Friday, September 29, 2023

Exploring The Wines of Uruguay: Tannat, Albariño & More (Part 1)

2023 is the 25th Anniversary of the first Uruguayan wines exported to the U.S. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel (FL), July 12, 1999, Ibesc Wine Distributors, located in Florida, imported the first Uruguayan wines in 1998, selling about 5,000 bottles. Guzman Castro, a 25 year old who was born in Uruguay and raised in the U.S, was the sales director for Ibesc, which was  was part of International Bonded Export Services, which was founded in 1988 by Guzman's father. Initially, the Uruguayan wines were sourced from two wineries, Bodega Santa Rosa and Bodegas Castillo Viejo (both which are still in operation). 

The wines included Reds, White and Sparkling wines, with grape varieties including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Tannat. The wines were priced from $5.50 to $15, and a number of wine tastings were held to promote the wines, especially as few people in the U.S. knew anything about wines from Uruguay. In 1999, the company hoped to increase their sales to about 30,000 bottles. It was also noted that there was an Uruguayan community in Florida of about 4,000 people. 

What was the status of Uruguayan exports in 1999? The Miami Herald (FL), June 22, 1999, noted that  in the first five months of the year, Uruguyan wine exports had totaled 832,000 liters and it was believed  they would break their previous record, from 1998, of 1 million liters. The European Union was their primary market although Brazil was the largest single country market. Their wines had been exported to countries including: England, France, Belgium, Norway and Canada, with new markets in Japan and Peru.  

Fast forward 25 years...

I recently attended Unexpected Uruguay, a Masterclass at the Commonwealth Wine School, presented by Peter Granoff, a Master Sommelier. Peter did an excellent job of leading the class, informing us all about Uruguay and its wines. The Masterclass provided an overview of Uruguay and its wine industry, and included a tasting of a number of their wines. My last large-scale event of Uruguayan wines was back in 2014, so it was interesting to what changes have occurred in the last 9 years. Thus, I've updated my prior articles on Uruguayan wine here for ease of reference. 


Located in the southeasterm region of South America, between Argentina and Brazil, Uruguay (whose name means "land of the painted birds") possesses a pristine environment, with exceptionally pure water and about 410 miles of coastline. It's one of the purest eco-systems in the world. Approximately 82% of their land is dedicated to agriculture, the highest percentage of any country in the world. 

The country has a population of about 3.4 million people, which is less than the population of Greater Boston. There are also approximately 12 million cattle in Uruguay, nearly 4 for each person. Uruguay is one of the largest consumers of beef per capita, and beef is also one of Uruguay's primary exports. With all the red meat they consume, it's no surprise that they love to drink red wine.

Uruguay is a progressive, peaceful, small democratic country with a GDP that's now over $18,000 per capita. They have legalized abortion, same sex marriage and cannabis. They have also made voting in national elections to be mandatory, subject to penalities for failure to vote. Their 98.7% literacy rates is one of the highest in the world, and in comparison, the U.S. only has a literacy rate of 65-85%. From the photos I've seen of Uruguay, it also is quite beautiful, with so much natural wilderness. 

 Let us take a look at some of the history of Uruguay and its wine industry. 

As the conquistadors explored South America, it's thought that the Portuguese may have been the first Europeans to reach the region of Uruguay around 1512 though Spaniards traveled to the area around 1515. Both encountered fierce opposition from the Charrúa, an indigenous, semi-nomadic people and they also learned, to their dismay, that there was no gold or silver to be found in the region. Battles against the Charrúa continued as both Portugal and Spain decided they would still try to eventually colonize the area.

By 1603, though they didn't yet possess a permanent settlement, the Spanish introduced cattle, finding a verdant land which they thought would be conducive to such ranches. Finally, in 1624, they established their first permanent settlement at Soriano on the Río Negro. During this period, Jesuit missionaries also created a number of colonies in the valley of the Rio Paraguay. The Portuguese eventually decided to battle the Spaniards for the region, and thus, around 1670, they constricted a fort at Nova Colonia do Sacramento. The battles for control of this region would continue for more than 150 years,

No one knows  when grapes were first planted in Uruguay, although it's believed that Jesuit missionaries may have made their own wine in the 17th century. The first known actual documentation of Uruguayan wines wasn't until 1776. This written reference noted that Spanish explorers had brought vines from the Canary Islands to Uruguay. Not much seemed to happen with these vineyards for the next fifty years, as battles took prominence, with Portugal, Spain, Britain and Brazil all seeking to claim the area of Uruguay, The indigenous Charrúa became mostly casualties, and were largely wiped out in the massacre at Salsipuedes in 1831. Out of all these battles, Uruguay finally acquired its own independence in 1828.

With independence came an increased interest in vineyard plantings. The oldest still-operating winery, Los Cerros de San Juan, was established in the region of Canelones in 1854. Many Italians and Spanish came to Uruguay in the 1870s, contributing their knowledge and experience to the wine industry. 

Pascal Harriague (1819-1894) is said to be the Uruguayan "father of commercial winegrowing." Pascal immigrated from the French Basque region and eventually purchased an estate, La Caballada, in Salto, a town on the Rio Uruguay and it developed into a 200-hectare vineyard. In about 1870, it's alleged that he planted Tannat, a French grape from the Pyrenees, and its popularity soared. 

By 1877, Tannat was being considered the national grape of Uruguay, and in honor of Pascal, Tannat became commonly referred to as Harriague. However, new research seems to cast doubt on this origin tale, indicating that Tannat may have already been planted prior to the arrival of Pascal. I'm seeking more information on this matter.  

Another important person in the history of wine in Uruguay is Francisco Vidiella, a former gardener from Catalonia. In 1874, he established a vineyard and winery at Colón, planting Folle Noire and Gamay Blanc, both imported from France. Because of his contributions, Folle Noire became commonly referred to as Vidiella. It seems Uruguayans like to rename grapes after important countrymen. 

Many other grapes were introduced to Uruguay during this time though it wouldn't be until 1903 that the first wine laws would be enacted. Much of the wine produced at this time was for local consumption and it would not be until the 1980s that there was a major push to increase the quality of Uruguayan wine, as well as rules concerning labeling. 


In 1988, the National Institute for Vitiviniculture (INAVI), was established, which is now responsible for the regulation and oversight of domestic wine production, and also gathers industry data, facts and statistics. One division of INAVI is Uruguay Wine, which is responsible for promoting their wines abroad. INAVI assisted in the creation of two levels of classification for Uruguayan wine: Vino Común (VC) and Vinos de Calidad Preferente (VCP). 

VC wines, which constitute about 80% of all wines, are mostly packaged in alternative packaging such as bag in box, tetrapak and glass demijohns. The most common varieties in these wines include Black Muscat, Ugni Blanc, and Isabella. Nearly all of these wines are consumed within Uruguay. 

VCP wines, which are mostly exported, must meet a number of quality standards, such as being made from vinifera grapes and sold in 750ml bottles. The wines must also be analyzed and approved by INAVI. If they fail to meet these standards, then the wines must be labeled as VC. If a grape variety is referenced on a label, the wine must contain at least 85% of that grape. In addition, if a geographical region is mentioned, all of the grapes must come from that region.

Since 1885, Uruguay has been divided in 19 departments, and currently wine is grown in 17 of these departments. The top five wine-producing departments include: Canelones 66.4%, Montevideo 12.3%, Maldonado 7%, Colonia 5.1%, San Jose 4.7%, with the other departments producing less than 2%. Uruguay has a very basic appellation system, which needs improvement, and I'll note that the sub-zones are not official appellations. INAVI has recently tried to clarify the growing regions into the following: Central 109 acres, Metropolitan 12K+ acres, Northern 84 acres, North Riverside, Oceanic 1K+ acres, and Southern Riverside 722 acres.

