Vinho Verde Properly Explained – Portuguese Wine

One of the most misunderstood wine region by consumers. You would be amazed by the number of people I get here in Porto that are visiting and are disappointed that the wine isn’t green. And it is not only about tourists, unfortunately. Even locals, portuguese born and raised, as soon as they get something very fruity and full of green apple and citrus character start to say it’s from Vinho Verde region. Even self called “experts” and “certified” and “best sommelier” people (don’t even get me started on this. And there are professional people out there) write some funny stuff. So give yourself a break. Here is a quick breakdown of the whole Vinho Verde misconception.

When I go to my parent’s house and it’s time to pick a wine, first thing my dad says is: “do we drink Verde or Maduro?”. Verde meaning unripe, Maduro meaning fully ripe. At its most basic, Vinho Verde somehow translates to “young wine” or “not fully ripe wine”. Meaning the grapes would usually be lower in sugar content by the time of harvest, resulting in a lower alcohol content and greener flavors of green apple or citrus, for example. Because of this, the country started to refer to that region of Portugal as the “unripe wine” (Vinho Verde), keeping that name for the DOC. Nothing to do with green wine. Or green vs white grapes. All about the sugar content and ripeness levels by the time of harvest.

Another thing to mention is the little sparkle in SOME of these wine. Traditionally, that little sparkle would come from retained CO2 from the Malolactic Fermentation. Nowadays you would count with one hand the people that still do it this way. Most just artificially add CO2 to the wines and mostly for consistency purposes.

Vinho Verde DOC got divided into 9 sub-regions, each of them having perfect weather for specific varieties. Let’s see the most notable examples.

Vinho Verde is not famous for good reds. We will focus on the whites.

The most widely grown grape is Loureiro (Loureira in Spain’s Rías Baixas). It is grown throughout the region, but predominantly towards the coast. Produces wines with a good acidity (M+ for geeks) and citrus, pear, floral and herbal aromas.

The second most planted is Pedernã (the local name for Arinto also found in other parts of Portugal). It is less aromatic, with subtle citrus and apple fruit and a drooling acidity.

The third most widely grown is Alvarinho (Albariño over the border in Spain’s Rías Baixas), which has citrus, peach and sometimes tropical flavours, often with more body (M+) and lots of acidity (M+/H). Traditionally, it had been grown almost exclusively in the north of Vinho Verde, in a sub-region just south of the Spanish border, Monção e Melgaço. Now, recognition of Alvarinho’s high quality has led to more plantings in other parts of the region. Heads up to Monção e Melgaço being the only one partially protected from direct influence from the Atlantic giving a mix of a maritime and continental climate resulting in fuller bodied wines and higher alcohol levels. Also, the best grape of the region to produce a lot of different styles, fruity, on lees, oaked and latelly with some great sparkling examples.

Avesso is a grape that can fail to ripen fully unless weather conditions are relatively warm and dry. It tends to be grown inland in the south of the region, particularly in the sub-region of Baião, benefitting from the slightly warmer, drier conditions here. Avesso is lower in acidity than some of the other varieties, can be relatively full-bodied and displays citrus and stone fruit.

Trajadura (called Treixadura in Rías Baixas in Spain) is low in acidity with apple and peach flavours. It is usually blended with varieties that have higher levels of acidity, especially Alvarinho.

There is a trend to producing quality sparkling wines in the region. Something to look at.

To be labeled as a Vinho Verde, the wine cannot have more than 11.5% abv, unless if made with Alvarinho. For example, a 13.5% made from Alvarinho can be labeled as Vinho Verde, while a 13.5% made from Loureiro would have to use the IG of Minho instead. A lot of top quality producers of Alvarinho voluntarily use the IG Minho instead of DOC Vinho Verde because of consumer’s perception of low quality on Vinho Verde.

Keep in mind that these laws are updated some times. You might find some variation.

“Vinho Verde is a great light and fizzy wine”. Vinho Verde is a whole region, with a lot of different things.

Wishing you a life full of laughs and wine!