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vinho verde is a delicious and light wine for summer

by josh perilo

when my friend shirley returned from her trip to spain and portugal, she couldn't stop talking about it. i was completely intrigued.

"it's called green wine!" she kept saying, "and they have it everywhere!"

"what's it like?"

"so light. so refreshing. it's like mineral water with a kick!"

i looked everywhere. granted, i was going to school in north carolina at the time and the area i was in had very few wine stores with extensive portuguese sections. but i was sure that i would find it somewhere.

i ended college never having found the legendary green wine and subsequently forgot about it for several years until i started working at a wine store. as i was preparing the tasting table one summer afternoon, setting out several bottles of our delicious light summer wines we would pour later, it suddenly hit me like a bolt.

i was an idiot.

one of my absolute favorite wines in the store was a vinho verde, a light, slightly fizzy white wine from portugal. and, of course, vinho verde means "green wine" in portuguese. i felt like magellan finding his namesake strait, only a bit stupider. i couldn't believe i had missed it that whole time! now, however, it all made sense. shirley had been raving about a wine that i, too, had begun singing the praises of.

while portugal's best known export, port, comes from the south, vinho verde comes from the very different landscape of the north. it is referred to as green wine not because it is green in color, but because it is meant to be drunk very, very young. so young, in fact, that a lot of producers don't even give their vinho verde a vintage. it is the most popular wine in portugal, so it's safe to assume that if you're drinking a bottle of it, it's going to be from the most recent vintage.

vinho verde can be made from any of 25 different portuguese varietals, but the most common are loureiro, trajadura and pederna. there are some made from the slightly more prestigious alvarinho grape, but the quantity is small and the chance of finding those in the u.s. is much more difficult.

there are, actually, some red vinho verdes as well, although they are nearly impossible to find in the u.s. they are light, bracing red wines that are high in acidity and have the same signature slight fizz. almost like a portuguese answer to lambrusco, they're great just slightly chilled.

the white kind, however, has become increasingly easier to find in the states, especially in the summer. it is not only light and fizzy, but lower in alcohol, so sipping a glass of wine in the sun on a hot summer day doesn't necessarily have to lead to a headache and a hangover.

there are a couple producers whose products are available virtually everywhere. one of the more popular brands is the gazela vinho verde ($6.99 at 67 wine and spirits, 179 columbus ave. at w. 68th st., 212-724-6767). it is a basic, entry level vinho verde that will give you everything you're looking for in a simple and refreshing summer beverage. crisp with a lot of minerality and only a hint of citrus peel, this is a wine you serve ice cold in the middle of a heat wave.

for a vinho that's just a touch more complex, try the aveleda 'fonte' vinho verde ($8.99 at beacon wines and spirits, 2120 broadway at w. 74th st., 212-877-0028). still light, fizzy and fun, this wine has a touch more fruit to it. hints of white peach and orange zest make this a vinho verde you could definitely serve with a seafood salad.

so make sure you "go green" this summer with some of portugal's tastiest and most underrated fizzy white wines!

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