My idea of Vinho Verde wine, prior to coming to Portugal and immersing myself in an enormous sea of stunningly delicious Vinho Verde wines, was that it was a rather simple fruity white wine that could be sipped on a hot summer’s day. In my mind, it was just a fun little drink, nothing too serious. But boy was I wrong. Vinho Verde wines, especially those made from Alvarinho grape, are as intriguing, complex and beautifully crafted as any premium quality German Riesling or French Viognier. They are “espectacular”, as the Portuguese say.
For those from far away lands, like, oh let’s say Canada, it is rather unfortunate that the liquor stores (at least in Ontario) have such a small and measly selection of Portuguese wines, let alone Vinho Verde wines. The Portuguese wines that they do have are usually low quality wines – at best, you can find some relatively good entry level wines. But the reality is that Portuguese wines are so poorly represented that I feel it my duty to share my wine experiences and get the word out: Portuguese wines are awesome!
On December 7, 2015 I was incredibly fortunate to have been invited by my good friend and wine expert João Guedes (a.k.a Joe) to a wine tasting of Anselmo Mendes wines, the master of Alvarinho Vinho Verde wines. There are really no words to express how grateful I am to Joe for taking me along that day because we tasted and delighted in 63 different wines by Anselmo Mendes. In addition, the master winemaker was there, in the flesh, to discuss the wines and give extensive details on the conditions and evolution of each one. It was incredibly magical and surreal for me, as a novice, to be surrounded by wine experts, journalists, sommeliers and other VIPs from the Portuguese wine world. And regardless of my unknown status among this extraordinary group, I was treated like a great friend by all whom I met including the master winemaker himself. I was left speechless.
As with everything in life, we must make these extraordinary and fortunate moments count. We must share our experiences and our joys. And so without further ado, I’d like to share with you a few notes on some exceptional wines and this day of sensorial delight! As much as I’d like to be a nerdy wine student and tell you about each wine I tried, providing complete tasting notes as if I were writing the WSET Level 3 again, I won’t do that here. But needless to say, there were many exceptional wines that I would recommend you try.
When I walked into the tasting room at the Casa de Ribeirinho, a historical manor in the old quarter of Matosinhos (a neighbouring city to Porto), and took at seat with a wonderful company of men, I was handed a five page booklet outlining the topics to be covered and the wines to be tasted. Five pages. Four themes. 63 wines in total. This was a mega tasting. I was a little shocked, maybe even a little intimidated, but I was ready for the challenge.
Anselmo Mendes is winemaker with over two decades experience in the Vinho Verde appellation, and in particular the Monção and Melgaço sub-region. He is known to make some of the most outstanding wines from the Alvarinho grape but he also produces wines from Loureiro, Avesso, Trajadura (white) and Vinhão, Alvarelhão and Borraçal (red) and I’m sure much, much more. Our first theme, the terroirs of Vinho Verde, covered the differences between wines produced in Minho valley with Alvarinho grape, Lima valley with Louriero grapes, and Douro valley with Avesso grapes. Each wine had a unique taste and represented the area where these grapes were grown. Some wines had beautiful tropical aromas of pineapple, ripe stone fruits, pears, and even a hint of banana with great acidity and body. Other were elegant with notes of white flowers, citrus fruit, grapefruit and lovely minerality. And there were even a few that had slight saltiness to them, which was a wild and pleasant surprise for me.
Next, we moved on to the vertical tasting. These included:
- Vinho Verde Escolha, (blend of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Avesso) from 2014 to 2010
- Loureiro (monovarietal) 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2008
- Alvarinho Muros Antigos 2013, 2010, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2003 and 2001
- Alvarinho Contacto 2014, 2013, 2012 y 2010
- Alvarinho Muros de Melgaço 2014, 2013, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2002, 2000, and 1999
- Alvarinho Curtimenta 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2007 and 2005
- Alvarinho Parecela Única 2013 to 2011
Now that’s a lot of wine to cover. But it was a true delight! There was a wonderful fruity smell in the room. My poor right hand was busy scribbling away, trying to capture so much in such a little space that was provided in my booklet. My favorites include Vinho Verde Escolha 2012 and 2011. The 2012 has enticing aromas of ripe green fruit (think pears), ripe stone fruits (peaches and nectarines) with a slight smokiness. On the palate there is a hint of salinity, medium body and medium finish. The 2011 has a mix of gassy, petrol notes with some white flowers. On the palate, it is well balanced, medium bodied and herbaceous flavour with a pretty long finish. Another big wine for me was the Alvarinho Muros Antigos 2005 (actually, each wine in this category was exceptional and it was hard to find a favourite) which has a beautiful orange colour to it, indicating its age and evolution, and the glass is bursting with aromas of honey, marmalade, and some spice. The palate is also wonderfully complex and it still has great acidity for its age. The Alvarinho Muros de Melgaco from 2011 and 2008 were also a hit. Again, the older 2008 shows greater depth and concentrated flavours of honey, wood, and slight spicy little tingle at the end. There was a lot of excitement at the table for the 1999, however, for me, it was a pleasant wine but probably a little past its time. The Alvarinho Curtimenta 2013 has great mineral notes to match its fresh and crisp acidity, with a medium body.
A little giddy after this last tasting, our third theme focused on wines fermented in wood/oak. And these were:
- Alvarinho Muros de Melgaço 2015
- Alvarinho Curtimenta 2015
- Alvarinho Parcela Unica 2015
- Alvarinho Parcela Unica Private Selection 2015
- Alvarinho Expressões 2015.
My favourite among these were the Alvarinho Curtimenta 2015. Even though it is still rather young (needing more time to develop some interesting and complex characteristics), it shows great potential: warm ripe fruit, a mix of apples and pears, with roundness and volume in the mouth, crisp acidity, and a persistent flavourful finish.
And finally our last topic was the red and rose wines. At this point in the tasting, I was very happy – like very happy – to be there. The room with buzzing with excitement: there was laughter and joy from all the tables, Anselmo Mendes was barely audible and occasionally there would be a shout from somewhere in the room asking for people to quiet down. The reds included a Blush, the Pardusco Private (blend from Alvarelhão and 30% Alvarinho), a wine from Vinhão varietal and to finish off there was an orange wine made from 100% Alvarinho. These reds were refreshingly fun, fruity and light wines. The Pardusco, which reminded me a lot of a French Beaujolais, has a vibrant ruby color to it with red berries and juicy cherry aromas but slight fruitiness typical of the Alvarinho grape. It is an elegant, silky wine perfect for summer.
The day turned into night. The tasting ended with some speeches, glasses in the air in the acknowledgement of a great tasting and a great master in the room, lots of photos and then off we went to finish the evening with a wonderful dinner.
I’m not sure if everyone is as lucky as I am, so early on in my wine story, to attend a tasting such as this one. But this day was incredibly special and a true blessing. I hope that I have provided some solid tasting notes so that you may go out and try Anselmo Mendes wines for yourself. For those of you in Ontario, there are several restaurants that serve Anselmo Mendes wines and you can also order through wine importer Terroir Wine Imports Ltd. I leave you now with a few pictures of the event.