There are approximately 211 wineries in Uruguay, with about half producing less than 100,000 bottles, and about 45 of those wineries export wine. Most of the wineries are small, family-owned operations and there are very few large companies. There are also about 1129 registered vineyards, with 71% having less than 5 hectares. Uruguay has about 14,450 acres under vine, making it less than half the size of Napa Valley. Total annual production is about 10 million cases, making them the 4th largest producer in South America. 

It's said that the wines of Uruguay combine European tradition with New World technology, and are usually well balanced. As most of the wineries are small, with few large companies, they are mostly artisan operations. There are also a fair number of female wine makers in the country. As exports continue to increase, you'll be hearing more and more about Uruguayan wines, and based on my prior tasting of their wines, you'll want to drink these wines.

They consume most of the wine they produce, drinking 22 liters per capita, the most outside of Europe. They only export about 5% of their wine, though their exports have been increasing. Their largest export market is Brazil, and exports can be divided into South America 58%, the U.S. 19%, Europe 18%, and 5% Other. As Uruguayan wines become more popular in the U.S., it's likely that exports will increase. 

If you examine the location and climate of Uruguay, there is little question why it is an excellent location for vineyards. It is located on the same latitude as Capetown, South Africa and AdelaideAustralia. Uruguay is a relatively flat country and aspect, where you position your vineyards in relation to the sun, is much less important than in many other regions. Instead, the wind and closeness to the Atlantic Ocean are more important factors, which has led to many wineries being located close to the coast. With over 400 miles of coastline, there are plenty of places where wineries can be located.

The Uruguayan climate is very conducive, with a predominantly maritime climate and about 1000mm of rain annually. Weather is rarely extreme and summer temperatures rarely rise over the high 80s. Frost too is rare, and snow almost never falls. The high amount of rainfall can be an obstacle but Uruguayans have learned how to adapt. Humidity too can be an issue, so aeration around the canopy and fruit is considered essential. There are approximately 100 soil variations Uruguay, although the primary soils include granite, sedimentary rock, volcanic soil, and calcareous clays. 

Canelones is known for its clay-rich calcareous soils, while Montevideo is more known for the clay in its soil. Colonia possesses stony alluvial soils while Maldonado has soils rich with decomposed volcanic rock. What is most important to understand is that there is a diversity of soils within Uruguay, providing numerous different terroirs.

Technologically, Uruguay is also on the cutting edge with its dedication to georeferencing. This "applies geographic coordinates to digital images, to identify and survey all the different plots of a single vineyard. From this, a database is developed where each crop is geo-coded, giving it a unique identifier. This allows each Uruguayan wine to be traced to its exact source." Launched by INAVI in 2020, they are the only country in the world which is 100% georeferenced, and that information can be found online, although currently only in Spanish. Eventually, all of their wines will have QR codes, allowing you easy access to this information. 

Georeferencing also dovetails into the issue of sustainability, an important issue for much of Uruguay, and not just in the wine industry. In 2022, 104 vineyards in Uruguay had received the Sustainable Winegrowing Certification, while in 2023, so far, this number had increased to 162 vineyards. 

Their vineyards are planted with about 27% Tannat, 19% Moscatel, 11% Merlot, 10% Ugni Blanc, 4% Cabernet Franc, 3% Marselan, 2% Sauvignon Blanc, 2% Chardonnay, 1.6% Albariño, and about 20% other grapes, including Riesling, Viognier, SyrahArinarnoa (cross of Tannat & Cabernet Sauvignon), Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Petit Manseng, Roussanne, Sangiovese, Zinfandel. 

There are at least several wineries with experimental vineyards, researching the viability of numerous different grapes. Albariño has been garnering lots of attention, especially when grown on granitic soils, and you may see increasing amounts of acreage devoted to this grape.  

The undisputed signature grape of Uruguay is Tannat, which is planted on about 7200 acres, and the country has more Tannat vineyards than the rest of the world combined. France probably has the second highest amount of Tannat vineyards though the grape has spread across the world, from Australia to South Africa. In the U.S., Tannat can be found in California, Maryland and Virginia, and in South America, Tannat is also found in Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Brazil. To Granoff, Tannat reminds him in some respects of Touriga Nacional

It is believed that Tannat may have originated around the 13th century, planted in the town of Madiran, though the first written mention of this grape wasn't until the 18th century. It's original home is likely in the Western Pyrenees of France, and now is primarily grown in France in the Madiran AOC. Sometime before 1870, it's believed that Basque immigrants brought Tannat vines to South America and they ended up in Uruguay. The vines adapted well to the climate of Uruguay and it quickly became considered the national grape. This reminds me of Malbec, how that French grape thrived in Argentina and became their signature grape. Tannat is not as well known as Malbec to the average wine consumer, but that could change in the future,

Tannat is easy to grow, ripens late, and has a thick skin which provides some resistance to powdery mildew and botrytis. It produces robust wines with strong tannins, dark fruit flavors and spicy notes. It is also considered to be one of the healthiest red wines as it contains 3 to 4 times more antioxidants than other red grapes, and also has a high concentration of resveratrol, the most of any red grape.  In the region of Madiran, the number of men who live to their 90s is double the national average.

As Malbec wines in Argentina are very different from Malbec wines from Cahors, France, so are Tannat wines in Uruguay very different from Tannat wines from Madiran. Tannat wines in Uruguay tend to be softer and less tannic than that in France. The Tannat grape has transformed over the last 140+ years in Uruguay, and can create compelling wines. 

In Uruguay, Tannat wine is not monolithic, but actually is produced in a number of different styles, from soft & fruity to big & bold. You'll find inexpensive, easy-drinking wines as well as high-end, terroir driven Tannats. Though there are plenty of single varietal Tannat wines, you will also find it blended with a number of other grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah and Viognier. These blends often help to tame the strong tannins of the Tannat, making the wines more approachable.

In Uruguay now, you'll find many different types of wines, including Red, White, Rosé, Sparkling, Pet-Nat, Carbonic, Orange, Amphora-Aged, and more. You should seek out Uruguayan wines, and ask for them at your local wine shops. Over the course of the last ten years, I've tasted a variety of Uruguayan wines and been impressed with their quality and taste. 

In Part 2, I'll provide some wine reviews of the wines I tasted at this Masterclass. 

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) Soall Viet Kitchen, an excellent Vietnamese restaurant in Beverly and Marblehead, has some exciting events coming up next month. First, they are offering two Spring Roll Master Classes, where you can "learn the art of creating authentic Vietnamese spring rolls filled with fresh ingredients and bursting with flavors." Classes are scheduled for October 2nd in Beverly and October 16th in Marblehead.  

Soall is also starting a new Sunday tradition, OnlyNoods! Starting October 22nd, you can dine there for an exclusive noodle-centric feast. "Indulge in a delectable variety of noodle dishes, each crafted with their signature flair and vibrant flavors. Whether you're a pho enthusiast, a stir-fry fan, or adore creamy coconut curries, our noodle creations will take your taste buds on a sensational journey." I haven't seen a menu yet for this event but I suspect it will be quite delicious.

2) NECAT is a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills an important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It's such a worthy school, helping to transform lives, and it really touches my heart. It helps individuals while also helping the community, and I continue, year after year, to try to raise awareness of NECAT so that its good work can continue and even expand. It is one of my favorite causes and is well worthy of your continued support.

