The Grape Glossary: A guide to hip varietals
Like most of Portugal's finest wine grapes, loureiro has done a good job of hiding in plain sight. You may not know it by name, but if you're a fan of Vinho Verde, Portugal's most famous white, chances are your nose has been tickled ever so slightly by its signature floral perfume.
As with most other classic wines from that grape-blessed country, including port and Dao, Vinho Verde tends to be crafted as a blend, with several varieties anonymously adding to the whole. In the case of white Vinho Verde (it can be red or rosé, too, though those wines are far less common), that whole is light and zesty, often with a faint spritz that adds wonderfully to its appeal on a hot, sunny day – a compelling weather-and-wine pairing if ever there was. Quality in the region has been improving, helping to boost Vinho Verde out of its bargain-basement rut.
Usually modest in alcohol (often between 11 and 12 per cent), Vinho Verde wines are named after a large, relatively cool and rainy appellation in the north, below the Spanish border. The weather, markedly different from the hotter south where big reds tend to prevail, helps preserve crisp acidity in the zippy local varieties, including alvarinho, trajadura and avesso, which often comprise much of the blend.
But even in tradition-bound Portugal, an increasing number of wineries have taken to the modern fashion of bottling so-called varietal wines made entirely from a single grape type. That's led to a coming out of sorts for loureiro, which now enjoys prominent billing on a smattering of good Vinho Verde wines, most of which can be had for $12 to $18.
The name is Portuguese for laurel, an evergreen plant whose fragrant flowers and leaves supposedly bear an aromatic resemblance to the grape. Some also liken the smell to that of acacia and orange blossoms. Whatever way your botanical sensitivities lie, the floral quality is so undeniable as to make you (or at least me) almost wonder why they don't bottle loureiro in a vase. Beneath that bouquet there are thankfully strong suggestions of fruit, too, including peach, table grape and orange.
Though native to Portugal, the vine also thrives over the border in Spain's Galicia region, where it's known as loureira and, in similar fashion, has tended to play a supporting role in crisp blends. Noteworthy Portuguese producers of varietal loureiro include Quinta do Ameal, Quinta de Gomariz and Quinta dos Termos as well as Casal de Ventozela. They don't ship much wine to Canada, but they're trying not to hide in plain sight.
The Flavour Principle by Lucy Waverman and Beppi Crosariol (HarperCollins) won top prize for best general English cookbook at the 2014 Taste Canada Food Writing Awards.