Vinho Verde is a very young, crisp wine that is produced in the Minho region. Its name translates to mean ‘young wine’, referring to the fact that it should be drunk soon after it has been bottled (and is not related to its colour, despite ‘verde’ meaning ‘green’). The Vinho Verde region, which lies between the Spanish border and the Douro Valley in the north-western corner of Portugal, was demarcated in 1908 and only permitted grapes are allowed to be used in wines that carry the Vinho Verde DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada (Controlled Denomination of Origin)) on the label, along with the seal of guarantee and an official number.
While the majority of Vinho Verde drunk outside of Portugal is white, within Portugal it is also possible to buy rosé and red Vinho Verde. The flavour of wines from the Vinho Verde region embody the cold, damp climate and granitic soil in which the vines grow, often draped over pergola trellises or even trees to keep them off the ground to prevent the grapes from rotting. The white Vinho Verdes have a characteristic light-bodied acidity with fruity and floral notes and, at around only 10% alcohol, it is the perfect drink on a hot day. The main grape varieties used in white Vinho Verdes are Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro and Trajadura, usually in blends, but some wine producers are creating single-varietal Vinho Verdes with the more-complex Alvarhino and Loureiro grapes. The rosés have a freshness with flavours of strawberries, raspberries and cherries from the Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes, while the reds, made with Amaral, Borraçal and Vinhão grapes, are an acquired taste with high tannins, a deep-red colour and, let’s not beat around the bush, a sharp taste, but are still widely drunk in northern Portugal. Red Vinho Verde is often served from a cask in a traditional small terracotta or ceramic drinking bowl rather than in a wine glass.
Another characteristic of Vinho Verde is its slight fizziness, although not enough fizz to call it a sparkling wine. In the past the fizziness was a result of malolactic fermentation (in which malic acid converts to lactic acid and during this process releases carbon dioxide), but this fermentation resulted in an unappealing cloudiness which meant the wine had to be sold in an opaque container. Nowadays, producers of Vinho Verde add the carbon dioxide artificially. It is the combination of this slight sparkle combined with the light fresh acidity that makes this a perfect wine to drink on its own on a summer’s day or as an accompaniment to white meat, fish, seafood and salads.
Pictured wines (prices as of 2020):
Casal Garcia, Quinta da Aveleda, Vinho Verde DOC (blend of Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal), NV, €4.55
Leira do Canhoto, Quinta de Melgaço, Vinho Verde DOC (blend of Alvarinho, Loureiro and Arinto), 2014, €3.35