Don’t forget, Portugal makes white wines too. And it’s not all in Vinho Verde. Let’s take a look at some key white wine grapes, white wine producing regions, and tasting notes.
Check out my Top Portugal 10—10 ‘quick facts’ to know about Portugal as a wine producing country.
For a general overview on Portugal, please see Wine Region Overview: Portugal, based on WSET Level 3
PORTUGAL TASTING—WHITE WINES
Region: Vinho Verde
Climate of the Vinho Verde is moderate maritime and becomes ‘more continental’ toward the east where the warmer, drier sub-regions of Baiao and Moncao e Melgaco produce later ripening grapes such as Avesso and producing fuller bodied expressions of Alvarinho. Vintage variation is common due to high rainfall falling throughout the year.
Soils are predominantly granitic rock with shallow topsoil made of decomposed granite with a sandy texture, meaning low fertility and good drainage. NOTE: fertilizers are often needed.
Vineyard management was traditionally to train vines up trees for better air circulation (some still practice this technique), as the high rainfall throughout the year means high fungal pressure. Modern vineyards are planted to single or double Guyot replacement cane with VSP or lyre system with training relatively high to increase air circulation and decrease rot threat. Summer pruning techniques include removal of lateral shoots, leaf thinning, and green harvesting to a) control vigor of more productive varieties and b) to again increase the air flow through the canopy.
Wine: Esporao Bico Amarelo Vinho Verde White 2019
Loureiro 40%—most planted variety and is grown throughout the region, mainly on the coastal side. It is mid-ripening.
Alvarinho 30%—second most planted variety and grown almost exclusively in the north in the Moncao e Melgaco subregion. NOTE: high quality has led to more plantings elsewhere.
Avesso 30%—late-ripening variety that does best in warm, dry environment, thus grows in the more inland subregions.
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium intensity—green apple, chamomile, biscuit/bread, grape, under-ripe white peach and white nectarine, lychee, rose petal, white blossom,
Palate: dry, high acid, medium alcohol, medium body, medium flavor intensity—as above, less floral on the palate than on the nose, primarily sour green apple, adding lemon and lime zest, pith, and flesh here
Finish is medium (left with a roaring acidic salivation)
Conclusion: This wine is of acceptable quality. I find that the very high acidity does bring forward a lot of the fresh primary fruit flavors, especially the citrus (lemon/lime) and sour green apple notes. While there was a good dose of floral aromas, I did find that those were missing on the palate, but did find subtle hints of a toasted biscuit/bread on both the nose on the palate which tells me there may have been a portion of this wine that spent some time on the lees, though the subtlety of those notes and the overall medium body tells me there was probably little/no stirring involved. Overall, the lack of intensity of those secondary characteristics has lead me to conclude that this wine isn’t necessarily complex. Furthermore, there is a general lack of intensity on the nose, palate, and finish, even from the primary characteristics, which seem to lack a real concentration. Though there is a broad range of primaries, especially on the nose. Additionally, the wine is well-balanced in body, acid, and alcohol—the light body lending to the fresh/fruitful nature of the wine, the alcohol modest enough not to overwhelm the delicate nature of the fruits, and of course the acidity that is the one thing keeping those primary fruits alive. So, for the range of primary fruit flavors and the overall good balance of the wine as a whole, I don’t believe the wine to be faulty or poor, but because of the overall lack of intensity, complexity, and finish, the wine cannot be rated any higher than acceptable.
Suitability for Aging: This wine is not suitable for extended aging. As noted, the aromas and flavors are both very subtle, the overall palate lacking in concentration, the finish falls flat at a medium. The delicacy of the fruits and the racing acidity leads me to believe that, with time, these fruits will not develop but will fade, leading to an imbalanced expression. This wine is clearly intended for early consumption.
Wine: Quinto do Ameal Loureiro 2019 (100% Loureiro)
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium intensity—fresh white nectarine and peach, white blossom, mandarin orange, lemon, lime, simple
Palate: dry, high acid, medium alcohol, medium body, medium intensity—as above with the citrus of lime sticking out the most, adding some sour green apple here as well; there’s also just a touch of texture, or phenolic grip that lines the perimeter of the tongue—perhaps this wine saw some time with the skins.
Conclusion: This wine is of acceptable quality. It is clearly a simple wine that stays in the range of primary fruit characteristics carried on by the very high acidity. The acidity is almost out of balance here, driving the fresh fruits forward in a pleasant way, but then lingering on the palate after the finish is complete. The wine lacked an overall intensity—the nose fairly subtle, the palate, as mentioned, taken over by the citrus lime zest and flesh. I did not get any notes of secondary characteristics; the wine seems fairly simple in its winemaking. And, like the aroma and palate, the wine lacks any concentration or intensity on the finish, ending at a medium length. However, the wine is light, refreshing, crisp, and does what it does well—provide a light wine for easy/early drinking. And for its typicity and the fact that it is not technically faulty/flawed, it is better than poor, but I cannot rate it any higher than acceptable in quality.
Suitability for Aging: This wine is not suitable for extended aging. As the previous wine, the aromas and flavors are both very subtle, the overall palate lacking in concentration, the finish falls flat at a medium. Also similarly, the delicacy of the fruits and the racing acidity leads me to believe that, with time, these fruits will not develop but will fade, leading to an imbalanced expression. This wine is clearly intended for early consumption.
Climate—The demarcated region follows the Douro river. It is divided into three subregions:
- Baixo Corgo (west side—Atlantic influence, thus cooler, wetter than the other two regions)
- Cima Corgo (middle—warmer, drier)
- Douro Superior (east side—hot, arid)
The western limit is marked by Serro do Marao, a mountain that shields the Douro region from the cooler, damper Atlantic weather, thus the region has a warm continental climate.
