Alvarinho is the grape you may know better as Albarino, its Spanish spelling. But in fact its home is Portugal’s northern most Vinho Verde region, ground zero near the villages of Melgaço and Menção. The Spanish make a lot more north of there, so have managed to capture the grape’s fame. For my money, Alvarinho (pr. Al-vahr-ree-nho) is almost always better and often a lot cheaper.
Characteristically, it offers lovely, delicate floral aromas, subtle stone-fruit flavors and laser sharp acidity. It shares similarities to young, lean bodied Viognier or youthful dry Riesling or Petit Manseng from Jurancon. If you like these, you’ll probably like it.
For almost twenty years now I’ve been telling every Portuguese winemaker who would listen to NOT plant French grapes because they can’t do them any better than anywhere else and the markets are flooded with the stuff. So what was the point! What the world really needed from Portugal were its myriad of under-known Portuguese grapes, which were just as good and much more interesting for those of us bored silly with French grapes. Plant Portuguese grapes and customers will come, I’d say.
Well times have changed. The three regions that have danced far too much with Francophilia in the past, Lisboa, Tejo and Alentejo, have planted lots of Alvarinho instead of Chardonnay and Sauvignon and are making some pretty smart wine from it. All three regions are relatively warmer than Vinho Verde and, with global warming breathing down their necks, all benefit from naturally higher acid grapes like Alvarinho.
To be honest, classic Alvarinho from Melgaço and Menção can be a bit too coy, austere or pertly tart for most people, although I like it specifically for those reasons. But when grown further south, catching more sun and heat, it grows fuller, richer and more luscious in Lisboa/Tejo or down right voluptuous way down in Alentejo. Who needs boring old Chardonnay when you can have this.
Which brings me to DFJ Grand' Art Alvarinho 2020.
First time I visited DFJ I was bowled over by its architecture: a magnificent old converted factory with wonderfully planted storks’ nests in every disused chimney. They make oceans of inexpensive wine from grapes grown all over Tejo and Lisboa regions. The best of which don’t use French grapes.
My favorite DFJ is Grand' Art Alvarinho 2020 which sells for a tenner or less around the world. It offers up terrific Alvarinho aromas of green melon, blossoms and flower stems. Lisbon’s warmer climate amps up Alavarinho into a richer fruited, slicker, fuller bodied wine, but still with that tart zingy acidity propelling forward motion. This is a great value introduction to Alvarinho and I happily guzzled up mine with a plate of super fresh fish.