WINE: Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is a youthful, refreshing Portuguese wine that's perfect for warm weather drinking. This “˜green wine' (red or white) with a kiss of bubbles, doesn't qualify as sparkling or even semi-sparkling wine. Instead, its unmistakable dance of bubbles is formally described as a “spritzy wine.”

The signature of Vinho Verde wines is that the grapes are picked before they're fully ripened for that signature tart, zesty lingering finish. Alianca from Vinicola De Sangalhos (CSPC#75663, $8.95) is one of the easiest drinking Vinho Verde's available across the province and is certainly the best value. Don't let the low price scare you. It has a pale straw colour with a mildly fruity aroma and slightly off dry flavour to balance with the zesty acidity. It lingers with an uber delicious spritzy citrus finish. It's a no fuss, easy drink that matches the joyful attitude of spring.

In the north of Portugal there are nearly 35,000 hectares of Vinho Verde vineyards. Much of the wine is consumed locally as it goes well with the rustic nature of northern Portuguese cuisine. It can be produced from literally dozens of grape varieties from Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal to Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura.

Depending on the grape variety the wines character varies from fruity to floral and from dry to off dry, but you can always count on the overall characteristic of tingling spritz and natural acidity that makes Vinho Verde an elegant, crisp sipping wine.

Ponte de Lima Colheita Seleccionda Loureiro (CSPC#190595, $16.95) is a Vinho Verde that takes itself a bit more seriously than the rest. It's produced from the Loureiro grape, which in my opinion makes for the best Vinho Verde. It produces higher yields than other varieties of very aromatic characteristics. It has brilliance in the glass followed by notes of ripe pear, zesty lime, tart grapefruit and a touch of sweet bubblegum on a core of complex dryness.

Another Vinho Verde that's trying to outgrow its lighthearted reputation is Varanda do Conde alvarinho by Provam vinho verde (CSPC#966663, $13.95). This blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura from the Moncao subregion shows fragrant, silky aromas of apricot and fresh pear, underlined by lemony acidity. At 12 per cent alcohol, it goes well with seafood dishes.

Like the best spring and summer drinks, the alcohol level of Vinho Verde ranges from as low as 8 per cent, up to 11 per cent. Aveleda (CSPC#5322, $8.95) is a 8.5 per cent Vinho Verde produced by Sociedade Agricola Comercial. Because of its low alcohol level it's a perfect wine to drink on an empty stomach, say as a prelude to dinner.
The acidity naturally inspires an appetite.

The more you drink Vinho Verde the more you will like its simplicity, so do not let those bottles linger in your cellar. This is a wine you can enjoy within its first year and always serve it chilled. Because of it's crisp, freshness it goes well with salads and it especially works well with a cream soup. The rich, velvety texture of a cream soup is a luscious contrast to the wines spritz and crisp texture.

Casa Devila Vinho Verde (CSPC#132563, $13.95) has flavours of apple and crisp grapefruit with a spritz that cuts through the thick, rich texture of creamy apple and butternut squash soup. It's a beautiful way to start a spring dinner.

These beautiful wines come from the very northwestern tip of Portugal in a small province called Minho between the Lima Valley and Spanish border. The region was once characterized by more than 70,000 small Vinho Verde growers, but today less than half of them remain ““ pity!

There are 13 different Vinho Verdes available through the LCBO. Casa do Valle (CSPC#167478, $11.95) is a fun rose and a rare find in the world of Vinho Verde. On the palate are layers of candied fruit and lush raspberries that tantalize with its tingly and spritzy acidity. It goes well with light spring salads and if you sip it on its own, be prepared for it will leave you wanting more of this easy sipping wine.

Muros Antigos Escolha (CSPC#166710, $9.90) Vinho Verde is produced by one of Portugal's most respected Vinho Verde winemakers, Anselmo Mendes. His wines are highly aromatic with a clean, elegant refreshing nature.

Vinho Verdes are the perfect segue wines as we look to shed our heavy winter wines in search of lighter warmer weather options. If you're a wine drinker who tends to think Portugese wines are limited to Madeira, Port and Mateus, then pick up an inexpensive bottle of Vinho Verde. Ontario hasn't scratched the surface of the amazingly delicious and distinctively different styles and varieties of wine from Portugal.

-Lynn Ogryzlo is a food and wine writer and author of Niagara Cooks, a farm to table, and international award winning cookbook. You can reach Lynn for questions or comments at