Riddle me this: What wines come from Portugal but aren’t port? And what Portuguese wines are called “vinho verde,” which translates to “green wine,” but aren’t green?
If you get the answer right, you can discover a couple of new kinds of wine that are tasty, fun and inexpensive. Light, crisp, fruity whites that are great with food or just by themselves. Hearty reds that can tame the biggest of steaks.
Here’s how it works: Vinho Verde in fact is a wine region, in the cool, rainy and, yes, green part of northwestern Portugal. The wines aren’t green in color, but green in the sense that they are youthful, fresh, bottled quickly after picking and meant to be drunk in short order.
The resulting wines are light and lively, extra-fruity, sometimes with a lightly spritzy quality that make them good as aperitifs, with goat cheese or with light seafood and shellfish dishes or white meats like chicken or turkey.
The grapes that make the white wines are indigenous to Portugal and, sometimes, neighboring Spain. The best known is called alvarinho in Portuguese, a lean, crisp white grape probably better known by its Spanish name, albariño. Many of the whites also blend in highly aromatic loureiro and trajadura for its citrus tang.
Other white grapes are added, too, sometimes — Portugal’s 14 growing regions produce 250 different indigenous grape varieties.
So what are the red grapes that are from Portugal but aren’t port? Read on.
Portugal has been making wine for 2,000 years, historians say. The first noted shipments of the sweet, powerful red dessert wine called port (or porto to the Portuguese) were in the late 1600s. Ports quickly became the post-dinner wine of choice in England and later in colonial America.
Port is made to be powerful and sweet. Fermentation is stopped before all the natural grape sugar is used up, leaving the wine sweet. It is then fortified with the highly alcoholic grape brandy, making the finished wine powerful, with up to 20 percent alcohol.
The red grapes for port are powerful themselves — touriga nacional, touriga francesa, tinta roriz, tinta barroca and several others little known in other countries.
But more recently Portugal has branched out from port. It has begun making modern, top-quality red table wines of the traditional port grapes. These are regular wines, dry, with only about 12 percent alcohol, like table wines from other countries.
Portuguese red table wines can range from light and fruity to powerful and tannic — good matches for roasted or grilled meats and wild game.
Modern Portuguese wines are readily available in shops across the country. They’re inexpensive, with many under $20. Here’s your chance to try them.
▪ 2014 Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde white wine, Portugal (loureiro and alvarinho): light, crisp and fruity, with floral aromas and flavors of white grapefruit and limes; $9.
▪ 2012 Dow “Vale do Bomfim” Douro DOC red table wine, Douro Valley, Portugal (50 percent tinta barroca, 10 percent touriga nacional, 20 percent touriga francesa, 10 percent tinta roriz, 10 percent other varieties): lively aromas and flavors of black plums, black cherries and coffee, full body, powerful tannins, rich and full-bodied; $13.
▪ 2013 Aveleda Douro white wine, Portugal (gouveio, malvasia and moscatel): light, crisp and fruity, with aromas and flavors of lemons, limes and mangos, serve very cold; $8.
▪ 2014 Aveleda Vinho Verde white wine, Portugal (loureiro, trajadura and arinto): delicate floral aromas, flavors of ripe apricots, citrus and spice; $8 per magnum.
▪ 2012 Luis Pato Colheita Seleccionada red wine, Bairrada/Beira Atlantico (70 percent baga, 30 percent touriga nacional): unoaked, light and crisp, with intense flavors of red raspberries and black pepper, very dry; $16.
▪ 2014 Anselmo Mendes “Muros Antigos” Alvarinho Vinho Verde DOC white wine (100 percent alvarinho): crisp and dry, full-bodied, with aromas and flavors of limes, mangos and minerals, refreshingly bitter finish; $22.
▪ 2013 José Maria da Fonseca “Domini” Red Wine, DOC Douro, Portugal (52 percent touriga nacional, 31 percent tinta roriz, 17 percent touriga francesa): dark hue, floral aromas, flavors of black plums and minerals, soft and round; $16.