White Wine, Red Wine, and Local Color

1: A Green Thought in a Green Shade

Vinho Verde doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s one of those wines that nobody thinks of until confronted with it as The Only Possible Choice – typically on a hot summer day, off your home turf – when you desperately need something cooling. Ta-da!  Vinho Verde to the rescue. Light-bodied, low in alcohol, slightly sparkling, crisp, clean, and refreshing: It’s perfect as a cooler in the summer or an aperitif all year long. It likes party nibbles and it loves seafood. So what’s not to like?

At the huge annual tasting of Portuguese wines, held this year in the airy promenade of Lincoln Center’s David Koch Theatre, I tasted several Vinho Verdes in a couple of different styles – all quite enjoyable.

The Vinho Verde zone is Portugal’s largest, and there are some significant variations in the wines produced there, even though they all share the same name. The major distinction is between the light-bodied, low-alcohol style most of us are familiar with, and a slightly bigger, slightly more imposing dinner-wine style. The latter is usually vinified from the Alvarinho grape, while the former comes from the Loureira and Trajadura varieties. Many growers are also now producing Vinho Verde from 100% Loureira.

Among the most enjoyable aperitif-style Vinho Verdes I tasted, I would give top ratings to Alianca’s 2010, Aveleda’s Fonte 2010 and Casal Garcia, and Quinta di Santa Maria’s Quinta do Tamariz 2010. All are great values – as indeed are many Portuguese white wines. Among the fuller-bodied Vinho Verdes and their kin, I especially liked Aveleda’s Quinta da Aveleda 2010 and its Alvarinho 2010, as well as Quinta de Santa Maria’s Alvarinho 2009.

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2: Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot?

I had lunch recently with a Wine Media Guild colleague, Jonathan Levine, and a few of his friends who regularly get together to enjoy good wines. Nice people and a pleasant, low-key occasion, with some very nice bottles. There were two Vallana Spannas, a 2007 and a 1964. Bringing the 64 was a very generous gesture on the part of one of the regulars, since this was his very last bottle of that great vintage. It gave everyone a chance to taste why those of us who remember Vallana are so excited by the winery’s return to the US market.

I’ve written about Vallana before, and the young Spanna we drank on this occasion justified every word of praise I gave it. For those who didn’t believe it the first time, let me repeat that at a retail price of about $13, this wine is a steal!  The sommelier at Trattoria del Arte (the site of the lunch) joined us for a taste and pronounced it as good as wines three times the price. Everyone at the table agreed. The 1964 showed what this wine might become when it grows up: lovely mature fruit, beautiful structure, gentle tannins, and an overall elegance. And with all that, the wine was still fresh-tasting: there was nothing tired or over-the-hill about it.

By contrast, a 2005 Travaglini Gattinara tasted too young and undeveloped. It just wasn’t fully together yet, even though it was eminently drinkable and already showed Gattinara’s characteristic well-bred elegance. In fact, the Spannas and the Gattinara together put on a first-class show of just how much elegance sub-Alpine Nebbiolo is capable of. Really, these wines of the northern Piedmont are an under-appreciated resource, and not just for Nebbiolo devotees.

I brought to the table a 1991 Borgogno Barbaresco. ’91 wasn’t a great year, and certainly has been overshadowed by the majestic 1990s, but Borgogno is one of the great traditional makers of Barolo and Barbaresco, and the Boschis siblings (until the quite recent sale the hereditary owners of Borgogno) knew how to blend the harvest of different parts of the zone to produce a good wine even in a merely average vintage. This one showed that quite clearly: not big, but beautifully balanced and – after some time in the glasses (I should have decanted it) – very velvety. Yet one more demonstration that Nebbiolo is more often graceful than muscular.

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3: Sleep Well, America

This has nothing to do with wine, but it is a true story and I feel compelled to share it.

As I was walking south on Sixth Avenue a few days ago, I encountered an archetypically American group trooping toward me across Eleventh Street. They all looked somewhat alike, a touch walk-weary, fair-haired and fair-fleshed (a little too much of that all around), eyes front or on guidebooks, striding gamely northward, and noticing nothing of the interesting (not to say bizarre) urban juxtapositions they were marching through – the Jefferson Market Library, French Roast Restaurant and Cafe; The Second Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue; Little Igor and Johnnie Be Good Hair Stylists and Barber Shop; P.S. 41; Patchin Place (former home to Djuna Barnes and e. e. cummings); Famous Ray’s Pizza.

As I passed the group, the woman at their center looked up from her map and smiled encouragement at them:  “Just a few more blocks now and we’ll be in Soho.”

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(For those unfamiliar with the local geography, Soho lies a good half-mile south of 11th Street.)

2 Responses to “White Wine, Red Wine, and Local Color”

  1. Magda Says:

    I’ve been reading your blog, and learning and trying to follow suggestions–mostly too in excelsis (as you put it) for me but trying. Unfortunately, most of the Italian wines you talk about don’t make it to California, or this part of California. I was intrigued by your description and recommendation of Vallana Spannas, but no luck finding it here. I did find, though, a vinho verde at…Trader Joe’s–cheap and probably from the lowest shelf, but I’m chilling it now and will give it a taste. Vivat, Tom!

    • Tom Maresca Says:

      Hi, Magda: good to hear from you. The Vallana wines are brought in by Michael Skurnik Imports, which I think has distribution in California. If you’ve got a good wine shop handy, you might ask them about that. Happy hunting!

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