It is not yet, thankfully, too cold for us to be able to enjoy a warm weather wine from Portugal: Vinho Verde (pronounced “veen-yo vehrd”). The name means “green wines.” Vinho Verde is not a grape varietal, but simply means “young wine” and should be consumed young, too, to best appreciate its vibrant fruit flavors.
Vinho Verde also refers to the verdant rural region north and west of the city of Porto along the Costa Verde (“green coast”) that extends toward the Spanish border where these wines are produced. Crossed by more than a few rivers and exposed to the Atlantic Ocean, the region is very humid, making the vines susceptible to fungus and related issues. As a result, the vine keepers have created special trellising techniques to encourage airflow and reduce crop losses.
Vinho Verde can be red, white or rose wine, but the whites are the best choice. Seven white grape varietals are “recommended” for wine production, although 25 are permitted by law. The wines are often blends and usually contain alvarinho, azal, loureiro and trajadura. Through the centuries, the local winemakers have become very skilled in creating aromatic wines with intense fruit flavors including peach, lemon, melon, apple – and all balanced with fresh acidity.
Characteristically, Vinho Verde whites have a slight effervescence which contributes to their lightness on the palate. Before the advent of contemporary winemaking, a secondary fermentation occurred in the bottle but now most Vinho Verde winemakers simply add some CO2 directly. The style is rather less than “semi-sparkling,” but a distinct bubbly-like quality is typical.
A fine kosher example is produced by Aveleda, a family-owned winery established in 1870 that is Portugal’s largest exporter of Vinho Verde. Its portfolio contains a number of blended and single varietal wines including the first kosher Vinho Verde, the Aveleda Grinalda 2012 ($11), a blend of trajadura, loureiro, arinto and azal. Slightly sweet and a bit fizzy, it has candied lemon and lime scents and flavors intermingled with tart apple, stone fruit and lychee, along with lively acidity throughout the refreshing finish. Like all white Vinho Verdes, the 2012 needs to be served chilled and it should be consumed within two years or so of bottling either as an aperitif or to accompany lighter fare.
Spirits-wise, we thought we’d revisit the whiskies of one of the northernmost mainland Scotch whisky distilleries: the Pulteney Distillery. They call their whisky “Old Pulteney,” but it has over time picked up two nicknames: the “manzanilla of the North” (after the variety of dry sherry that has a particular briny tang) and also, more recently, “the maritime malt.”
The distillery stands 250 yards from the harbor on the northern shores of the Scottish highlands, in the once very prominent herring-fishing village of Wick, in the county of Caithness. The Pulteney Distillery was established in 1826.
It was acquired by Inver House Distillers in 1995. Inver House is wholly owned by International Beverage Holdings Ltd., the international arm of Thai Beverages Plc., one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in Southeast Asia. Thankfully, as we’ve noted previously, Inver House has been reinvesting back into its various distilleries. One of the happy consequences was not only a handsome repackaging (shape of the bottleneck is based on the distillery’s unique copper “wash still,” the first of the two stills used in pot still distillation), but also a thoroughly warranted confidence in the quality of the whisky which translate to us consumers as more single malt whisky releases. So along with its classic 12 year old whisky, the distillery also released a large and growing portfolio of expressions, some very old indeed. Here are two great whiskies to seek out and find:
Old Pulteney 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (40 percent abv; $35): This lovely whisky, matured in ex-bourbon casks for 12 years, offers inviting aromas and rewarding flavors of freshly malted barley, honeysuckle, dried herbs, almonds and walnuts, toffee, sweet raisins, a hint of sour apple, traces of honey and a bit of slightly out of place caramel. The finish is medium long, but crisp and clean with soft spices, almonds, dried herbs, chamomile tea and salty brine. Indeed, from nose to finish, one can smell and taste that distinct salty, briny, maritime quality. This wonderfully soft, tangy, easy-drinking whisky is different enough from most Highland drams that it might be jolting for some, but do give it an honest try. This delicious and affordable whisky is well worth it.
Old Pulteney 35 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky (42.5 percent abv; $740): matured in American ex-bourbon and Spanish ex-Sherry casks, this new limited-edition release is a dazzling, complex whisky offering aromatic notes of sweet yet spicy fruit cake, cocoa, toffee, citrus fruit, vanilla bean and clover honey, all of which seems to evolve beautifully with a little time. On the palate, the citrus fruit notes stand firm, along with raisins, nuts, honey, some intriguing eucalyptus notes, lovely fruit compote, sweet and unctuous syrup; and that distinct briny tang makes an appearance, returning to the stage periodically to waive and makes its presence known. Also a leathery quality emerges. The finish is long, rich and rewarding with notes of chocolate, juicy raisins, and spiced rum. A hefty price-tag, but an exceptional and delicious whisky. L’Chaim!