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Great with Sardines

07 June 2013

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THE city of Oporto (Porto) is known for port, and there is much justification for this, for it gave its name to the wine, as did the city of Jerez to sherry, and, until quite recently, this had to be aged in the warehouses, across the River Douro, in the twin town of Vila Nova de Gaia. There is, however, another vineyard region whose vines surround the city to the north and east. This is the only Portuguese wine region that has no geographic connotation: Vinho Verde.

In Britain, Vinho Verde is almost invariably seen as a light white wine, often with a hint of acidity. Because of its crisp freshness, it can make an ideal wine for summer drinking at an affordable price. But, in Portugal, it is multi-faceted. Indeed, until comparatively recently, there was more red Vinho Verde produced than white, and even now it accounts for 40 per cent of production. The red version has an acidity that acts as a wonderful match to the oiliness of the freshly grilled sardines that, in season, are the feature dish of the restaurants in the Oporto suburb of Matosinhos.

White Vinho Verde can be made from a broad variety of grapes. The majority of wines are therefore blends of three or more varieties. One of the problems is humidity - this is one of the rainiest regions in Europe. Traditionally, the vines were planted "promiscuously", being trained up trees. Now, however, most of the vines are trained on head-high wires, so that the breezes can dry them. Of all the varieties for the white , the best are probably the Loureiro, the Trajadura, and the Alvarinho.

This last grape featured in an article of mine some months ago; for it is the same as the Albariño of the Rías Baixas region of Spanish Galicia. The vineyards of the two countries face each other across the River Minho. There is a Rota do Vinho Verde Alvarinho, based on the beautiful town of Monҫão, perched on a bluff overlooking the river.

One of the highest-reputed producers in the area is the Baroque Palácio de Brejoeira, inhabited by the 96-year-old Herminia de Oliveira Paes. Sadly, her wine is not sold in this country. Alvarinho wines are generally sold in brown "flute" bottles, and are more expensive than the regular Vinho Verde.

This region includes the historic cities of Braga and Guimaraes, and the beautiful resort of Viana do Castelo. The Spanish border is little more than an hour from Oporto, with its airport lying on the right side for an easy getaway. I suggest that you take with you Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter's The Wine and Food Lover's Guide to Portugal (Inn House, 2007), a wonderful source for not just the best wineries to visit, but also where to eat, and where to stay.

One of the leading commercial producers of Vinho Verde is Sogrape. Its Quinta de Azevedo 2011 is available from Waitrose for £7.29, and the 2012 from Majestic for £7.99 (£5.99 a bottle if you buy two). Tanners of Shrewsbury offer the Vidigal 2011, which they claim has "plenty of zippy, sherbet fruit", for £7.

If you cannot visit the region, at least try some of its wine this summer.

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