Marked by good acidity and brilliant citrus, Vinho Verde wines hail from the Minho province, making the most of Portugal’s wet, northwestern soils. Vinho Verde has solidified its personality among the other wines of the world as the friendly sip that gets along with anything and everything on the table. It’s the up-for-anything companion, whether you’re celebrating a huge milestone or the existence of Netflix on a Tuesday.
What many casual drinkers don’t realize is Vinho Verde isn’t a type of grape variety. It actually translates to “green wine,” and Vinho Verde wines are usually blends of several Portuguese white grapes. These are wines best consumed shortly after being bottled, and most bear a nice, gentle sparkle. Not a champagne-level sparkle — there’s just an extra little kick in the sip in a great Vinho Verde.
Another trait of these affordable wines is they also pair quickly and effortlessly with a wide variety of cuisines, including those not usually paired with wines — like Asian cuisines. Vinho Verde can bring a subtle sweetness to balance spice, and the acidity and lower alcohol levels refresh the palate between rich flavors. Just how well can these pairings work? We put a few bottles to the ultimate pairing test: Korean food. Vinho Verde is marked by being light, clean, subtle and sunny, and we were curious about how it would stand up to the mainstays of Korean cuisine — fish sauce, spice, red pepper paste, soy, vinegar, and intensely pickled produce. Spoiler: The results were very impressive.
The challenge was posed to Esther Choi, owner-chef of Mokbar inside Manhattan’s Chelsea Market. This young Korean-American chef not only considered it but jumped at the chance to share her food with Portugal’s famous wine. It might have been an unfair advantage, because Choi’s been playing around her grandmother’s recipes and great bottles of wine for years.
“At home, I always drink wine when I’m cooking, and I’m always cooking Korean,” laughs Choi. “My sisters and I have been pairing wines with Korean food for years now, but I think in terms of seeing this on menus, people are just unfamiliar with exactly how to do it. Asian food can be super-strong and intense. Wine can play well with that if you know which ones to select. Or there are tons of Asian — and specifically Korean — dishes that have lighter, more subtle flavors that just naturally work.”
Choi’s first choice was a japchae, which she paired with Quinta da Azevedo 2014. “Japchae is beloved by Koreans,” she offers. “Usually we make it on New Year’s or for a very special occasion. Anytime you have a huge ceremony in South Korea, you serve a noodle dish, which symbolizes long life.” Considering the light nature of the wine, she chose to twist the traditional dish, subbing in chicken and light kani (crab) for pork and beef and throwing more fresh vegetables on top instead of the traditional heavy sweet potato. “There’s no citrus in this dish,” Choi continues, “and with the noodles and the meat, it can be heavy. This wine cleanses the palate, adding a light sweetness and a hint of citrus. At home when creating this recipe or another Korean dish, you can always dial back the flavors on the dish and make them a bit lighter for the lighter wines.”
KANI CHICKEN JAPCHAE
- 3 sticks kani (crabstick), shredded
- 1/2 chicken breast
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon garlic, chopped
- 3.5 oz. sweet potato noodles (aka glass noodles, japchae noodles, or dangmyun)
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ onion, julienne
- ½ carrot, julienne
- 1 bell pepper, julienne
- ½ bunch enoki mushroom
- 4 stalks scallion, 3 cut into 2-inch pieces, 1 chopped
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- Add hot water to sweet potato noodles and let it soak for 20 minutes.
- In a small pot, bring chicken stock to a boil and add soy sauce and chopped garlic. Add chicken breast and bring back to boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 30-40 minutes until chicken is fully cooked. Take chicken out and let it cool, about 10 minutes. Shred the chicken.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce.
- Add a tablespoon of the dressing to the chicken and dress.
- In a large skillet, add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil on high heat.
- Add the onion, carrots, bell peppers and scallion and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the noodle and sauté briefly for another 30 seconds.
- Add the sauce to the pan and incorporate well until the noodles and vegetables are well coated.
- Turn off the heat and add the kani and enoki mushrooms. Let the heat from the noodle and vegetable mixture slightly cook the kani and mushroom.
- Plate into 2 dishes, top with shredded chicken and garnish with sesame seeds and scallion.
Chef Choi’s pairing notes: The South Korean dish most beloved by foreigners, this version is made with crab and chicken to balance the lightness of the wine. The citrus notes in the wine cut through the richness of the sauce and refresh the palate.
Wine pairing: Traditionally, Vinho Verde wines were blends of several white grapes that are indigenous to the region. Blends are still the most common type of Vinho Verde on the market. Quinta da Azevedo Branco (white) is a blend of Loureiro and Arinto. It showcases the aromas typical of Loureiro, such as orange blossoms and ripe citrus fruits, balanced with minerality.
Additional wine suggestions:
- Portal da Calçada Branco: “Branco” is the Portuguese word for white (wine). This is a blend of Loureiro, Arinto, Azal and Trajadura. Subtle floral notes and citrus fruit aromas give way to vivid acidity.
- Quinta da Gomariz Grande Escolha: “Escolha” means choice. This is a selection of Loureiro, Alvarinho and Trajadura grapes blended to create a crisp wine with a slight creaminess on the palate and a persistent finish.
Ask for the Vinho Verde section at your local wine shop, or check out Wine-Searcher.com to find a bottle near you.
Brought to you by our friends at Vinho Verde: