Red Vinho Verde anyone?
Another side, umbrageous grots and caves
Of cool recess, o’er which the mantling vine
Lays forth her purple grape
Vinho Verde is the product of its micro-climate; the result of the richness and purity of the land which is the legacy of centuries of agriculture; a sandy, granitic soil that endows the wines with a special acidity and minerality: these are the main features of the terroir. A classic teinturier grape (see Alicante Bouschet and Saperavi) Vinhão is one of the oddities in which the juice from the flesh is crimson not clear. The red grapes, after being destalked go directly into fermentation vats or the “lagares” together with their skins, where they go through a process of maceration in order to maximize the extraction of colour and polyphenolic elements.
Dark as the inside of a coal mine at midnight the Afros Vinho Verde has impenetrable opacity, presents a slightly prickly sensation in the mouth and then bursts out smilingly with thick gobs of bramble jam and exotic black cherries and black raspberries. The tannins are chewy, agreeably abrasive, and, twinned with the angular acidity, create a pucker-sour-sizzle combination which confronts the palate with plenty of difficult textural adjustments. You can almost smell the colour of this distilled purple juice; it’s as if the skins had been freshly ripped off the flesh and just finished fermenting in the glass. The texture is part stalky and part bitter chocolate but it is the kinetic acidity that simultaneously drives the tannins over the gums and helps to alleviate their astringency.
This is a prime example where cultural context might provide the narrative necessary to appreciate the spirit of the wine. Served chilled with some slow cooked shoulder of pork or one of those artery-coating Asturian bean stews this wine’s snappy vitality would not only cut through, but dissolve, fat. I can think of few better drinks to be supped al fresco, preferably in a carafe, where the thrilling, almost unreal intensity of the colour and the joyfully rasping rusticity would seem to laugh in the face of wine convention.
Instead I had to make do with drinking it on cold winter’s night with a sharp-fanged Thai curry, a surprisingly delicious combo. By the third glass the bottle had warmed up to room temperature and the wine had a rounder, fuller nose and was more vinous, more integrated, with softer tannins. It was still defiantly Vinho Verde capturing the essence of Keats’s famous lines from Ode to a Nightingale of a wine “cooled for a long age in the deep delv’d earth… With beaded bubbles winking at the brim/And purple-stained mouth”... and purple stained fingers (so I found) and purple stained wine glass…