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The Grapevine

Portuguese wine has winning freshness factor

By Lisa Airey, thewinekey@aol.com

4:41 PM EDT, August 16, 2012

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Imagine a great-tasting white wine bottled with a little natural effervescence to tantalize the taste buds. Imagine this wine at a mere 80 calories per 5-ounce serving vs. the usual 100-120. Imagine such a wine at $8 a bottle.

Too good to be true?

Nope.

The Vinhas Altas Vinho Verde from Portugal is a snappy little number that makes you stand up and take notice. It's the quintessential thirst quencher … delicately effervescent and bracingly fresh. It dances across the palate in a quickstep of honeydew melon and ripe pear. And, at 10 percent alcohol, it allows you to stay cool in the heat.

But that's not all, no that's not all!

The grape varieties, Arinto, Loureiro, Trajadura,are incredibly food friendly and pair expertly with simple fish and shellfish entrees as well as with more complicated and spicy Asian or Indian cuisines. The wine is versatile at table and a large part of that is due to its freshness.

In fact, the freshness factor is a winning characteristic with or without knife and fork, and Vinhas Altas has a unique way of achieving it.

But first a little history lesson.

Beer has always been cheaper than wine. And there is a reason for this. Its principal ingredients are cereal grains, which are easily stored after harvest. In fact, grain can be stored for years. This unique situation allows for the craft brewing of beer upon demand, guaranteeing freshness.

Wine is a little different. Its principal ingredient is the grape, a highly perishable crop which must be used in its entirely at the peak of ripeness. It is made once a year and must be cellared in a temperature-controlled environment awaiting sale. The cost involved in storage is considerable.

Whereas a brewery is in near constant operation throughout the calendar, a winery uses its presses and fermentation vats once a year. Beer is made and shipped. Wine is made and kept. And this is reflected in the final cost of each product.

But Vinhas Altas is changing the rules of the game.

They are using a unique technology that allows them to freeze unfermented grape juice after harvest in order to ferment on-demand during the calendar year. This technique allows them to bottle freshness on a continual basis.

And freshness is what Vinho Verde is all about. In Portuguese, vinho verde translates as "green wine." But it isn't green. It comes in red, white and rose versions. The "green" in this instance means "young." The wines are supposed to be youthful and vibrant.

And Vinhas Altas delivers both attributes at a most note-worthy price. (Distributed by Republic National.) It's worth hunting down.