You can help support NECAT by attending the Best of NECAT, their Tenth Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, October 21, from 3pm-7pm. The Best of NECAT will bring together some of the top culinary talent in the city for a food festival with live entertainment, gourmet food stations, creative cocktails, a bustling food marketplace, and NECAT alumni pop-up shops. In addition, there will be a dumpling cooking demonstration from Chef Irene Li, founder of Mei Mei Dumplings, and a discussion of her new book, Perfectly Good Food. It’s an event not to be missed!

Tickets cost $75 per person, and there will be a Cash Bar. Tickets can be purchased HERE. I've attended a number of their prior events and they have always been fun and delicious. This is also a great cause and I strongly encourage everyone to attend. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Myers & Chang: An Overdue Return Visit

Until a couple weeks ago, I hadn't visited Myers & Chang since before COVID, even though it had been one of my favorite restaurants. However, when I recently found myself at an event on Harrison Avenue in Boston, I decided to stop by Myers & Chang for dinner. Would it have changed since my last visit? Was it still as good as I remembered? 

It was a Friday night, so the restaurant was very busy but I was able to get a seat in front of the kitchen. The cooks and kitchen staff worked their asses off! It was non-stop cooking action, giving you a deeper appreciation for these employees. 

I perused the "Halvsies" menu, which has smaller and less expensive plates of their normal dishes. This menu has about 30 selections, priced from $5-$13, and there's plenty of variety, including "Dim Sum-y Things," Vegetables, Noodle & Rice dishes, and Fish & Shellfish. It's a great way to experience a number of their dishes.

I opted for the Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice-$13), with pork, shrimp, pineapple, egg and a spicy sauce. This was an ample bowl with such a delicious and well-balanced blend of flavors and textures. From the fiery heat of its sauce to the sweetness of pineapple chunks!  It was previously a favorite of mine and it was just as tasty as it ever was. The quality of this dish hadn't diminished a single iota. I would once again highly recommend it. 

The Korean Fried Chicken Bao ($7), with a gochujang glaze and pickled cucumber, was also very tasty, with a slightly spicy kick and crunchy and tender chicken. I could have easily devoured several of these bao. 

Finally, I selected the Thai Pork Lettuce Wraps ($8), with nouc cham, Thai basil and khao koor.  The meatballs were excellent, meaty and tender with an appealing taste from the various spices, including a touch of smokiness. 

Overall, the quality of food at Myers & Chang hasn't diminished at all since my last visit. It has remained consistently excellent, even on a very busy night. I certainly need to return there more often, and I highly recommend that my readers dine there as well.

Have you recently dined at Myers & Chang?

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The Return of Chicken Cock Whiskey

“The G.G. White Co. has shipped 180 barrels of eighteen year old Chicken Cock whiskey to Boston parties.”
--The Bourbon News (KY), April 1, 1898

Chicken Cock Whiskey was obviously extremely popular in Boston in the 19th century. Now that the brand has returned, how will it be received in Boston, and elsewhere? 

In 1856, James A. Miller built a distillery in Paris, Kentucky, starting the Chicken Cock Whiskey brand. Unfortunately, only a few year laters, Miller passed away, and George G. White, his former distillery clerk, purchased the distillery, continuing the brand. In 1880, he renamed the distillery to G.G. White Distillery, but also renamed the whiskey as the Old J.A. Miller Chicken Cock.

The earliest mention I found to Chicken Cock Whiskey in the newspapers was in an advertisement in The Times-Picayune (LA), November 20, 1862. The earliest mentions, for a number of years, were nearly all in Louisiana newspapers. One interesting mention was in The Louisiana Democrat (LA), January 20, 1869, in an ad which stated, “just received a fresh supply of the genuine Miller Chicken Cock Whiskey, an article that every body knows is good, when genuine, as this is.” It appears at this time there might have been counterfeit whiskey being passed off as the real thing. 

The Arizona Daily Star (AZ), June 1, 1880, printed an ad by the agents for J.A. Miller’s Chicken Cock Whiskey in Arizona and New Mexico. 

The Lowell Sun (MA), December 2, 1893, published an ad for the, “celebrated Chicken Cock Whiskey, 4 years old, for 75 cents, for a 1/5th." And the The Bourbon News (KY), March 21, 1899, mentioned, “…John Henry Trigg was sentenced to ten years for stealing a barrel of Chicken Cock whiskey,..” 

During the 20th century, Chicken Cock Whiskey was very popular, and even during Prohibition it was still sought after. For example, it was said to have been popular in the Cotton Club, where it was smuggled into the club in tin cans. Unfortunately, the original distillery burned down in the 1950s, so the whiskey wasn't available for a time. 

The Chicken Cock brand began its resurrection in 2011, when Matti Anttila, the CEO of Grain and Barrel Spirits, learned about the old brand from his research and decided it deserved to return. In 2018, Grain and Barrel, with master distiller Gregg Snyder, joined with the Bardstown Bourbon Company to create Chicken Cock Whiskey. They now produce a Straight Bourbon, a Straight Rye, and a number of limited releases. 

At the recent WhiskyX event held in Boston, where I was a media guest, I had the opportunity to taste both the Chicken Cock Straight Bourbon and Straight Rye. I was most impressed with their Straight Bourbon although I enjoyed the Straight Rye as well. I can see how these whiskies could become very popular in the Boston area, maybe as much as it had been popular in 1898. 

The Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (about $60) is produced from a Mashbill of 70% Corn, 21% Rye, and 9% Malted Barley. It doesn't have an age statement, is bottled at 90 proof, and the bottle itself is a replica of the Prohibition-era bottle. With a pleasing golden-brown color, it has an appealing and complex nose, with notes of caramel, vanilla, spice and more. It's smooth on the palate, with only a touch of heat, and isn't as sweet as many bourbons due to its high rye percentage. The taste possesses a complex melange of caramel, vanilla, butterscotch, dried fruit, and more with a lengthy, spicy finish. It's an excellent sipping Bourbon, and each sip will bring something new and delicious to your mouth. Highly recommended!

The Chicken Cock Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (about $70) is produced from a Mashbill of 95% Rye and 5% malted barley. It doesn't have an age statement, is bottled at 90 proof, and the bottle itself is also a replica of the Prohibition-era bottle. It too has a pleasing golden-brown color, and its nose presents more spice notes, with underlying caramel. On the palate, the spice dominates, especially baking spices, with touches of vanilla and caramel, and a hint of chocolate. The finish is long, spicy and satisfying. 

Have you tried the new Chicken Cock Whiskey yet?

Monday, September 25, 2023

Rant: Food/Drink Writers, Challenge Yourself!

"They say the longer a man goes without facing a challenge, the weaker he becomes."
--Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa (originally serialized 1935-1939, first English translation 1981)

Musashi is an excellent (and huge!) novel about samurai in 17th century Japan, and as I recently reread it, I was struck by the above quote. As I pondered it, I saw its applicability to many different areas, including food and drink writing, a topic I want to address now. 

Food/drink writers, are you challenging yourself? Or are you simply doing the same writing that you've been doing for years? Do you have five or ten years of writing experience, or just one year of experience that you have repeated five or ten times?

If your writing has become stagnant, if you haven't challenged yourself in years, then maybe now is the time to change it. None of us are perfect so we should take the opportunity to improve, and we do that by challenging ourselves, to become better. It's a never-ending objective, and fortunately there is so much to learn and experience in the food & drinking arena that we will never lack for challenge.  

When the pandemic raged, it was a more difficult time for food and drink writers. Restaurants closed, wine tasting events were canceled, and were much less food & drink opportunities for writers. Some writers simply wrote very little, failing to up their game, failing to create their own opportunities. They didn't challenge themselves, and their writing suffered.

For myself, I took the time to write more historical articles about food and drink, original pieces often looking into the origins of these items. Even with restaurants closed and tasting events canceled, I still found plenty to write about. I just had to be more inventive, and devote my energies in a slightly different vein. I challenged myself to improve my writing, and to expand the scope of my blog, to continue to make it fresh and relevant.

