By Celia Strong
Well, truth be told, sometimes the most fun in doing our weekly lesson is thinking of a title for it. Some wine names, or wine regions, or tidbits about a certain wine are just too good to pass up. Many weeks, a whole multitude of fun titles comes to mind. Then, we hold a “Title Meeting” in the wine cellar and talk about it. And fun meetings these are. With just the couple of us deciding, we can go all over the place on names and say all kinds of things. All the while knowing nothing we say will ever get printed. Or be heard outside our little circle. But, we do have fun. Obviously, I bring this all up because this week’s title had such a meeting. We think we’re pretty funny. And, thank goodness, the wine is good too. Phew! (It is not called “being funny” when the wine is not good. Then, it’s just time wasted.)
Our lesson this week takes us to Portugal. In the past, a couple of years or more past, we have done a Portuguese wine. But, we have new wines from way back whenever that was. And, just because we may have done one in the past, doesn’t mean we can’t do a new one. Or shouldn’t do a new one. That’d be like saying we did a Napa Cabernet one time, so we can’t do another one? I know that’s wrong, so we repeat this week. But with another new wine. Yay!
So, in Portugal there is a very old province, called Mihno. Mihno is, or more correctly was, located in the northern part of the country. The northwestern corner of Portugal, right on the Atlantic Ocean. Today, it is the Vihno Verde region which includes the old Mihno area and some surrounding areas also. Mihno was dissolved in 1976. There are records of wine and grape growing in this area that date back to the Romans. In 870 AD, a winery was donated to the Alpendurada convent in Mihno. Over the years following that, many vineyards were planted by religious orders and donated to churches and convents. Seems there were tax breaks that encouraged this. (Interesting idea since we just survived our annual tax day.) From the twelfth century, there are records of their wine being shipped to England, Germany and Flanders (now parts of Belgium and Holland). The first recorded export to England was by John Croft in 1788.
When “maize,” corn actually, started to come into Spain and Portugal from the Americas, in the sixteenth century, its growth became more important the grapes. And the vineyards in Vihno Verde were banished to the outside boundaries of their fields. Many of the vines were forced into higher trellises so that they grew way up over people’s heads. Interestingly, their roots still were allowed to use the cornstalks’ soil. If they’d only known what we know now. As of 1908, Vihno Verde was declared as a wine region. And it got DO status in 1984. Today, there are almost ninety thousand acres of vines planted in this region. They grow about fifteen percent of the country’s wine grapes. Which makes it the largest producing region in Portugal. In 1981, there were over seventy thousand Vihno Verde producers. Apparently, they all made a small amount of wine. Today, that number is down to about half as many.
The climate in the Vihno Verde region is cool and wet. Even though the original reason for trellising the vines upward into trees and even onto ladders was to let other crops grow in the same fields, being elevated way up above the ground helps keep the grapes drier now. And less prone to rot and mildew. On the negative, too high and the grapes couldn’t always ripen well. And harvesting could be deadly if a picker fell off a trellis or ladder. The list of recommended white varieties for the region are Alvarihno (Albariño), Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro and Trajadura. There is another, longer list of permitted white varieties, none of which we really need to know. At least right now. For red varieties, there is also a recommended list and a permitted list. Again, sorry, but not now.
Moving forward, Vihno Verde is not only the name of our region this week, but also the name of our wine. Vihno Verde can come in white and red and rosé. Most of what we see here is the white. This is absolutely a perfect wine for hot weather. Partly because it is light and dry. Partly because it is never very costly. And partly, my favorite, because it has some effervescence in it. All meant to taste best when served very very, very cold. The flavors of any one Vihno Verde depend on exactly which of the grapes from our list are used to make it. And most of them are blends. The two main varieties are Alvarihno which tends to have low yields and can reach alcohol levels of twelve and a half percent. Its’ wines tend to have more minerality. Most of the Alvarihno grapes are grown in the northern part of the region, close to the Spanish border. Where Albariño is so popular. The Loureiro grape has higher yields on its vines, and makes more aromatic and fruity wines. The name “Vihno Verde” literally means “green wine.” But, the “green” refers to its youthfulness when drunk, not its color. (Yeh, yeh, I know. A lot of really young white wines can have slight green nuances in their color.) The effervescence, or the fizziness, of Vihno Verde can occur two ways. In better, slightly more expensive bottles, the fermentation can continue for a little bit after the wine is bottled. The carbon dioxide is trapped in the wine, and in the bottle. In less expensive Vihno Verdes, the wine can get a small shot of carbon dioxide into it before the cork goes into its bottle. We have to realize we are talking only a few dollars difference in the price of these two bottles. Ten dollars to four dollars? Or close. All this helps explain why we get to try another Vihno Verde. They are not all the same, so we get to keep learning and tasting.
Speaking of tasting, time for our wine this week. Blue Vihno Verde. Which circles us back to our “Title Meeting.” Not knowing why it is called “Blue,” we came up with a multitude of ideas. Not all worth repeating here, things like “blue Christmas,” “blue suede shoes,” “brown eyes blue,” blah blue blah. It did get slightly out of hand – meeting adjourned. Our Blue Vihno Verde is from the Melgaço town in the region. This is a town where especially good Alvarihno grows. Like we said, dry, clean, crisp, pear, apple, lemon notes, herbs and more. All dipped in fizziness. And food pairings? White fish of all sorts, shellfish, boiled, steamed and broiled shrimp, broiled vegetables, pickled shrimp, pickled vegetables, tuna and potato salad, mild cheese and fruit plates, Vietnamese lettuce wraps – chicken or fish, anything with lemongrass. Yum. Lots of yum. So, no need to be blue. We have Blue. For $8.99 green. Enjoy.