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Vinho Verde: 101
Vinho Verde is pronounced veeng-yo vaird.
Vinho Verde does not mean ‘green’ wine. ‘Verde’ refers to it being a young wine; the wines are released 3-6 months after harvest.
The Vinho Verde region has produced wine for over 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest wine regions in Portugal.
The wines of Vinho Verde have long been known for their vibrant fruit, low alcohol and refreshing qualities — a combination that makes them one of the most versatile partners with food. Vinho Verde is an ideal wine pairing for salads, seafood and Asian cuisine, and can be served alone or as an aperitif.
Today, consumers throughout the world are discovering Vinho Verde as one of the best wine values on the market.
Vinho Verde is Portugal’s largest wine region, with 19,000 grape growers farming over 51,000 acres of vineyards. 600 wine bottlers produce approximately 85 million liters of Vinho Verde each year, of which 86% is white wine. The region also produces smaller amounts of red, rosé and sparkling wine as well as brandy.
Vinho Verde is Portugal’s northernmost wine producing region. It’s located on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula in northern Portugal. With its proximity to the Atlantic, the Vinho Verde region resembles Vancouver or Seattle in appearance with its lush, green landscape and temperature climate. Not surprisingly, grape vines naturally thrive here.
The Seal of Guarantee ensures the quality and authenticity of Vinho Verde wines.
Vinho Verde wines are made from the combination of carefully selected varietals. Recommended white varietals include Alvarinho, Avesso, Azal, Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura.
How it all began
With a history of winemaking that dates from before 100 AD, Vinho Verde wines were the first Portuguese wines to be exported to European markets during the Middle Ages. Today, wines from the region are exported to more than 100 markets worldwide.
The Vinho Verde region was first settled over 2,500 years ago by Celtic tribes who traveled from their home in what is now the British Isles. The verdant landscape and cool maritime climate must have closely resembled their native home.
The earliest written records of wine from the region are taken from the writings of the noted Roman philosopher Seneca and naturalist Pliny in the first century A. D. Roman occupation was followed by centuries of Visigoth and Moorish rule that ended with the establishment of the Kingdom of Portugal and the crowning of King Afonso Henriques in 1139 in the town of Guimarães, located in what is now the Vinho Verde region.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the population of northwest Iberia concentrated in what is now the Minho region. Documents show that monastic orders played an important part in both grape growing and winemaking during that time. Although exports were very limited, we know from historical records that these were the first Portuguese wines to be sent to European markets (England, Flanders and Germany); in particular those from the Monção and Melgaço and Ribeira de Lima regions. However, 16th century laws favored the planting of maize, forcing farmers to uproot vines and either replant them in marginal spaces or train them to grow high above ground on tall trees or on trellises. This vine-training method is called enforcado and can still be found today, though producers favor more modern methods of vine training which help to produce better quality wines.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a renewed focus on quality and regulating the production and trading of Vinho Verde wines. The Legal Charter of September 18, 1908 and the Decree of October 1, 1908 demarcated the Vinho Verde Region for the very first time. The region was named as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) in 1984 and overseen by the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes (Wine Commission of the Vinho Verde Region).
The modern wine era of Vinho Verde has emerged only within the last few decades. Before then most wines were consumed locally or exported to Portuguese communities in the U.S. and former colonies. Portugal’s entry into the European Union in 1986 brought dramatic change with much-needed funding for roads, vineyards, wineries and better access to foreign markets. Today over 19,000 growers farm over 51,000 acres, making Vinho Verde the country’s largest wine region. An average of 80 million liters of wine is produced annually and exported to more than 100 markets worldwide.
Vinho Verde wines are well-known for their fresh, vibrant quality and youthful fruit. Most of the wines are intended to be enjoyed within a year to 18 months of release. Some of the wines offer a delightful hint of spritz.
White Vinhos Verdes are often blends of different grapes, but bottlings from single grape varieties such as Alvarinho and Loureiro can be found. Stylistically the whites display apple/pear and citrus flavors and range from 9 to 12% in alcohol content. Vinho Verde rosés offer aromas of red fruits. Red wines offer juicy red fruits with notes of fresh green herbs and also range from 8.5 to 11% in alcohol content. Vinhão, Borraçal and Espadeiro are red grapes commonly used in their production.
Topograhy & Elevation
The landscape of the Vinho Verde region is comprised of a series of granite-based plateaus divided by the green valleys of the Minho, Ave, Cávado, and Lima rivers. Over the centuries granite taken from local quarries has been used to build roads, homes and churches. It comes as no surprise that most soil types found in vineyards are based on weathered granite.
Most of the Vinho Verde region is at or near sea level with the highest elevation in the entire region at 2,300 feet. Vineyards in the coastal areas of the Lima, Cávado and Ave sub-regions are planted between just above sea level to 650 feet; inland areas of the same sub-regions are planted up to 1,300 feet. The sub-regions of Monção and Melgaço, Sousa, and Paiva are located farther inland with less maritime climate influence and have a slightly higher average altitude ranging between 150 and 1,300 feet. The sub-regions Amarante, Baião and Basto have the most continental climate with vineyards planted between 650 and 2,200 feet.
Climatically Vinho Verde is similar to the American Pacific Northwest with temperatures ranging between 46°F (8°C) in winter and 68°F (20°C) in the summer months; the average mean temperature is 58°F (15°C). Annual rainfall is particularly high just over 47 inches (1200 mm) with most of the rain occurring in the winter and spring months. Cooler coastal regions like Lima, Cávado and Ave are subject to more marine influence with cooler average temperatures and higher rainfall while inland subregions such as Baião and Basto are both warmer.
The Vinho Verde region is located above 40° latitude in northern Portugal, to the west of the Douro region where Port is made and to the south of the Rías Baixas region of Spain, separated by the Minho River. The entire region covers over 2,700 square miles, roughly 8% of the country’s land surface.
ALVARINHO: Alvarinho is widely considered the finest white grape of the Minho region and is also known as Albariño in the Rías Baixas region of Spain just to the north. Plantings are concentrated in the Monção e Melgaço sub-region but also found in other areas. The Alvarinho grape is known for its perfumed floral qualities and peach/apricot and sweet citrus notes that resemble Viognier. Its vibrant acidity and minerality are similar to Riesling.
ARINTO: Arinto is grown throughout the Minho region and commonly used in Vinho Verde whites. Arinto often displays green pear and bright citrus fruit aromas with vibrant acidity on the palate. The grape is also sometimes listed as Pedernã on some wine labels.
AVESSO: Avesso is first cultivated in the Baião sub-region, the grape is now grown in Amarante, Paiva and Sousa. Aromas and flavors include orange, peach, almond and white flowers with a touch of minerality. Avesso displays good complexity and is similar to Alvarinho.
AZAL: Azal is widely grown in the inland sub-regions of Amarante, Basto, Baião and Sousa. Here the grape can fully ripen in drier conditions when planted in well-exposed soils. Aromas and flavors include green apple, lemon and lime citrus.
LOUREIRO: Loureiro is cultivated throughout the Minho region. The grape is very adaptable to cooler coastal areas. An ancient indigenous variety, Loureiro is known for its pronounced floral-peach aromatics and rich palate. It is the most widely planted white variety in Vinho Verde.
TRAJADURA: Trajadura is also grown throughout the Minho and known for its delicacy and finesse. Known for its rich apple/pear and ripe peach fruit, the grape adds richness, texture and body to Vinho Verde whites.