What did you with your writing when the pandemic raged?

Take a look at your writing and consider whether you have been challenging yourself or not. If not, then step up and start challenging yourself. Don't just keep repeating the same old stale writing you've been doing for years. Up your game! Make yourself a better writer. 

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) On Tuesday, October 17, starting at 6:30pm, Harvest Cambridge will be hosting a special Taste of Harvest Dinner spotlighting Sous Chef Robert Giunta and its main source of culinary inspiration- New England's bountiful harvest.

Chef Giunta's dinner will celebrate the abundant fall harvest of local farms and Harvest's suppliers with an elevated six-course tasting menu. To complement the menu and spirit of the night, each course will be paired with historic vintages and rare cuvées from Harvest's Wine Spectator award-winning wine cellar. 

The pairing menu will feature:
Duck Rillette with fig and balsamic jam, sourdough toast paired with Ayala, Majeur, Brut, Aÿ Champagne NV
Spiced Squash Soup with crème fraîche, pepitas paired with Franz Hirtzberger, Grüner Veltliner, Rotes Tor, Federspiel, Wachau 2020
Chestnut Agnolotti with red wine currants, sweet potato, brown butter chestnuts paired with Hubert Lamy, La Princée, Saint-Aubin Blanc 2019
EVOO Poached Halibut with celery root, salsify, parsnips, squid ink tuile paired with Kosta Browne, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills 2021
Duck Breast with sunchoke robuchon, hen of the woods, Cornell duck jus paired with Château Pontesac, Médoc 2009
Candy Cap Mushroom: candy cap mousse, black cocoa crumb, pecan, orange cranberry paired with Henriques & Henriques, 10 Year Boal, Madeira, Portugal

Tickets cost $140 per person and can be purchased HERE

2) On Thursday, November 2, Bistro du Midi will be celebrating Chef Robert Sisca’s love of the outdoors with an indulgent, five-course Game & Truffle Dinner, with sommelier chosen wine pairings. The menu will include the following:

Live Scallop Crudo: green apple, cilantro, citrus crumb, fresno pepper emulsion 
Rabbit Farci: castelvetrano olive, piquillo pepper, parsnip purée, smoked rabbit jus 
White Truffle Tagliatelle: cultured butter, parmigiano, chive, fresh alba white truffle 
Milbrook Farms Venison Wellington: foie gras mushroom duxelles, burgundy truffle, venison jus Huckleberry Pie: pate brisee, devonshire mousse, black truffle yogurt  

Tickets cost $250 per person and can be purchased HERE.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Rant: Where's The Love For Fortified Wines?

Madeira, Marsala, Port, Sherry, and Vermouth are some of my favorite wines, yet they receive far less attention than they deserve. These wines are "Fortified" wines, meaning that a distilled spirit, often brandy or a neutral spirit, is added to the wine. As such, their alcohol content is commonly 15-20%, higher than the average wine, but at least half as much as the typical spirit. Other types of fortified wines exist as well, although the five I mentioned are the most common. 

Why don't these fortified wines receive more love?

Even many ardent wine lovers don't give much attention to these wines. Vermouth is often relegated to being a mere cocktail ingredient. Marsala is often seen as merely a cooking wine. Sherry is too often seen as something only one's grandparents would drink. Port might receive the most attention of any fortified wine, yet the diversity of Port is still largely ignored. For example, many people are unaware of white port, especially the aged versions. 

A number of wine drinkers enjoy sweeter wines, but even though some of these fortified wines are sweet, these wine drinkers still don't pay much attention to them. Sherry may be the king of wines for food pairings, yet it's rare a wine drinker seeks out Sherry for their dinner.  When's the last time you had a sommelier recommend a Sherry for your dinner? In fact, when's the last time a sommelier recommended any type of fortified wine to you for dinner? At best, they might recommend one for dessert, but not for your savory courses. 

One benefit to these wines not receiving much attention is that you can find some special values, far less expensive than similar wines of similar age and quality. For example, over the summer I enjoyed a 60 year old Port, which cost less than $200. If you tried to purchase a still wine, of similar age, you would likely pay at least double, if not triple that price or more. 

Wine lovers, you should expand your palates and experience the marvels of fortified wine. There is so much diversity in these wines, from bone-dry Sherry to sweet Port, from herbal Vermouth to dry Madeira. These are also wines with rich histories, and once were much more popular around the world. It's time for a comeback for these wines, and I strongly encourage you to explore this fascinating wine category. 

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Thursday Sips & Nibbles

I'm back again with a new edition of Sips & Nibbles, my regular column where I highlight some interesting, upcoming food and drink events. I hope everyone dines out safely, tips well and are nice to their servers.
1) On Wednesday, September 20, at 6:30pm, Coach Grill, in Wayland, will welcome Chris Ireland, founder of Ireland Family Wines, for a night of cuisine and wine. Located in Russian River Valley in the heart of Sonoma County, Ireland Family Wines was founded with a vision to produce wine that embodies the flavor of a place in time. Ireland was inspired to open the winery after a 1989 trip to explore Napa Valley and Sonoma, spending years studying and honing his viticulture craft before Ireland Family Wine’s first harvesting of a pinot noir, a process that began in 2020.

Ireland will be joined by Coach Grill’s executive chef, Carlos Martinez, to guide gourmands through a culinary adventure of Ireland wines curated to complement each course. During the reception, guests will be presented with a chef’s selection of hors d’oeuvres with the Works & Days Sonoma chardonnay. For the first course, alternate sips of the Russian River pinot noir with Chef Martinez’s lobster bisque. The entrée is a seared sirloin with smashed fingerling potatoes and grilled asparagus paired with the Coursey Graves syrah hailing from Bennett Valley. To end the evening on a sweet note, there is a chocolate mousse cake with fresh berries and crème anglaise alongside the Napa Coursey Graves cabernet sauvignon.

Tickets cost $125 per person (does not include tax or gratuity). This event is reserved for ages 21+ with proper ID. Reservations required in advance via Tock.

2) In honor of the late, great Jimmy Buffet, Loretta's Last Call will be hosting a special Jimmy Buffet Tribute Brunch on Saturday, September 16th. Taking place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Loretta's will transport guests to Margartivaille with drink specials, live music covering Jimmy Buffet's greatest hits, and its full brunch menu available for a la carte purchase. For more information, or to make reservations, please visit

3) Thursday, September 21 is International Plavac Mali Day! The Croatian Wine Alliance, a group of global teams promoting Croatian wines, created the first International Plavac Mali Day in 2020. This collaboration is a public and private partnership among organizations from the US, Canada, Australia, Europe and Croatia – all dedicated to telling the many stories of this indigenous and predominant Croatian red variety. 

Plavac Mali is a descendant of Zinfandel (aka Tribidrag or Crljenak kaštelanski) creating a natural hybrid with another indigenous variety, Dobričić. Plavac Mali produces several styles of wines, from medium-bodied and easy-drinking, to elegant and robust wines. The aromas in Plavac mali are predominantly dark berries and Mediterranean herbs with expressive tannins, and mineral on the palate. Plavac Mali means ‘little blue’, referring to its appearance, small and dark blue berries. I've tasted many delicious Plavac Mali wines, and it's definitely a grape you should know more about.

