I’ve been drinking loads of Vinho Verde in the past few days, in all sorts of incarnations. The majority has been white, of course, although I’ve also had several reds, a couple of rosés, and even some aguardente, the local brandy made from Vinho Verde, which can be dangerously good from the right producers. And there’s espumante, the sparkling version of Vinho Verde that I can’t help but be fascinated by.
On the face of it, Vinho Verde should be an excellent region for sparkling wine. It’s cool (sort of) and rainy, and the wines tend to be naturally low in alcohol, which is important. Sparkling wine is a relatively new concept in the region, however, and they probably need a little more time to figure it all out.
I feel that the choice of grape variety is of paramount importance. So far, I haven’t been all that impressed with sparkling alvarinho — it’s just too aromatic (which I tend to hate in sparkling wine), and it’s prone to high alcohol levels (which I also hate in sparkling wine). Loureiro is clearly out of the question, as it’s the most floral and aromatic variety in the region, and besides it hasn’t enough acidity. Trajadura would be a disaster, as it’s really low in acidity. Avesso is a good idea, with its high acidity and crisp flavors. I’m still looking for a sparkler made from azal, which is citrusy, acidic and prone to neutrality unless you ripen it well in the vineyard (at least in still wines, anyway). Sounds like a good candidate for sparkling wine to me.
The best sparkling Vinho Verde I’ve tasted so far has been the Espumante Bruto from the Quinta do Tamariz, made from 100 percent arinto, a grape that is known for its firm acidic structure and promising longevity (relatively speaking). Aged for 10 months on its lees and topping out at 12 percent alcohol, this is appley, minerally and brisk, showing superb finesse on the palate and finishing with a refreshing bite of sweet herbal notes and granitic stoniness. It’s surprisingly long on the palate and quite dry, dosed at 5.4 grams per liter, and while I enjoyed it on its own, I’d love to see it with sashimi or crudo, or else with tempura. For now, this is my new standard against which I’m comparing all sparkling Vinho Verde.