Soils—bedrock is schist covered with shallow topsoil maid of decomposed schist. It is low in organic matter and stony in texture, thus very well-draining. HOWEVER, the bedrock splits into vertical layers and vines can root through in search of needed water. NOTE: Vineyards are not set up for irrigation due to the many hillside locations. And this is a drought-prone environment. BUT when drought stress is extreme and jeopardizes quality (not quantity) AND where the region allows, irrigation is allowed. (Producers need to let the IVDP know)
White varieties tend to be grown in vineyards at the highest altitude, providing cooler night conditions to help retain acidity:
Douro wines tend to be made from grapes blended from a range of sites, though some do produce single-vineyard expressions. Aspect, altitude and distance from coast all influence specific site climate, thus blending is an important component to achieving balanced wines.
Inexpensive white wines are fermented cool in stainless and bottled soon after for immediate release/consumption. Style: light to med aromas/flavors, med-med(+) acid, good in quality. Muscat Blanc is often used to enhance aroma.
Premium whites are produced from old vines, fermented and matured in oak (with some new) and tend to have greater intensity and variety of aromas and flavors and higher body and texture.
Wine: Duorum Tons De Duorum White Blend 2018
30% Vioshinho—full body, floral and stone fruits, lacks acid
25% Rabigato—high acid, citrus, floral
20% Verdelho—relatively drought resistant, thus suitable to the region’s lack of rainfall; thin-skinned grape with low vigor vines; high in acid
20% Arinto—mid-ripening variety, producing wines that are more neutral than either Loureiro or Alvarinho
5% Moscatel Galego Branco—(Muscat)
Appearance: pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—toast/biscuit/bread, matchstick flint, lemon, lime, green apple, blossom, grape, grass or fresh hay, herbal
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) flavor intensity—as above, adding peach skin and under-ripe flesh, apricot skin and under-ripe flesh, herbal (still can’t pinpoint it), touch phenolic grip
Finish is medium
Conclusion: This wine is of good quality, showing a broad range of both primary (spanning from citrus, to pomme, and even stone fruits along with herbal/herbaceous characteristics) and secondary characteristics. Those secondary characteristics point me toward some complexity in the winemaking process. Namely, that toasty/bready characteristic, indicating some lees contact; that matchstick flint, indicating some purposeful reductive winemaking; and that slight touch of phenolic grip, pointing toward some skin contact. These characteristic do not overwhelm the primary fruits, but instead add depth and complexity to both the flavor and the texture of the wine. While the high acid carries the primary fruits through the length of the tasting, the moderate alcohol again does not overwhelm those fruit flavors or add excessive warmth or heat and thus is also well-balanced. However, the finish falls flat at a medium, perhaps because, although the aromas and flavors are at a medium (+) level of intensity, there isn’t really a solid amount of concentration of fruit, and thus those pleasant fruit flavors dissipate fairly quickly. However, for the overall balance and complexity I can say the wine is certainly better than acceptable, but for the lack of concentration and length I cannot say the wine is any higher than good in quality.
Suitability for Aging: Though there are structural components that would lend the wine toward ageability—acid, alcohol, and even that touch of phenolics, I do not think that the primary fruit flavors are concentrated enough to withstand the test of time. I fear these fruits would fade and the wine become imbalanced. The wine is perfectly suited for immediate consumption and should not undergo extended bottle aging.
Region has a Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, but variances in climate and soil: NORTH slightly higher rainfall with clay-limestone and schist soils and mainly produces red wine; RIVER area has fertile alluvial soils, thus vine vigor needs management; area produces mainly white wines. SOUTH is driest and hottest with poor sandy soils, producing both red and white wines.
NOTE: Tejo is the name of both the DOC and the VR with the VR covering a wider area and permitting wider variety of grapes and larger max yields AND producing substantially more wine than the DOC.
Both DOC and VR allow range of local and international varieties. MOST COMMON:
Fernao Pires/Maria Gomez—the most planted white wine grape; early ripening; produces high yields; once thought to have originated in Tejo, but evidence has found its origins actually lie in Bairrada
Arinto—mid-ripening variety, producing wines that are more neutral than either Loureiro or Alvarinho
Alvarinho—thick skins (less susceptible to rot damage/fungal pressure); it is early to mid-ripening (climate change and improved viticulture means it ripens successfully in most vintages); high in acid
Sauv Blanc and Chardonnay
Majority of wines produced in fruity/early style.
Wine: Tercius Tejo 2019 White Wine Blend
Appearance: Pale lemon
Aroma: medium (+) intensity—peach, nectarine, hint of pineapple and passionfruit, green grass, white blossom, lychee, rose petal
Palate: dry, high acid, medium body, medium alcohol, medium (+) intensity, adding lime zest, pith, and flesh, and fresh apricot
Finish is Medium (+)
Conclusion: This wine is of good quality. While it’s not necessarily complex, showing no real indication of secondary characteristics that would point to advanced winemaking, the wine does show a good concentration of primary fruit flavors that span between stone and tropical fruits as well beautiful floral notes . Though the wine is technically dry, I do suspect a hint of RS that adds to the perception of fruit concentration as well as the overall medium body and smooth mouthfeel. There is a good dose of acidity that keeps the wine fresh on the palate and those primary aromas/flavors alive throughout the length of the tasting. The finish does fall shy of long at a medium (+) in length. So, for the lack of finish and complexity I cannot say the wine is any higher than good in quality—however the intensity and concentration of the fruit flavors balanced with all the structural components means that this wine is certainly better than acceptable.
Suitability for Aging: I do not think that this wine is suitable for extended aging. The joy in this wine is in the freshness of the fruits and florals and the nature of these primary characteristics are such that I do not think they will develop in any meaningful way with time.
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