First of all, thank you, Errol Laborde, editor and general overseer of all things here at and Renaissance Publishing, for his column last week noting that he still often finds himself in reverie reliving moments from last season’s amazing Saints journey to the Promised Land.

That moved me to head over to YouTube and find all manner of Saints videos and music, not only from the 2009 season but also from that magical re-opening of the Dome in 2006, punctuated by a highly emotional win against Atlanta. I thank Errol because I need no help in wasting time and managed to lose three hours of my life in sweet reminisce. It was incredible, but, Errol, in the future, such columns from you should carry a warning that reading further will cause joyful tears and moving hands on ticking clocks.

OK, last week, I noted, without the great insight Mr. Laborde brings to his writing, that finding new wine solutions to summertime heat is not hard, and it is not expensive. Many of the alternative white wines to chardonnay offer several positive points: 1) they are tasty and a pleasure to drink; 2) they can be chilled as low as you can take the temperature, mostly without a resulting loss of flavor or style; 3) they are inexpensive; 4) they are low in alcohol; and 5) they are not chardonnay.

Many of these interesting other-whites hail from places where we don’t usually look for wine, and that’s more the pity. It’s a big world out there with some incredible work being done in every corner. And because there has been a long history of winemaking in most of these areas, such as Portugal and northern Spain, the beverages are of excellent quality, with a key consideration: They are cheaper than their American or Australian counterparts.

One of the reasons for this lower price point is that generations ago, the land was paid for. No mortgage. That’s really important if you are a producer from California, Oregon or Washington because you are likely a new guy to the winemaking party, and you are still in the debt business. Adding the extra cost of land debt to the price of the end product is not insignificant. You have to charge more because your raw costs are higher.

But if you are a seventh- or eighth-generation winemaker from the Old World, you merely have to build in the cost of taxes. New World producers have that cost too, so it puts the old-line landed gentry a step ahead to produce something that can compete in quality and in retail price. Then we factor in the economic circumstances of the past two years, and the folks who have been around a while, say seven or eight generations, suddenly find themselves in the monetary sweet-spot of the market.

Incidentally, don’t get me started on why the costs of wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy are still high in relation to most of their New World cousins. Suffice to it to say that in those regions the rules of ego and supply-and-demand trump the rule of low-cost production. 

Let’s, however, continue last week’s theme of finding wines that pair well with hot, humid weather. We’ll assume your food choices are appropriate to the climate, meaning that small plates, salads and fresh seafood will be the order of the day. The latter suggestion is further assuming BP allows us to have such tasty items from the sea.

Anyway, there are two regions on the Iberian Peninsula that fit the bill perfectly. The first is the Minho region in the far northern reaches of Portugal. If you are thinking of Portugal as the warm, sunny land of beautiful beaches and topless European ladies, you are actually thinking of the Algarve far to the south.

Although Minho is a reasonably warm place in the summer season, it also experiences frequent showers, which tend to hold the temperatures to a lower degree than the sunny south.

The weather contributes some very nice qualities to the grapes of the area, which make a wine the locals call “vinho verde,” or “green wine.”

It is assumed by many wine-lovers that the name refers to the color of the wine. Not so. The name refers to the freshness and forward fruit characters of the wine. In fact, many vinho verde wines are not green but rather clear, and some are even rosé. Did anyone ever tell you the wine industry was not complicated? Didn’t think so. 

One of the characteristics of these wines is a slight spritzy quality, not forward or overt but soft and very pleasant. The wines themselves are almost always better younger, and they are quite clean. Alcohol levels are low, usually around 10 percent to 12 percent. Drinking vinho verde is like taking a broom to your palate and sweeping away whatever was there, replacing it with the flavor of fresh.

The grapes used to make vinho verde are grapes we hear about all the time, trajadura and alvarinho for the white wines, and vinhao and azal tinto in the red range. (Just kidding about the “grapes we hear about all the time” remark.)

The wines are usually quite inexpensive, sometimes under $8, and you can chill the heck out of them. Get them really cold for great enjoyment.

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Rosé
Avelada Fonte Vinho Verde
Avelada Alvarinho Vinho Verde

Just across the border from Minho is the Spanish province of Galicia. This historic area has been inhabited by human beings since the Iron Age, and several key developments in Galicia’s history were probably done under the influence of the ancient Celts, who landed on these shores bringing with them agriculture and horses. If anyone asks how the great breed of Spanish horses began, look to Ireland.

You can also look to Ireland if you want to find how this northwest province of Spain came to have a cuisine based in potatoes rather than rice.

It is here in Galicia that the albariño grape achieves its highest standard. The grape is believed to have been brought to Galicia by Cluny monks from the Rhine River region, which accounts for the grape’s name, “alba-riño,” meaning “white grape from the Rhine.”

Albariño wines are the most popular white wines in Spain and present a stone-fruit character on the nose, calling to mind peaches and apricots. On the palate, the wines are reminiscent of Gewürztraminer and, in some cases, Viognier. Albariño wines are usually moderate in alcohol, around 12 percent, and they are best when served very cold.

These are distinctive wines, made more so by the fact that they really have not been tried to any appreciable extent in other grape-growing regions. The region of Rias Baixas (ree-áss by’-chass) is ground zero for growing albariño. Incidentally, “albariño” is the Spanish name for the grape, and the Portuguese name is “alvarinho,” and to further “clarify” the matter, Portuguese is one of the languages of Galicia. The wines usually cost $12-$15 a bottle.

Martin Codax Albariño
Condes de Albarai Albariño
Valminor Albariño

Take a tip from our knowledgeable wine- and food-loving friends in Spain and Portugal, who also live with heat and humidity. Drink refreshing. Drink cold. Dine on lighter fare.