A Green Wine

The word ‘green’ has many meanings.  It’s a colour, of course, and, these days, is often used as a shortcut to describe environmental issues or, with a capital G, the political parties that are trying to advance those issues.

And, in Portugual, there’s a Green Wine (the English translation of Vinho Verde) but the meaning is different again; the green is used here in the sense of being young or immature.  Traditionally, Vinho Verde was consumed within a year of the harvest and so was always ‘green’ (with, in general, little character apart from mouth-tinglingly high acidity). 

Despite this, for almost a century, Vinho Verde has also been a DOC, the Portuguese equivalent of France’s Appellation Contrôlée, with designated geographic boundaries (roughly stretching from the Minho River in the north to just beyond the Douro in the south) and a list of allowable grape varieties, all native to the region of production.

Historically, most Vinho Verde was red and you will still find some like that if you visit the region.  But, today, overwhelmingly, Vinho Verde is white and the quality has improved enormously with many examples able to develop well in bottle for a year or 2 at least.  Look, especially, for wines made with Alvarinho (the local name for the currently very fashionable and attractive variety, Albariño, but, in Portugal, made in a rather leaner and crisper style than over the border in Spain), also Treixadura (sometimes spelt Trajadura) and Loureiro.

It was a bottle of the latter from producer Quinta de Gomariz that I opened recently (Grape and Grind, £14.50).  Rather fuller and richer than many Vinho Verdes despite still being only 11.5% alcohol, but retaining a typical floral character alongside a fresh, citrussy flavour and a delightful dry, honeyed finish.  A wine to enjoy on its own or to accompany many fish or chicken dishes.

And this particular Vinho Verde takes the ‘green’ theme even further – it is imported by Xisto Wines who, amazingly, bring all their stock over to the UK from Portugal in sailing boats, priding themselves in using no fossil fuels.  A Green Wine, indeed!

A Shy and Reticent Wine?

The English are often described as ‘reserved’ people: shy, reticent, not very forthcoming.  But the word ‘reserve’ can have other meanings: I can reserve a table at a restaurant or set a reserve – a minimum sale price – at an auction, for example. But what does it mean to wine lovers?

Look along the shelves of your local supermarket or wine merchant and you’ll notice that Reserve (or a local variant such as Reserva or Riserva) is one of the words most commonly found on the labels.  So, does it mean that the wine is shy, reticent and not very forthcoming?  Unfortunately not!  But, what it does mean (if anything) varies a lot, depending on where the wine comes from.

Things are clearest in Spain.  Spanish wine tasting (2)There, Reserva denotes a red wine that has been aged for at least 3 years before being released for sale, at least one year of which must have been in oak barrels.  For whites and rosés, the figure is 2 years (6 months in barrel).  The requirements for Gran Reservas are longer: for reds, 5 years (2 in oak barrel), for whites and rosés, 4 years (6 months in barrel).

Across the border in Portugal, the rules for their Reserva are much less specific, simply requiring the wine to be from a ‘good’ vintage (how do you define that?) with an alcohol level at least ½% above the regional minimum (which varies from place to place).

Italy’s equivalent is Riserva.

41 SelvapianaThis also varies from place to place – as do most things in Italy; it, too, denotes a certain minimum ageing, usually at least a year, although, for Barolo, it is as long as 5 years!  Often, higher alcoholic strength and other requirements are also included in the local rules.

And that’s as far as the regulated use of these terms goes.  Anywhere else and the word has no official meaning.  It might be used to suggest that the wine is of a higher quality, as in the French ‘Réserve du Patron’ or terms like Estate Reserve or Reserve Selection, or has seen some oak ageing, but, outside Spain, Portugal and Italy, none of this is guaranteed.

To my mind, we ought to reserve (sorry!) the use of the word to those places where it does have a legal meaning, but I’m not going to make a fuss about it because I’m English and too reserved!