As the weather warms up, you might find yourself reaching for a glass of refreshing, and ever so slightly sparkling Vinho Verde. It’s a pretty popular wine in Portugal, where its light and fresh nature is a great choice for pairing with the warm weather and dining outdoors.
Despite being called Vinho Verde, quite literally green wine, the verde part refers not to the colour of the wine, but to its age, or according to some people the region it’s from. Vinho Verde is actually a DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada). Which means it’s a type of wine from a protected region that can only produce that variety. The verde in its name supposedly refers to a translation of green to mean young. In that the wines are meant to be consumed young (around 3-6 months after harvesting). The other surprising thing, you’ll most typically see the tall thin greenish bottles of white wine, but you can also find red (tinto) and rosé varieties.
They’re widely consumed in Portugal, due to their versatility, well-balanced flavour profiles, and wallet friendly price. White Vinho Verde wine works well alongside a whole range of typical Portuguese dishes, including everything from platters of grilled fish and piri-piri chicken, to seafood dishes and salads. They’re also surprisingly good value, which make them a tempting prospect for anyone browsing a garrafeira or supermarket looking for a bottle to take home.
Vinho Verde – Portugal’s Green Wine
Your typical Vinho Verdes are light, fresh, and slightly sparkling. Although they are not officially recognised as sparkling, or semi-sparkling, they do offer a slight fizz on the end of your tongue. Due to its natural acidity, Vinho Verde wine is fresh, fruity and often has a floral or tropical aroma depending on the grapes used. Speaking of grapes, the most common are the Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Alvarinho and Loureiro are the most popular variety. White Vinho Verde’s are lemon or straw coloured, and usually around 8.5 to 11% alcohol. However, wines that are made from Alvarinho grapes, which can only be grown in a specific subregion, will have a higher alcohol content of around 11.5-14% and will be more fruit forward. Most vinho verde wine will be a blend of grapes, but some higher quality and usually more expensive bottles will be marked with their specific grape. If you’re looking for a single variety wine, keep an eye out for Alvarinho and Loureiro.
That Fizz – Is Vinho Verde Sparkling?
Today, you’ll find most Vinho Verde is artificially carbonated to give it that light fizz. Originally this wasn’t the case, this sparkling nature was a consequence of its early bottling. Carbon dioxide is a by-product of the fermentation process, and some would be trapped in the bottle. Most commercial and bigger producers now add a slight sparkle by carbonating them, but you’ll find some smaller producers don’t do this. Supposedly, and this comes from a Portuguese source, the easy way to tell if its slightly sparkling or not is through the shape of the bottle. The taller, thinner bottles are usually sparkling, but the more round and traditional wine bottle shapes will not be.
Portugal’s Red, Pink, and Green Wine?
Despite the green name, Vinho Verde wine is also available in red (tinto) and rosé varieties. Unfortunately, the red vinho verde does not have such a great reputation, in Portugal and abroad. It’s often accused of being undrinkable by the Portuguese themselves. The most common description will be something of sour red fruits like cherries or plums. However, to really appreciate them, you’ll need to find a good one, which might not be easy as they’re not sold everywhere. If you’re reading from abroad, they’ll be even harder to find as they’re mostly kept in the domestic market! Reportedly, only 10% of the wine that comes out of the region is red or rosé. The rarity isn’t deliberate, the rainy Minho environment isn’t well suited to ripening the red grape varieties, and it’s a bit of a local acquired taste.
Red Vinho Verde are mostly made from Vinhão, Borraçal and Amaral grapes. These result in deep red and tannic wines. The rosés are very fresh and fruity, usually made from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes. Similarly, to white Vinho Verde, tinto is lower alcohol around 9% and has an inky texture with medium tannins. It’s common to drink them slightly chilled, and as some are slightly sparkling its certainly an experience the first time you drink one. The result though, if you find a good one, is a refreshing, acidic drink with some sour but sweet flavour.
Minho – The Vinho Verde Region
The Vinho Verde region is in Minho and it’s here that the wines get their name according to some people. When most people think of Portugal, they might be thinking sun-kissed beaches and 300 days of sunshine a year. In the northwest of Portugal this couldn’t be less true. Here it’s Atlantic, and when the region isn’t being buffeted by wind and rain, it’s still overcast and grey. The weather is often described as English. All this rain feeds multiple rivers in the region and results in lush, green valleys, rolling hills, and lots of vegetation. People from the Minho region actually argue that this is why it’s called green wine and not due to its age!
Historically, Minho was the northern province that bordered Spain in the north, and would have included the cities of Braga, Guimarães, Viana do Castelo, and Barcelos. However, in 1976, the region was split into the districts of Braga and Viana do Castelo. You’ll still hear the region called Minho, and Vinho Verde DOC still follows the historic boundaries so it can be confusing to follow! Additionally, the Vinho Verde DOC is divided into nine subregions, which can be specified on the label of the wine bottle together with the name of Vinho Verde. The subregions are; Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa.
Subregions of Vinho Verde DOC
These nine subregions offer a slightly different environment which effects the grape varieties and the type of wine they produce.
- Monção and Melgaço: These are the northern most regions and border Spain. This sub-region is well known for its excellent Alvarinho grapes with more elegant, mineral notes due to the well-draining granitic soils.
- Lima, Cávado, and Ave: These are the regions along the coastline and as such are very rainy and often overcast. Not the ideal weather for grape production. However Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura are grown here.
- Sousa, Paiva, Baião, and Basto: These four regions are as you head further inland, and the area is much more mountainous. It borders the Douro valley, and consequently is much more sunny and less rainy. You’ll find the harder-to-ripen white grapes like Azal and Avesso here. You’ll also find those rare red grapes as there is enough sunshine to ripen them like Espadeiro and Vinhão.
Across those regions are approximately 21,000 hectares of vineyards, which make up around 9% of the total wine production of Portugal. Today there are around 19,000 individual producers and around 600 different bottlers in the region.
Drinking Vinho Verde in Portugal
So next time you’re buying a bottle of wine in Portugal, consider trying a green wine or maybe even take one home and introduce your friends to this type of wine! Let us know in the comments your favourites!
Aveleda DOC Vinho Verde Branco (€4.99 at time of purchase)
Casal Garcia Fresh Red Vinho Verde (€3.99 at time of purchase)