You can celebrate International Plavac Mali Day in many different wines, such as:  
  • Create your own party, wine pairings, or educational events – in person or virtually
  • Follow and Share posts about Plavac Mali’s adventures on
  • Post your own content, tag @internationalplavacmaliday and hashtag #plavacmali and #internationalplavacmaliday
  • Write and share articles about #plavacmali
  • Follow @croatianpremiumwine on IG for the live event on September 21 and get a glass of Plavac Mali to join them live for a virtual Plavac Mali tasting. 
Croatian Premium Wine Imports is providing a 20% discount off their Top Ten Plavac Mali wines so you can get some wine to celebrate this holiday. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Ailaa: New Nepali Restaurant in Stoneham--First Impressions

A newcomer to the culinary scene in Stoneham is Ailaa Himalayan Bar and Grill, owned by Ujjwal Dhaubadel and located on Montvale Avenue, which offers traditional Nepali cuisine, as well as some modern twists. The word "Ailaa" refers to a homemade traditional alcohol, distilled from fermented grains, and which also has religious significance. According  to their website, "Our goal with “Ailaa” is to introduce traditional recipes from all parts of Nepal, to showcase the rich culture passed on through generations & to add more unique flavors to the growing Boston food scene."

I've dined there twice so far, and have been impressed with the delicious taste and depths of flavor found in their dishes. I've only started scratching the surface of the diverse offerings on their menu, and eagerly look forward to returning there to try more dishes. It earns a hearty recommendation, and I strongly urge my readers to dine there, and learn more about Nepali cuisine. 

It's a medium-sized restaurant, with lots of dark wood colors, and Nepali decorations. There's a small bar and in one corner is space for a music performer. And there are two large-scale televisions, where sport events are often shown. 

Nepali cuisine includes dishes and ingredients that have some similarities to what can be found in Tibetan, Chinese, Indian and Thai cuisines. Commonly used ingredients include lentils, tomatoes, potatoes, chilies, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, mustard oil, and peppers. Although the names of many of the dishes will be unfamiliar to you, the food itself may look more familiar. However, because of the Nepali spices and ingredients, the food often has a different flavor profile than what you might expect, but one which is very pleasant and delicious. For example, their Fried Rice may look somewhat like the usual Chinese fried rice, but it has a different taste and texture.  

The Food Menu has many diverse choices, including dishes such as Choila, Sekuwa, Thali, Bara, and Samay Baji. You'll also find more familiar dishes like Chowmein, Fried Rice and Wings. And for the very adventurous, you can try dishes such as Tauko Fry (whole goat head boiled & pan fried) or Sampumhichha (beef tripe stuffed with bone marrow boiled & pan fried). As for their Wing dishes, two are at a Spicy level of 5/5, including the Timur Rub and Akbare Mango. They also offer three Desserts.

Most of the dishes are under $20, and considering the quality and quantity of the dishes, you will find very good value here. For groups, you can also order a couple large, appetizer platters, such as the Ailaa Nanglo Set, which consists of 10 different appetizers, priced at $55-$60.   

The Chips & Chutney ($8) are home-made potato chips with a side of Himalayan salsa. Crisp, flavorful potato chips (without any salt), with a mild salsa. A great bar snack, and you receive an ample quantity of chips. They also have a dish called Bar Fries, which are home-made chips with Himalayan spices and Sichuan peppercorn. 

The Chicken Lollipop ($15), isn't listed under their Wings section, and that might be because these are not spicy. These were deep fried chicken wings, battered with Himalayan spices, and they were very meaty and tender, with a fine crunchy exterior. The spices provided an intriguing taste to the chicken, elevating the dish. 

The Pork Fried Rice ($13) is Basmati rice, stir fried with butter, with seasonal veggies and a choice of meat. This dish though came without vegetables, except a little topping of green onions. I loved the taste of this dish, the long-grained Basmati with a slight fried crunch to it and the intriguing spices (including some spicy heat). As for the pork, it was more lean, meaty and crunchy, not like the fatty pork pieces you get at many Chinese restaurants. A familiar dish in some respects, but also different as well. There was so much that I took some home, and it tasted just as good later, reheated. 

The Chicken Fried Rice ($13), also without vegetables, was delicious as well, with plenty of pieces of tender and slightly crunchy chicken pieces. 

The Chicken Chilli ($15) is prepared with assorted peppers, onions and homemade chilli sauce. The chilli sauce here is not like the typical chili sauce you might know. Yes, it is spicy but the flavor profile is different, and quite tasty. The lightly fried pieces of chicken were tender and meaty, the intriguing chilli sauce enhancing the chicken. Highly recommended! This dish is also available with Buffalo, Pork, Chips, or Sukuti (Jerky). 

Momos, basically dumplings, are indigenous to South Asia, especially Tibet, Nepal, parts of India, and Bhutan, though the word itself seems to have Chinese origin, and simply means "steamed bun." At Ailaa, you can order Momos ($12-$17) made with Vegetables, Chicken, Pork, or Buffalo. They can also be prepared in several different ways, including Steamed, Pan Fried, Jhol or Chilli. 

Above are Pan Fried Pork Momos ($13), with a thin dumpling wrapper and a hearty pork filling, almost like a small meatball. It was very flavorful, and the spices used in the pork were different and intriguing. There was a slightly spicy sauce for dipping as well. Who doesn't like dumplings? And these Momos are sure to please. 

The Buffalo Jhol ($15) are in a cold broth, which is commonly made with ingredients such as sesame, garlic, tomato, onion, lemons and achar (an Indian condiment of pickled fruits and vegetables with spices). In Nepal, especially its capital Kathmandu, jhol momos are an extremely popular street food. "Jhol" roughly translates as "liquid" or a "liquid-like consistency." The broth is tasty and interesting, with a nice depth of flavor. They add a new level of taste to the momos. Definitely worth trying.

The Chicken Chatamari ($13) is a rice flour crepe topped with chicken and a few vegetables, served with a side of vegetable curry. You can also order this dish with Vegetables or Buffalo, and also get it topped with an egg if you so desire (as I did). This almost resembles a type of pizza, and the crepe is crunchy, not soft. There was plenty of tasty chicken atop the crepe, and the egg was a nice addition. Again, the dish seems familiar but with its own unique flavor profile.

The Menu has three Desserts, and on my visit, I opted for the Yomari ($6), a rice flour dumpling stuffed with dark chocolate and sesame seeds. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, as I found the dumpling to be too thick and chewy. As I'm not familiar with this Nepali dish, that might be the way they are usually prepared. It's just not my preference. However, the interior of sweet, melted dark chocolate and sesame seeds was delicious.  

Overall, the food at Ailaa was impressive, and it was great to learn more about Nepali cuisine. It's reasonably priced, the dishes provide ample food, and the depth of flavor is excellent. I look forward to exploring more of the menu and heartily recommend that my readers dine there as well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

A History of Vinho Verde in the U.S.

For many people, Vinho Verde is a slightly effervescent, light, fruity, low alcohol, and sometimes mildly sweet, Portuguese white wine. It's a great summer wine, and also pairs well with seafood and plenty of other dishes. However, not all Vinho Verde is the same and it's worthy to explore what else this region has to offer. We need to get over the misconception that Vinho Verde is a singular type of wine and seek out the diversity that exists.

The Vinho Verde DOC region was demarcated in 1908 and there currently are nine subregions, including Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa. Each subregion has it own specific terroir, and some regions are better known for specific grapes. The entire region encompasses approximately 21,000 hectares of vineyards (with 47 grape varieties), 18,000 winegrowers, and 600 bottlers. White Vinho Verde is primarily made from grapes including Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Red Vinho Verde is primarily made from Alvarelhao, Amaral, Baker, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Pedral, Rabo de Anho and Vinhão.

