Location, Location, Location
Tucked into the upper northwestern corner of Portugal’s celebrity slice of the Iberian Peninsula, the mostly white wine region of Vinho Verde (literally “green wine”) brags on its oceanside influence with radiant shades of green – echoing Ireland everywhere. Even its snazzy back label certification seal authenticating that it really is Vinho Verde showcases the Atlantic’s dramatic regional influence with a witty nod of curling aqua waves captivated mid-crest in the silhouette of a stemless wine glass. Just across the Minho River mirroring Spain’s Rias Baixas, Portugal’s Vinho Verde region includes nine sub-regions with over 50,000 acres of vines.
While Vinho Verde’s popularity is gaining some serious ground, it is not a new region. In fact, history reveals Roman references to wine from this locale that are keenly attributed to the heady, philosophical likes of Seneca and Pliny.
What’s in a Name?
First things first, Vinho Verde is the name of a place, a gorgeous wine-growing DOC region in northern Portugal, not a specific grape variety. In fact, Vinho Verde is typically a blend of several local white wine grapes. The derivation of the name “Vinho Verde” has been touted as referring to the wine’s greenish twinges of color in the glass, or to its youthful, vibrant nature that is intended to be consumed young. According to Goncalo Rowett of Vinho Verde’s Viticulture Commission’s marketing team, however, the name is an intentional reference to the region’s verdant colors and emerald landscapes.
What does Vinho Verde Taste Like?
Summer in a glass. Extraordinarily fresh, fun, fruit-forward with a slight sparkle and easy on the alcohol, Vinho Verde is the perfect beach day wine. When served well-chilled the wine lives up to the sizzling summer appeal and refreshing versatility of poolside pairings. This popular style of young Vinho Verde is lighter-bodied, dry to off-dry with lively acidity. The aromas and flavors brighten the glass with tangy Granny Smith apple, sassy citrus themes that include loads of lemon and lime and extend delightfully to grapefruit in warmer growing zones. Certain granite-based soil structures seem to express more minerality in the glass and often add a showy contrast to the full-throttle acidity.
However, Vinho Verde has another side. While the light-hearted wallet-friendly bottles seem to snag all the glory and have built a stellar consumer reputation, the region also produces a white wine that is a bit more serious, sees more oak, carries some aging, eschews CO2 carbonation, and shows the versatility of the region by highlighting single vineyard and single variety bottlings (often found in the round, Burgundian-style bottles).
It’s true that Vinho Verde is most associated with white wine grapes (85% of total production), but red wines are also produced (a collective 7%) with indigenous grapes like Vinhão, Alvarelhao, Amaral, Borracal, Padeiro, Alicante-Bouschet, Touriga Nacional, Verdelho Tinto and more. These remarkable reds are tricky to find outside of Portugal, but if you can find them you’ll see some considerable impressions on the palate with high acidity, low alcohol, medium tannins, black fruit and cocoa aromas, and an underlying earthiness with dense pigmentation and an amazing affinity for all things related to the popular Portuguese dish of Codfish.
Fun fact: The Portuguese traditionally drink their red wines chilled in small white ceramic bowls (to better see the deep color pigmentation) in lieu of traditional glassware.
Classic Vinho Verde Characteristics:
Most Common Grapes: Alvarinho (aka Albarino in Spain), Loureiro, Trajadura, Avesso, Arinto, Batoca and more.
Flavors: green apple, citrus, peach and mineral
Palate Weight: light to medium-bodied
Acidity: medium to high
ABV: lower alcohol levels in general
Textures: crisp, fresh, often with a touch of zippy effervescence
Myth-buster: Vinho Verde wines are white, red, rosé and sparkling
Vinho Verde Food Pairing
Local foods and local wines. Portugal has had this foodie trend down for centuries and is still holding steady to pairing their wines with the typical dishes of the region. Rumor has it that there are “1001 ways to prepare Bacalhau” (Portuguese for Codfish) – breaded, fried, salted, fresco, in casseroles, with creamy rice, in eggs – all of which are made for the easy-going style of Vinho Verde’s wine finds. Octopus in olive oil, grilled sardines, sushi, appetizers, summer salads, calamari, poultry dishes and more, Vinho Verde is a remarkably versatile pairing wine thanks to zesty acidity and modest alcohol.
6 Surprising Facts about Vinho Verde:
The name Vinho Verde is pronounced “Veen-ho Vaird” locally (not “Veen-ho Vair-day”)
Vinho Verde makes outstanding sparkling wine from Alvarinho – crisp and complex.
Many single estate, single variety wines largely based on Alvarinho and Loureiro are being aged quite well for 8-10 years or more.
Organic and Biodynamic wines are gaining ground in Vinho Verde despite humid climate conditions (for outstanding Biodynamic wines look for Vasco Croft’s Aphros Wine series – link: https://aphros-wine.com/en/ ).
The regional red grape, Vinhão, has pigmentation that is so inky and penetrating that it was traditionally used to paint walls in Portuguese homes.
Fizz or Fizz-free? Traditionally, carbon dioxide from fermentation was often captured in the bottle, but today many producers opt for a controlled spritz of CO2 at the time of bottling to keep the wines fresh and bright.