Wine writers typically divide the price range of wines into low, medium, high and premium. The problem is, what used to be called the low price range, good wines under $10, is fast disappearing. That's why it's always refreshing to find something at or near that range that can be recommended as a wine of quality and interest.
The wines of Portugal can often fall into this category, and that is one of several reasons we're going to take a look at a few today.
Now, when I mention Portugal, often the first thing that comes to mind is that dessert wine, Port, traditionally shipped from the mouth of the Duoro River at the city of Oporto. Another thing Portugal is famous for is its cork trees, whose bark is the source of much of the world's wine corks.
A remarkable factor in Portuguese wine is that fact that the country continues to make use of indigenous varietals, as we'll see in a moment, drawing directly from land and history, and also putting forth names that may be unfamiliar to many wine drinkers. Few of their varietals have travelled beyond the country's borders.
If you look at a map of Portugal in terms of wine production, it appears that a third to a half of the country is vineyard. In fact, there are many wine producing regions, from Vinho Verde in the north, to Ribatejo near the capitol, Lisbon, to the Algarve seacoast region in the south. The climate is typically maritime, meaning warm but not hot summers, and cool but not cold winters, though it can become more European as one moves inland toward Spain.
So let's take a look at some good summer wines that come in at or near those fading low prices:
Vera Vinho Verde 2012 , $12, 12% abv. Portugal has its DOC regions, as do the other wine-producing countries of Europe. This is a blend of 60% Arinto, a white grape grown in many parts of Portugal, which brings high acidity and some citrus flavors with aging. It is also known as Pedernã when it appears in a Vinho Verde; 30% Azal, which is a white varietal that also brings good acidity, and 10% Loureiro, which contributes citrus flavors and is highly aromatic.
The vineyards vary in height from 250 to 350 meters above sea level, and the vines range in age from 10 to 35 years. The soil is a combination of granite and sandy loam, and the grapes are grown some 75 kilometers from the sea. Each of the three grapes is picked at the time they are judged fully ripe, the Loureiro in the beginning of October, Arinto in late October and the Azal during the first two weeks of November.
The grapes are destemmed and gently pressed to start with, and fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel, which is the method of choice for preserving fruit flavors.
Here we have a Portuguese wine ironically under screw cap, petillance (very small bubbles) obvious on pouring, a citrus nose that first reminds of a steel-fermented Chardonnay. Slightly prickly on the palate, giving it some zest, with lemon and other citrus on the palate that is well-balanced, lively, and refreshing. If you are someone who appreciates an intense citrus palate, this wine, slightly chilled, would be perfect for summer. 87 points.
Tons de Duorum Duoro DOC, $10, 13%abv. Also a blend: 30% Viosinho, a white grape that's a component of white Port but also appears in wine; 30% Rabigato; 20%, Verdelho, a grape often found on the island of Madiera, but in decline there today, and 20% Arinto.
The color of this wine leans more toward the light and bright golden region of the spectrum, with citrus on the nose, and behind it, white fruit in the pear-apple ballpark. This is a still wine (no bubbles), with a balanced and intense palate of lemon, apple in the background, and both stay through a very long finish. 86 points.
Herdade do Espoão 2011, $12, 13.5% abv. This wine is a single varietal: 100% Verdelho, from granite and schist soil, with vines averaging ten years in age. Wine growing in the region was established in the 1200s, so they have a little experience. Lemon gold in the glass, with a bright citrus nose and slow fat tears, the acidity is good, with light body, some herbal background that give a hint of sharpness and character, well-balanced components, and a long, light finish. 85 points.
So there you have it. From Portugal to you, good whites for warm nights in New Hampshire.
Contact local beer and wine writer Jim Beauregard at firstname.lastname@example.org.