Annually, the region produces over 80 million liters of wine, composed of 87% White wine, 7% Red and 6% Rosé wine. These percentages were drastically different in the past, as I'll later explore in this article.  In 2021, production of Vinho Verde grew by more than 3 million liters, an increase of 3.7%, up to 84.9 million liters. The region also includes Sparkling Wine (designated Espumante de Vinho Verde), Vinous Spirit and Grape Marc Spirit (designated Aguardente Vínica de Vinho Verde and Aguardente Bagaceira de Vinho Verde), and even Wine Vinegar (designated Vinagre de Vinho Verde). 

Of the white wines, not all fit into the common perception of Vinho Verde, some lacking effervescence and being produced to be more serious and complex wines. The Vinho Verde DOC possesses much more diversity than many realize. However, it's difficult to experience this diversity in the U.S. as the more unique wines are hard to find in local wine stores. Hopefully that will change as more producers in the Vinho Verde DOC highlight their diversity and export their unique wines to the U.S. 

Vinho Verde is currently exported to over 100 markets. The top market is the United States (importing over 10 million liters) and second place is taken by Germany, although most of their Vinho Verde sales are in supermarkets, meaning they import mostly very inexpensive Vinho Verde. Poland and Russia are growing markets, while Japan imports some of the most expensive wines from Vinho Verde. 

As for the U.S., these Vinho Verde imports have grown nearly sixfold since 2000, although most still are inexpensive, lightly sparkling wines. It's only during the last decade that some of the more premium Vinho Verde wines have started being imported into the U.S. Those are the Vinho Verde wines you should seek out.

As for Portuguese wines in general, their exports reached a record high in 2022, a value of 941 Million Euros, a 5.75% growth. Their overall main wine export market was France while the U.S. was in second place, with a value of over 99 Million Euros. Port wine was still the largest category, consisting of about 296 Million Euros, while Vinho Verde took second place, with a value of about 78 Million Euros, a growth of 6.8%. As the numbers show, the value of Port wine exports is nearly 4 times are large as the second place export, Vinho Verde. 


What's the history of Vinho Verde in the U.S.? When was it first introduced into this country? How was it initially perceived? Let's explore these and other related questions.

One of the first mentions of Vinho Verde in the U.S. was in The Flag of Our Union (MA), July 30, 1853. The newspaper presented a serialized, fictional tale of Portugal, and one chapter briefly mentioned, “By the way, this vintage is good, but a little too strong; give us some of the vinho verde, (green wine).” It's likely that with this only mention of Vinho Verde during the 19th century, most Americans were unfamiliar with the term, especially as it apparently was not exported to the U.S. during the 19th century.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a few books began mentioning and describing Vinho Vinho, although not always positively. For example, The Story of the Vine by Edward R. Emerson (NY & London, 1902), wrote, “One peculiar wine that is made in Portugal is the Vinho Verde or ‘green wine,’ so called from the fact that it is made from unripe black grapes, a variety which can almost be called indigenous to the soil. The wine resembles in taste a strong acid vinegar in which a goodly amount of alum has been dissolved. It is said to be very pleasant when one gets used to it, but it is seldom that any one but a native takes the second taste. It is never exported.” 

First, it's interesting to note that this Vinho Verde was a red wine, made from black grapes. Was red Vinho Verde more common then? As I mentioned above, currently, about 87% of Vinho Verde is white wine, made from white grapes. Could that percentage have been different 100 or so years ago? I'll raise this issue again later in this article as more evidence arises. Second, the wine isn't said to have a good taste, unless you somehow get used to it over time. Third, it was also noted that Vinho Verde wasn't exported at that time. 

In another book, by the same author, Beverages, Past and Present by Edward R. Emerson (NY & London, 1908), he continued his rant against Vinho Verde. First, he noted, “In the northern part of Portugal and especially in the province of Minho the farmers make for themselves and their labourers a wine which they call vinho verde—or green wine. This wine never leaves the confines of the country,….” So again, he mentions that this wine weren't exported. 

The book continued, “Any one therefore who has tasted the famous vinho verde of northern Portugal—the thick, red, sour and astringent wine which the Minhotes delight in—may satisfy himself that he has drunk a liquid identical in every way with that wherewith the Latian farmer quenched his thirst two thousand years ago.” So, it's now clear that this Vinho Verde was red. In addition, the writer seems to believe the wines were similar to those that were produced a couple thousand years ago.

In addition, the book added, “Vinho verde is not made to keep more than a few months over a year, and by April that which was made some eighteen months ago has reached the dregs and is hard and poor, but that which was made in the previous September has, during the winter, become clear and with the opening of spring is ready to use.” Thus, Vinho Verde was allegedly not a wine made to last, although nowadays, there are definitely Vinho Verdes that are intended to age very well.

In the Spain and Portugal: Handbook for Travellers by Karl Baedeker (1908, Third Edition), there was a brief mention of Vinho Verde. “The Vinho Verde is very light and contains almost no sugar.” The previous two editions didn't mention this wine at all. And in the 4th edition (1913), it was mentioned, “The Vinho Verde, an acid red wine, is considered a good thirst-quencher.” Again, the wine was described as red, although now it was viewed more positively. Where were the white Vinho Verdes?

Vinho Verde exports! The Rutland Daily Herald (VT), August 22, 1913, discussed the status of the agriculture of Portugal in the prior year. “The vineyards produced a low quality wine, and the exportation of vinho verde (green wine) fell off considerably as compared with 1911.” So, it seems that Vinho Verde was now being exported, and exports might have only began within the prior five years or so. However, there was no indication where the wine was exported to, and it doesn't mention the U.S. received any Vinho Verde.  

The Commerce Reports (D.C.), February 26, 1916, noted that in Brazil, 80% of their wine consumption was Portuguese wines, including Vinho Verde. So, Brazil was clearly one of the export markets however, there still weren't any mentions that Vinho Verde was yet being exported to the U.S. 

It wouldn't be until 1940, that I found the first advertisement for Vinho Verde in the U.S. The Albuquerque Journal (NM), December 25, 1940, ran a wine ad, which included, “Vinho Verde Tamegao, a light red, dry, Portuguese wine, in beautiful stone jug. Fifth $1.85.” Again, we see that Vinho Verde was a red wine. It's possible, and maybe even likely, that at this time, and earlier, red Vinho Verde was produced much more than white versions. And that would be supported by later references. I'll also note that this Vinho Verde import seemed to be a rarity, as there weren't any other such imports mentioned in the newspapers until the 1960s. Its fascinating that the first known Vinho Verde export to the U.S. might have been a red wine. 

A Portuguese pairing menu. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX), March 19, 1950, noted that, “The national wine board of Portugal has issued directions as to what the well-bred, well-fed and properly drinking man will consume as beverages all day long. Portuguese products will get a monopoly if the ‘fastidious and discriminating American gentleman’ (and his spouse) follows the curriculum.” The article continued, “Here is the chronological list: Appetizers, Madeira and port, dry or sweet; hors d’ouvres, sparkling wines, brut or dry; soup, Madeira or tawny port; fish, white wines-Vinhos Verdes, Alenque, Agueda or Bucelas; entrée, light red wines—Alcobaca, Agueda, Lafoes, Bairrada, Pinhel; roasts and game, full bodied red wines—Colares, Cartaxo, Alenqer, Torres Vedras; cheese, port, full and ruby.” So, Vinho Verde was recommended for fish, an excellent pairing. 

The Modesto Bee (CA), November 30, 1950, mentioned, “Vinho Verde—pronounced veen-yo Vair-dee—is a wine from Minho, Portugal. It is consumed when young and is rarely bottled.” Another brief mention was in the Detroit Free Press (MI), November 16, 1952, discussing a dinner in Lisbon. “Vinho Verde wines that effervesced like champagne.” This is the first reference I found mentioning that Vinho Verde was fizzy.

