Vinho Verde

Across the vast expanse of north-west Portugal, a lush, green mantle flows from craggy mountain peaks and blanketing hinterland valleys sweeping down to the sea. From Melgaço to Vale de Cambra, and Esposende to the granite mountains at Basto by the border with Trás-os-Montes, the land rises and falls. Here and there, towns and villages nestle amongst the vegetation. This densely-populated, fertile land is the birthplace of Vinho Verde.

From this unique region and its native grapes comes a unique white wine. Light, fresh, young and delightfully aromatic, Vinho Verde suits all kinds of occasions: a sunny picnic, a restaurant meal, a romantic night in... Vinho Verde is great with salads, fish, seafood, vegetable dishes, citrus sauces and Asian foods. On the international market Vinho Verde is renowned for its white wines, however you can also try red Vinho Verde. Like the white, it is light and fresh, best served chilled, and a favourite with the locals in traditional restaurants. It’s a fantastic match for grilled sardines. Vinho Verde can also be rosé, or sparkling.  

Climate varies considerably across the Vinho Verde region, and this is reflected in the nine subregions, named after rivers or towns: Monção and Melgaço, Lima, Cávado, Ave, Basto, Sousa, Baião, Paiva and Amarante. Local grapes vary, too. Alvarinho wines (made from the delicately aromatic, full-bodied Alvarinho grape) are a specialty of the sub-region Monção and Melgaço in the northern part of the Vinho Verde Region. Rainfall here is lower, and in the summer, temperatures are noticeably higher than in the rest of the region. In this microclimate, the Alvarinho grape gives a full-bodied dry wine with a complex, subtle, fresh aroma reminiscent of apricots, peaches and citrus fruits, and a distinctive mineral quality, with smoky qualities.

To the south of Monção and Melgaço are the sub-regions Lima, Cávado and Ave. Here the main grape variety is the delicious Loureiro, sometimes also the Pedernã (or Arinto) and Trajadura. The wines here are typically fresh and aromatic, often with a scent of citrus and blossom. The hilly sub-regions of Basto and Sousa generally also produce light wines, from various grape varieties. In the sub-regions Amarante and Baião, the Avesso grape gives dry, creamy, mineral white wines. Amarante and Paiva, the latter located south of the River Douro, have a reputation for their reds.

The quality of Vinho Verde, and the local brandies, has improved greatly over recent years, thanks in part to better training and renewed enthusiasm amongst today’s producers, and in part to better grapes. Where once vines scrambled up trees and over high-flung pergolas, many of the region’s vineyards today are trained along modern, wired rows, so that the grapes are better exposed to sunlight and breeze, and thus riper and healthier.

Some delicious wines are also made in the region under the more flexible rules of Vinho Regional Minho, sometimes blends of local and foreign grapes, sometimes oaked.

 

Main white grapes for DOC (varying according to sub-region) :  Alvarinho, Arinto Avesso, Azal, Loureiro and Trajadura

Main red grapes for DOC: (varying according to sub-region)  Alvarelhão, Amaral, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Padeiro, Pedral, Rabo de Anho and Vinhão.

 

Tras-os-montes

Whichever way you approach Trás-os-Montes, up in Portugal’s far north-eastern corner, there are mountains to cross. Indeed, Trás-os-Montes means ‘Beyond the Mountains’. And once through those barriers (easy nowadays on new, modern roads and motorways), you find yourself in one of Portugal’s most beautiful regions. The scenery changes rapidly, sometimes moorland, sometimes pine forest, lush green valleys, or ancient hills covered in a patchwork of grey-green olive groves, bright green vines, fruit and almond trees, irrigated by little streams. Always high, altitudes vary hugely, with higher land offering cooler temperatures for vines. The weather is cooler in the north, ragingly hot in the south in the summer months, but then snowy in winter, often with late spring frosts. Wines in hotter spots can be very gutsy. But there are also aromatic dry whites, and sparkling wines – a huge range of styles because microclimates (altitude, rainfall, temperature, soils etc) are so varied.

The whole of this north-east corner can make Vinho Regional Transmontano. There are also three enclaves of DOC Trás-os-Montes:

Planalto Mirandês - on a high, remote plateau over to the east where the Douro river flows down along the Spanish border before entering the Douro wine region to the south of Trás-os-Montes.

Valpaços - in the centre of the region, is a hilly plateau crossed by many streams and rivers, including the River Tua, on its way down to the Douro.

Chaves - bordering Spain to the north, the vineyards lying on the slopes of little valleys running towards the main river valley of the Tâmega, famous for its thermal springs, spas (some recently and grandly renovated) and the sources of some of Portugal’s most famous mineral waters.

These three sub-regions are entitled to tack their names onto the DOC, for example Trás-os-Montes-Valpaços.

Soils are mostly granite or schist. Only a few years ago there was a tiny handful of private producers bottling their own wine; now there are more than 50. Many smallholders still deliver their grapes to co-operatives. Some old vineyards were grubbed up in response to EU grants, but there has been support in recent years to replant and restructure vineyards in a modern, quality-conscious way.

Recommended white grapes  for DOC include: Côdega de Larinho, Fernão Pires, Gouveio, Malvasia Fina, Rabigato, Síria and Viosinho.

Recommended red grapes for DOC include: Bastardo; Marufo; Tinta Roriz; Touriga Franca; Touriga Nacional and Trincadeira