Being serenaded in Macau by a 12-string guitar performance of “Careless Whisper” isn’t the sort of experience to be outshined. But it was, by the versatile mystery wine on the table for an authentic Chinese hot pot meal: Vinho Verde.
Some cultural context for you non-history buffs: From 1557 to 1999, Macau, now an administrative region of China, was a Portuguese territory. Though Portuguese isn’t spoken in Macau and the cultures aren’t a logical “mix,” influences are heavy in the architecture and cuisine. Hence, the versatile Vinho Verde sharing a crowded table with rice moonshine and course after course of Chinese hot pot food.
That most memorable meal was a few years ago, and while anything “George Michael” tends to eclipse other goings-ons in the universe, I knew this wine was also something special. Almost 20 years after Portugal, some 6,850 miles away, handed Macau back to China, Vinho Verde remains; a testament to how well these wines pair with Asian food.
Wines that pair across the board with Asian and fried food, also known as gold, are hard to come by. So, I investigated with my mouth and I’m still sipping.
The United States is Vinho Verde’s primary export market, so chances are you’ve heard of it, especially these past few summers as it’s been enjoying a boom. But the impression many have, that “Vinho Verde is a wine that comes in a tall skinny bottle and is bubbly, greenish and inexpensive,” is off, except the latter, as these wines offer great value.
Here’s a baseline of what you need to know about Portugal’s largest wine region.
1. That’s right, Vinho Verde is a region not a grape or wine. This region, bordering the Atlantic, boasts 21,000 hectares of vines yielding 80,000 liters of wine annually.
2. Vinho Verde wines are not all white—or green. While whites represent 87 percent of Vinho Verde’s total production, the region is also home to food-friendly reds, fruity rosés, and a variety of sparkling wines; not just for summer.
3. Vinho Verde wines are a pairing dream, thanks to balanced acidity and light body. Versatility spans from seafood, prevalent in Portuguese cuisine, to Asian-influenced dishes. Bottles with bubbles contrast nicely with crunchy or fried food.
Lastly, the lower alcohol content of these wines means two things: You can drink more of it without a face plant, and generally, they are a low-calorie option for those who are tending to their waistlines.
For over 2,000 years Vinho Verde has reliably produced quality wines. As these wines enjoy “a moment” in the spotlight, they also deserve to be understood. While I can’t blow your mind with a private rendition of “Careless Whisper,” I can add to your wine and pairing knowledge so that you may elevate your next dish, setting the perfect stage for some memories of your own.
1. Vinho Verde Asnella ($16): Lime zest, green apple and white pepper that follow through on the palate to the finish.
2. Quinta da Aveleda ($13): Nose of citrus, particularly grapefruit, and floral undertones. Richer than nose indicates and tastes of mineral-soaked fruit. Finish is crisp and dry.
3. Rosé Casal Garcia ($8): Crowd-pleaser. Notes of red berries followed by melon and a slightly floral undertone on the palate. Finish is crisp.
Amanda Burrill sees through an adventurous lens, typically focused on culinary and travel. Her education includes a bachelor’s in archaeology, a master’s in journalism, a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu, and wine and spirits credentials earned while living in Paris. She is a U.S. Navy veteran, Ironman triathlete, high-alpine mountaineer, and injury connoisseur who ruminates on UnchartedLifestyleMag.com