ALTHOUGH Portugal’s northern frontier with Spain has been unchanged for centuries, land on both sides of that boundary was formerly part of Galicia. Consequently, even now, many things are similar on both sides of the modern border.
One of them is the use of the currently very fashionable grape variety albarino (or alvarinho in Portuguese), a Galician name, incidentally. It produces light, aromatic white wine often containing touches of peach but always with plenty of seafood-friendly acidity.
For a reliable everyday example, the Tesco Finest version is a good introduction but, for even higher levels of sophistication, trade up to 2012 The Society’s Exhibition Albarino (£12.95, The Wine Society) from the Rias Baixas Denominacion de Origen. It has really fresh grapefruit acidity but this is counterbalanced by textured, apple-centred depth and a savoury, slightly salty, finish. It is an excellent illustration of what the region does well.
Fair in all things, The Wine Society also has a tasty Portuguese version. The 2012 Soalheiro Alvarinho (£14.95) has even more complexity, retaining those smooth and mellow touches of apple but supplementing them with layers of tropical pineapple fruit and hazelnuts, all topped off with hints of white pepper.
Wine as distinctive as this will surprise folk who still associate northern Portugal with old-style vinho verde and little else. Even those wines, however, have moved on considerably from the somewhat bland versions of 20 or more years ago, with attractive and enjoyable fare in evidence even at entry-point levels. The 2012 Society’s Vinho Verde (£5.95, The Wine Society), for example, has floral apple and lemon flavours that are given an interesting twist of cumin without compromising its credentials as straightforward wine for all seasons.
Move up the price ladder, however, and some hugely impressive versions emerge. Consider, for example, the soft and golden-coloured 2011 Casa da Senra Loueiro Vinho Verde (£10.95, Lea & Sandeman). Here, there is a complex array of flavours that include peach, tangerine and other citrus fruits with just a hint of the region’s trademark effervescence and a lingering but very fresh finish. This is quality wine with a delightful difference.
Another producer from the area that caught my eye was Afros and the organic wines that Vasco Croft has helped introduce there. Many of them reflect the extra richness that results from the techniques they use – and particularly their commitment to long lees ageing. The vintage currently available in the UK is 2011 Afros-Loureiro Vinho Verde Branco (£11.95, www.winedirect.co.uk) with its delightful clean and pure orange fruit and smooth, lively and aromatic texture.
Although we naturally tend to associate the vinho verde region with white wine, there are some excellent reds made there too. Fernando Paiva is another devotee of biodynamic principles and he has created widely acclaimed red wine to sit alongside his spectacular whites. I was greatly taken with the lightness, acidity and soft, smooth cherry fruit of his 2010 vintage which, for me, was one of the stars of last year’s 50 Great Portuguese Wines. Now the 2012 Quinta da Palmirinha Tinto (£15, www.portuguesestory.com) has arrived in the UK . It promises to be similarly impressive but do remember that ‘minimal intervention' wine like this can, by definition, vary appreciably from vintage to vintage.
2012 Exquisite Collection Sud de France Sauvignon Blanc Viognier Languedoc, France, 13 per cent
Acclaimed winemaker Jean-Claude Mas has drawn perfumed peach flavours and texture from viognier and blended it with sauvignon blanc to inject a sharply crisp grapefruit edge as the wine nudges towards its finish.
2012 El Esteco Tannat Calchaqui Valley, Argentina, 13.5 per cent
Delightfully full and dense red wine with plum fruit given an edge of blackcurrant acidity but topped off with chocolate, an underlying minerality and firm – but not intrusive – tannin. Terrific muscular South American wine.