Ageing Alvarinho

When thinking of bottle-aged whites, the first wine to jump to mind would of course be good Riesling or a top shelf white Burgundy perhaps. But here in Portugal most whites are drunk young and whilst this makes sense for many of the wines produced here, there are some grape varieties that lend themselves especially well to the production of wines that need time.

Traditionally, the wines of Bucelas, made from the Arinto grape in what is now the Lisbon region, were well known for their longevity as are some Dão whites produced from the Encruzado grape. These two varieties produce wines of high acidity that always benefit from a least a couple of years in the bottle.

But what about Alvarinho? Produced primarily in the Minho region where it is considered to be a “Vinho Verde”, most of the production is launched onto the market just a few months after bottling. Hence the majority of Alvarinho to be found in shops and on wine lists at the moment, even from the most respected brands such as Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes, is the 2015 vintage.

Alvarinho, however, has “legs” that are easily as long as those of the aforementioned varieties and, when aged with care, can produce fabulously complex wines.

One small producer that comes to mind is San Joanne, also from the Minho, who produce a mainstream Alvarinho intended to be enjoyed young and a “Superior” label that is only produced in exceptional years and released onto the market after at least four years of bottle-ageing (available from Terroir/Wine Emotions – the 2009 costs €27).

As for 2015, this vintage has been rated as a great year for Alvarinho in the Minho region. When I first tried the 2015 from Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes earlier this year, the acidity was such that the wines seemed slightly sharp in the mouth. But it was clear that they needed time and now, just a few months later, they have already started to soften and develop more rounded and intense flavours, and the quality will continue to improve. So my tip is to buy some of your favourite 2015 Alvarinho now and lay it up somewhere cool and dark to enjoy next year, or a few years from now.

By PATRICK STUART [email protected]