Discussing a dinner in Cascais, Portugal, the San Francisco Examiner (CA), April 27, 1955, stated, “And we had a bottle of Vinho Verde, a light, greenish Portuguese wine with a slight effervescence that, as far as we’re concerned, is even more palatable than Portugal’s famed Lancer’s Crackling Rose.” So, this is the maybe the first mention that the Vinho Verde was not a red wine. And again, it's noted that the wine has an effervescence.

The Pittsburgh Press (PA), September 30, 1957, in an article on Portugal and wine, stated, “In the Vinho Verde country, the grapes are trained to grow up tall trees and the traveler drives through endless avenues draped on each side with high swags of green vines heavy with the autumn harvest of fat purple or pale, translucent green grapes.”

More positive comments! The Winston-Salem Journal, October 23, 1957, briefly mentioned, “the delicious Portuguese specialty, ‘vinho verde’ (green wine) which was served ice-cold from a porcelain crock—a ‘must’ if there ever was one!” And the Cincinnati Post (OH), December 26, 1959, in an article on Portugal, noted, “Wine works out at about 14 cents a bottle and is very good, particularly the vinhos verdes—young wines with a slight sparkle, marvelously refreshing in hot weather.”

Continuing the positivity, the News-Press (FL), July 2, 1962, printed, “In Portugal I found a vinho verde tinto, a fine example. Its taste was somewhat reminiscent of velvet, yet it had a bouquet as fresh as gingham. But that is exactly the only way I can describe this lovely wine. I also found a vinho verde blanco that was Montrachet or Wehlener Sonnenuhr but speaking Portuguese. This was a truly Portuguese wine, yet reminiscent of those two.” We now see references to both a red and white Vinho Verde. And comparing the white Vinho Verde to a Montrachet is quite a compliment! 

Another newspaper advertisement offering Vinho Verde for sale appeared in the Modesto Bee (CA), August 16, 1962. The ad stated, “Tres Marias Vinho Verde (White Table Wine). $1.89/5th." During the rest of the 1960s, advertisements for Vinho Verde started to become more widely seen in the newspapers, and it was nearly always for white wines.  

The Fort Lauderdale News (FL), March 7, 1963, answered a reader's question about whether Vinho Verde was also being produced in California. At this time, California was making their own version of Port Wines, as well as other wines, from Sherry to Champagne. The response to the reader was that, “Vinho Verde wines can be either red or white, are low in alcohol content (about 8 per cent), are young, and often still are fermenting in the bottle when sold. Hence they are foamy. Verde means green. But not in color. In age, as in a green fruit.” 

Addressing the reader's specific question, the newspaper responded, “California doesn’t produce such a wine because (1, the state law requires white wines to be at least 10 per cent and red wines 10 ½ per cent in alcohol content to assure stability; (2, a wine as foamy as Vinho Verde would run into the sparkling wine tax in the U.S. ($3.40 a gallon) and the price would bubble out of reason.”

More positivity! The Indianapolis Star (IN), July 12, 1964, briefly stated, “The most attractive are the vinhos verdes from the North, very light and sparkling.” And the Independent Star-News (CA), August 2, 1964, noted, “The slightly acidulous green wine or vinho verde is an attractive dinner wine.

The Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1964, ran an ad, mentioning an exhibition and sale of more than 50 varieties of Portuguese wines, including Vinho Verde. The above is a drawing of a bottle of Vinho Verde in that ad. It's interesting to note the bottle is a red Vinho Verde. 

The arrival of Casal Garcia Vinho Verde! The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 2, 1964, mentioned, “I think you’ll enjoy a fresh-flavored ‘vinho verde’ (green wine) of Portugal called Casal Garcia, which comes in a cute, squatty bottle with a cluster of green plastic grapes hanging around its neck. It is a very light wine, only 10 per cent alcohol.” It continued, “The name is not significant of color; this wine is almost white, but another vinho verde might be red or pink. Green as related to Portuguese wines carries the implication of young and ‘eager.’ Portuguese wines are classifies as ‘vinhos verdes’ or ‘vinhos maduros,’ the latter being the full-bodies wines that are better when aged.” The article finished, noting that, “One Chicago wine dealer ordered 100 cases of this Portuguese newcomer, the Casal Garcia. He likes it so well that 50 cases are for his own use.” 

Casal Garcia would be the most popular and widely available Vinho Verde in the U.S. from the 1960s to the 1970s. It would often appear in newspaper wine advertisements concerning Vinho Verde. This brand is still available today, although it's bottle has changed, looking more like a common wine bottle. 

The Waukesha Daily Freeman (WI), April 14, 1965, printed a wine ad noting, “Portuguese Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Medium Dry White Wine” which sold for $2.25 4/5 quart, or 2 for $3.98. 

The Chicago Tribune (IL), May 14, 1965, printed this advertisement, although they didn't mention the name of the brand. The bottle is also an interesting shape, with a handle on the neck.  

The San Bernardino County Sun (CA), June 6, 1965, mentioned, “vinho verde, a so-called ‘green wine.’ It is made from grapes grown in fog-topped mountains. They never fully ripen and the wine flavor is usually tangy.” And the Boston Globe (MA), April 24, 1966, noted, “Try the vinho verde, the Portuguese green wine, for something different; especially good with seafood.”

Pink Vinho Verde! The San Antonio Express (TX), July 28, 1967, ran a wine ad for “Fonte Bela, Vinho Verde, Rose 1964 vintage” for only 99 cents.  

The Newsday (NY), March 14, 1968, briefly stated, “For instance, the vinho verdes, or ‘green’ wines, are actually young wines only a year or so in the bottle. Both red and white, they have a low alcoholic content (8 to 11 per cent), are semisparkling and come from the north of Portugal.”

The Galveston Daily News (TX), April 28, 1968, printed a large ad for a gourmet shop, with a concentration on Casal Garcia Vinho Verde. “The name of this month’s wine means, ‘green wine,’ and refers not to its color, but to the fact that it is young and fresh. Vinho Verde may be red, white or rose, but the best is white. It is produced in the most northern province of Portugal, the Minho. The principal grape varieties are the Azal Branco and Dourado. The vines do not grow in orderly rows, but are trained on trellises and arbots around the edges of fields where other crops are grown. Vinho Verde is a well balanced medium dry wine, and is an excellent summer wine. Serve it chilled with all light summer foods and seafood.” This is the first mention of specific grapes found in Vinho Verde. 

The Hartford Courant (CT), May 15, 1968, mentioned, “The vinho verdes, fairly new in the American market, are ‘green wines’ which may be red, white or pink; the ‘green’ refers to the youthful quality of the wines, and their light, refreshing flavor.” So, it seems that Vinho Verde was a recent export, maybe within the last five years or so. 

The Sacramento Bee (CA), July 2, 1969, printed an article by a writer who went to a Portuguese wine tasting. He stated, “I found the ‘Vinho Verde’ white table wines the most pleasant. The translation of vinho verde literally is ‘green wine’ but it really means ‘young wine.’ It is not green, but can be either red or white. The two I liked best both were water white—one was Casal Garcia and the other Tres Marias. In Portugal the vinho verdes are light in alcohol—about 9 to 10 ½ per cent—but those imported to the U.S. come in at about 12. They are refreshing, fragrant and somewhat dry.”

The Chicago Tribune (IL), October 10, 1969, in a long article on Portuguese wines mentioned that sales of their red and white table wines have increased by over 64% from the previous year. The article also stated, “Portuguese vinhos verdes are the new thing. They are ‘green wines’ only in the sense of being youthful, and having been made of somewhat underripe grapes; their alcoholic content is low, 8-11 per cent. In color, they are both red and white. They come from one of the eight legally defined districts of the Romans and later people.” It continued, “Vinhos Verdes are light, fruity wines, bright red or yellowish, and some are pink; they have a tendency to sparkle naturally.”

