By CHRISTOPHER WATERS
The offer to get away from it all at a friend's rental house on a lake demanded some serious soul-searching. Where's the bug spray? And, what wine should I bring?
The bug spray was lost forever in the clutter of the basement. Thankfully, wine selections proved to be easier prey. Settling on a mix of bluechip reds and whites for dinners (crowd pleasing big reds from California and rich Chardonnays from Burgundy, Ontario and British Columbia), I also gathered some usual suspects as something to sip without care while reading magazines and paperback novels on the dock.
Toping that carefree collection was Vinho Verde, Portugal's official summer white wine of summer. Vinho Verde (pronounced something like "vino vaird") offers a burst of lemony, crisp refreshment, which suits the mood when the sun is high in the sky. Better yet, it's bottled with a slight spritz so it offers a sense of sparkling wine's playfulness when it tickles the taste buds.
Vinho Verde isn't the name of a grape -- it means "green wine." The green refers to the wine's youthfulness, not its colour. Vinho Verde is produced in northern Portugal near the Spanish border, where indigenous grape varieties Alvarinho (the region's star attraction), Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto are harvested early to avoid fall rains from the Atlantic Ocean. The resulting white wines are light and fresh, low in alcohol and inexpensive.
Most bottles will set you back only $9 to $12, which makes it a low-risk investment, particularly for something with a crowd-pleasing flavour that suggests lemon, citrus and tropical fruit notes. As such, bargain hunters and savvy shoppers looking for something different to serve to guests at summer functions prize Vinho Verde. Good examples to seek out are Sogrape Gazela, Quinta da Aveleda and Aveleda Fonte. (More premium models, usually single vineyard versions produced exclusively from Alvarinho, retail for $15 or more.)
Considering it's a wine whose name celebrates its youth, Vinho Verde is best enjoyed young -- most wine shops are currently offering wines from 2008. Be wary of older examples. That here-for-a-good-time, not-a-long-time vibe is yet another reason Vinho Verde is firmly entrenched as a summer classic. Like the season itself, its joy is fleeting.
Wine of the Week:
***1/2 (out of five)
Quinta da Aveleda 2008 Vinho Verde
Bright, cheerful and refreshing are three words to describe this incredibly clear, off-dry white wine. It's a great introduction to Vinho Verde, a wine that won't bowl you over with its complexity, but offers a lot of charm in the glass. Fresh and fruity, this works great as an aperitif or served with fish or seafood dishes or salads. The same producer is responsible for Aveleda Fonte, a more candied model that retails for $8.95 in Ontario.
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