only lasted three days because I had some others I had to taste. If I’d had my way it would have been gone the same night it was opened.
Need More Substance?
While the rosé and baguette was heavy, some would not call it a meal. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. I tried an Alvarinho (Quinta da Calçada) and was met with lots of lime. The wine was heavier and slightly less acidic, more in line with the cooler temps that are sneaking in. I loved the brightness of lime contrasted with the slightly fuller-body and lower acidity and knew that the only way to have this was with something spicy.
For this pairing, I took a pound of ground chuck (85% lean) and added about 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs, an inch and a half of minced ginger, two cloves of minced garlic, about a teaspoon of allspice, a pinch of cumin and about two shakes of both white pepper and red pepper flakes and made them into meatballs.
I browned them in a pan with just under a tablespoon of sesame oil (just a little for flavor more than anything else). Once they were browned I poured in a half bottle of teriyaki sauce and allowed them to simmer over the lowest heat possible, covered, while shaking them around a bit occasionally (see… don’t let me bake. ever).
I took some carrot chips and paid the requisite toll to the doggos before tossing them in a little sesame oil. The carrots, not the dogs! Use more than I did, which was maybe two tablespoons. Mine came out dry. I sprinkled them with cove and allspice. I served this with brown rice. It wasn’t the prettiest but it was insanely tasty… Kris may have helped himself to TWO servings of seconds.
Let. It. Snow.
It’s going to snow eventually and believe me, when it does, I’m reaching for the Vinho Verde. Just like sweet with salty, and socks with sandals, there’s something about these super light wines paired with heavy foods. Kind of how there’s something in the beauty of the decay of this time of year.
While these Portuguese wines are each unique, their fresh fruit up front and striking acidity, makes them arguably one of the best contenders for pairing with everyone’s fav post-out-in-the-snow meal. What’s that? Soup and grilled cheese.
This was day three on the rosé. It was the perfect accompaniment to the grilled cheese Kris with a K conceptualized and made with one of his go-to soup recipes. The sandwich was peasant bread, brie and fig preserves. Do yourself a favor and skip the butter for mayo. Every Vinho Verde in our collection (four total) worked with this combo.
I especially liked this meal with the floral, single varietal Loureiro (Xisto) whose nose and palate gives way to orchard and stone fruits as it opens. Kris made chicken tacos with a cabbage/carrot slaw that was another exceptional pairing.
This was a varietal I had never tried and that is often blended with Alvarinho. At under $10/bottle (found it on wine-searcher for $6.05!) this is one to stock up on and a great conversation starter.
Vinho Verde wines offer exceptional craftsmanship, flavors, pairability and value. Want to know more? Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook in the comments or drop me a line.