The only Portuguese white wine that has any name recognition is vinho verde, which actually means green wine. Many are fine to drink if you make sure the bottle is good and cold.
Some are on par with their Albariño siblings on the other side of the border. The big story, though, is that Portugal is starting to show that it is capable of making superb white wines from many of its regions.
Portugal has many indigenous grape varietals and many microclimates to suit each one. You can find white wines that will match an array of palates with some being fruit-driven and others having less of an accent on fruit and more floral or mineral tones.
Fernão pires, antão vaz, sercealinho are just a few of the indigenous grapes that are used. Arinto’s crisp acidity and fresh minerality makes it a wonderful partner for blending. This grape is found in a few areas including Alentejo, one of Portugal’s hottest — literally and metaphorically — regions. Fernão pires, aka Maria Gomes, is grown throughout the country but thrives the Bairrada. Fragrant with intoxicating peach and citrus aromas, it is often very refreshing. Loureiro, trajadura and alvarinho are the main grapes used to make vinho verde. Encruzado rules the Dão. The Douro has too many to name but rabigato is one of the best. Then there are nonindigenous grapes like sauvignon blanc, which can be very tasty.
Given the plethora of grapes and white wines, narrowing down the field was not an easy task, but these three are a great sampling of what Portugal has to offer:
Parras Montaria, 2009 (Alentejo): Putting it simply, this wine is cheap and very cheerful. Made from antão vaz, roupeiro and arinto, it is floral, bright and fresh with a piquant citrus flavors and a delightful, long finish. Suggested retail: $12.99
Valle Pradinhos, 2009 (Macedo de Cavaleiros, Trás-os-Montes): Macedo de Cavaleiros, Trás-os-Montes is a tiny, sparse region located on the Douro River near the Spanish border. Founded in 1913, Valle Pradinhos is one of the larger properties with more than 800 acres. The only semi-indigenous grape in here is malvasia fina. Riesling and gewurztraminer account for the bulk of the juice, but if you like aromatic whites, look no further. Suggested retail: $12.99
Monte Cascas Fernão Pires, 2008 (Ribetejo): Monte Cascas is a project started by two friends, Frederico Gomes and Helder Cunha, who have worked with many other wineries. They make wine from several regions, including the Douro and Alentejo, but this more-obscure gem is the standout. Made from vines that are more than 100 years old, it has superb concentration yet retains the stone and citrus fruit quality that characterizes fernão pires. Suggested retail: $55
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.