Coming Soon, Green Wine

Starts like Fruit Stripe gum, ends like cardboard.

Sir Cliff Richard, an aging British pop star, had egg on his face when he appeared on celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s spirited cooking show The F Word. At Ramsay’s urging, Richard participated in a blind tasting of two wines. When he described the second as “tainted” and “insipid,” and likened it to vinaigrette, Ramsey gleefully revealed that the wine was Richard’s own Vida Nova label — produced at his vineyard in Portugal’s coastal Algarve region.

But beyond a few snickers, Richard still wins in the court of public opinion. Brits love to hate the famously short-tempered Ramsay, and critics have praised Richard’s wines — his accidental condemnation of his own product notwithstanding. They’ve enjoyed commercial success as well, helping to raise the profile of Portuguese red, white, and rosé table wines in a country associated mainly with sweet, fortified port.

Wineaux have to visit Portugal to sample Vida Nova’s blends, but there are many other wineries worth trying. Portugal’s exports just keep getting better, thanks to investment in new technologies and growing momentum among smaller producers. But the marketing machine is revving up, so get to know Portuguese wines now, before demand and price catch up to quality.

Vinho Verde, literally “green wine,” is a Portuguese appellation that produces both red and white wines, but only the whites are exported. Often slightly carbonated, Vinho Verde whites tend to be very light, with low alcohol content. Aveleda’s Casal Garcia is one of the best-known; it’s dry and effervescent, with a faint metallic taste. While one taster railed against the sulfuric aroma and kvetched that a big sniff could do in an asthmatic, another raved that the $5.99 bottle was “a fizzy kind of smooth.”

The Cavipor Caseiro, a blend produced by the Cavipor winery, has an intoxicating aroma that reminded one taster of Fruit Stripe gum, but it failed to deliver when it came to taste. A rough citrus flavor gave way to a finish like cardboard — not worth its price at $3.99.

The favorite of this tasting was Pocas’ 2004 Coroa D’Ouro white table wine. With a color like bright straw and a tropical aroma, the Pocas is pleasing even before you take a sip — and that sip won’t disappoint. It tastes of crisp green leaves and is reminiscent of a freshly cut lawn — simple and clean. At $4.99 a bottle, you’d be smart to buy a case.

Portuguese whites make a good cocktail substitute when consumed without food; they’re also great with seafood.

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