The Orlando Sentinel (FL), May 24, 1970, printed a large wine advertisement, with a feature on Vinho Verde. “Thousands of rugged, independent small farmers grow these vinhos verdes—which are rapidly becoming popular and fashionable summer coolers in Florida, as they have been in South American for many years!” It continued, “Vinhos verdes are light and bracing, with a sprightly, prickly tartness which is their special trademark; they range from greenish-straw to pale golden in color.” It also stated, “These are outdoor wines—for swallowing, not sipping! Try a well chilled bottle for the most sensational summer drink you can imagine.” Finally, the ad mentioned three brands, including Casal Garcia, Balboa and Scampi.

There was a lengthy article on Vinho Verde in the San Francisco Examiner (CA), July 7, 1971. It stated, “Vinho verde is strange stuff. It is red or white, but never green. When it is out of reach, the best substitutes are not other wines, but rather well-made cider or light beer. It is, in short, a refreshment.” The article then noted, “It has an extremely light body and taste—so pale in both regards that it does not interfere with appetite, even if drunk in gulps.” And it continued with, “The alcohol is almost always less than 10 percent and dips down to 8 percent or so on the wine’s home grounds. This is another encouragement to gross consumption.”

The article also mentioned, “Vinho verde prickles a bit on the tongue because it has a natural sparkle….the people who make vinho verde say that the sparkle…is due to minerals in the local soils, proof of which is that melons from the area also sparkle in the same way.” Next, it noted, “Finally, vinho verde finishes so dry that the only comparable flavor I think of is bicarbonate of soda. The wine makes you feel like you are preventing heartburn from the first bite onwards, so you shovel down an enormous meal in spite of its being 90 degrees.”

And as for red Vinho Verde, the article mentioned, “Conventionally, the white goes with shellfish and chicken, the red with pork. It is a rule most Portuguese would just as soon break as keep.” And then it was stated, “Nobody exports red vinho verde. Senhor Fernando Guedes, whose firm makes Casal Garcia, was aghast at the mere thought of it. So, although the earliest mentions of Vinho Verde mentioned the red version, it appears the white version became the most common export from Portugal.

In two issues, the Daily News also presented some interesting information about Vinho Verde. First, the Daily News (NY), July 11, 1974, began, “Tourists don’t find the Porto right away, being busy discovering Vinho Verde, the wine that can cost $1 on a seaside fish restaurant, although there are some special bottlings like Alvarhino from Moncao that run as high as $10.” This is the first mention of more premium Vinho Verde, showing that it was being produced at this time. It wasn't just the cheap, fizzy version that most were familiar. And Alvarhino from Moncao is still well known as high quality Vinho Verde.

The article also noted, “Vinho Verde is meant to be fresh and young, light and inexpensive, sometimes only 9% alcohol, just the thing to drink while lolling in the sands. Most of it is white and each vintage is meant to be drink up before the next is made,…” Finally, it mentioned, “…it has just begun to be imported into the U.S.”

Second, the Daily News (NY), July 18, 1974, added, “The perfect wine for the American market would be one that is young and fresh, low in alcohol and low in price….Vinho Verde, the perfect wine, is made here in northern Portugal, but the catch is that scarcely any of it is sent to the States.” This seems to indicate that only small amounts of Vinho Verde were yet being exported to the U.S., and Casal Garcia was probably the most dominant. 

The article continued, “It’s pronounced veen-yo vaired and it comes in the usual three colors—red, white and pink. The phrase means green wines in Portuguese, sure enough, but that refers to age, suggesting wines that should be drunk before the following vintage,…” It then noted, “The wines lose their freshness quickly, and importers have used that as an excuse for not bringing them in. The excuse was that the wines would not last a year or longer on the shelves and would go bad before they were sold.” In response, the article made the point that, “Now that wines disappear from the shelves in a matter of days, there should be a lot of Vinho Verde on the market, all of it young, from last year’s vintage or the year before.” Finally, the article mentioned, “The whites are best. They are sharp and acid, just what some people thirst for after years of drinking soft, bland wines from California or the Mediterranean countries.”

The dominance of Red Vinho Verde! The Knoxville News-Sentinel (TN), March 24, 1980, wrote about Vinho Verde, stating, “They comprise about 25 percent of all the wines made in the country. The Portuguese favor them—consuming about 90 percent of the production. About 60 percent of the wines made are red. Both the reds and whites are light and fresh—made to be drunk young. They are low in alcohol, about 10 percent, and have an attractive sparkle that leaves a tingle on the tongue.” 60% of Vinho Verde was red? Today, only 7% of the production in the Vinho Verde region is red. When and why did this percentage change so drastically? 

The Daily Register (NJ), September 11, 1985, also noted "Red Vino Verdes might be somewhat of a surprise to many people in the United States because they rarely find their way here, but red wines constitute about 70 percent of the production in the region." So, the drastic percentage difference between red and white Vinho Verde remained until at least 1985. 

The Asbury Park Press (NJ), September 20, 1987, mentioned that in the Vinho Verde region, "Although far more red is produced than white, it is the white that has become known in this country."

The dominance of Red Vinho Verde starts to wane. The Miami Herald (FL), August 29, 1999, wrote, "Unknown even to many rabid wine fans, nearly half of Portugal's vinho verdes are red--made from the traditional port grapes of touriga nacional, touriga francesca, and tinta barroca. Why are they little known? According to wine author Jancis Robinson, in her Oxford Companion to Wine, it's because the reds are 'fizzy, acidic, dry and raspy' and thus 'anathema to foreign palates." We see that the percentage of red Vinho Verde had dropped from 60%-70% to less than 50%. A relatively small decrease, but still significant.

The Kitsap Sun (WA), June 1, 2005, printed, "Vinho Verde is Portugal's most famous wine and is usually red. Half of all the Vinho Verde produced is not the exported white wine but a fizzy, acidic dry red wine. This wine is not a favorite with foreign wine drinkers but is one of the most popular for everyday drinking among the local populace. Red Vinho Verde is a shocking magenta and is as acidic as red wine gets."

For information was provided in The Miami Herald (FL), June 16, 2005, which stated that red Vinho Verde is 40% of all the Vinho Verde made. In addition, it stated, "But they export only about 1 percent of it, and even the portion that arrives in the U.S. is drunk almost entirely by the New York City's Portuguese community." Around 2014, the production of red Vinho Verde was down to 10% of the region's total production, and by 2023, that amount had decreased to 7%. Why did red Vinho Verde, in the course of only about nine years, drop from 40% down to only 10%? 


It appears that Vinho Verde started being imported into the U.S. during the early 1960s, except for maybe one or two outliers prior to that time. Red Vinho Verde may have been the first Vinho Verde to be exported to the U.S. During the 1960s, when Vinho Verde began to be more commonly exported to the U.S., Casal Garcia, a white wine, was the primary brand, although a few others were also exported to the U.S. At this time, Vinho Verde, especially the white, was largely viewed very positively, and often seen as an accompaniment for seafood. 

However, Red Vinho Verde was the most commonly produced Vinho Verde at this time, and it remained so until the 1990s, when it became closer to a 50/50 split. But, even as late as 2005, 40% of the production of Vinho Verde was still red. Yet today, one 7% red Vinho Verde is produced? Why that changed is a mystery to me, and something I want to explore further. Could red Vinho Verde become a major element once again? 

Seek out Vinho Verde, especially the more premium versions, which are more complex and diverse. And even those premium versions can often be found for reasonable prices, some under $20. I'll be visiting the Vinho Verde in October, and hope to find some amazing wines when I visit a few of their wineries.