Just a few weeks ago I had the honor of attending a press trip to the wine region of Vinho Verde in Portugal. You may be familiar with these fresh & fruity wines that seem to pair perfectly with a warm summer day, but what I learned was that this region and these wines go way beyond “great value.” There is great history, beautiful terroir, and premium wine being produced here.
1. The region of Vinho Verde is beyond beautiful
It’s important to note that Vinho Verde is a wine region in Portugal, not the name of a grape or blend. Although the name translates to “green wine,” the name is actually referring to the lush, green landscape and terroir found throughout the region. With the Atlantic to the West, the Douro to the East, and Galicia to the North, you’re sure to find a moderate, maritime climate providing plenty of rainfall to support the vegetation grown here.
This region is old…really old. In fact, Pliny the Elder made reference to these vines between the Douro and Minho during the Roman times. To fully grasp the history of the region, be sure to visit the sub-region of Amarante where you can visit the Igreja de São Gonçalo - a church built in the 13th century after having a Michelin Star lunch at Casa da Calçada.
Back to the wine. Historically, grapevines were trained up on pergolas in Vinho Verde. This kind of high-training kept the grapes away from the ground, which in turn, kept the grapes away from damp conditions. As you may or may not know, damp conditions are breeding grounds for fungus and mildew. With pergola training, you can also arrange the canopy to expose the grapes to sunlight, or on the other end, shade the grapes if needed. You can probably imagine the manual labor that went into maintaining these structures…especially during harvest! Today, vines are trained vertically on trellises making it easier for mechanization in the vineyard. Lucky for us, many producers in the region will still keep the pergola tradition alive in a small portion of their vineyards. Check out these pergolas at Soalheiro and Aveleda.
2. The wines of Vinho Verde are incredibly diverse
There is quite literally something for everyone here. There are the “traditional” blends that can contain Loureiro, Arinto, Azal, Avesso, Alvahriño, and Trajadura, and then there are single-varietal wines that can really stand the test of time! The traditional blends tend to be lighter in body with fresh fruit & floral aromas. These wines have high acidity and noticeable effervesce contributing to the freshness.
The single-varietal wines that grabbed my attention were made from Alvariñho and Loureiro. Alvariñho shows beautiful notes of tropical fruits and minerality - think pineapple and lychee wrapped up in a bowtie of wet stone. We were so lucky to try a 2013 vintage by both Soalheiro and Regueiro, and I was blown away by how gracefully this grape can age. To find premium Alvariñho, make sure to check out the sub-region of Monçāo e Melgaço!
I once heard that Loureiro could be called the “Riesling of Portugal,” and I can say I don’t disagree. This grape is incredibly floral with a medium body and high acidity. What kind of flowers can you find on the nose? All of them. Seriously, I could sample perfume from this grape. Not only does it produce an incredible single-varietal wine, but it’s also VERY delicious right off the vine.
Let’s not forget rosé either! With a huge surge in popularity, rosé is becoming a key player in Vinho Verde. Most rosé is made from a red grape called, Vinhão. As a red wine, Vinhão is inky in color with black fruits, high acidity, and A LOT of spice. Maybe even more spice than Petit Verdot! When it’s made into rosé, it shows more restraint. Expect to find notes of fresh red berries, pink flowers, and green herbs.
3. Vinho Verde wines are great with food
Because these wines are so diverse in style, they can pair with an array of different cuisines. While traveling to the region, you can definitely expect a gastronomic experience! I will always stand by “what grows together, goes together” and it’s no different here. Try the local sardines and codfish and watch how the vibrancy of a typical Vinho Verde blend is delicate enough to compliment the flavors, but also mouthwatering cleansing the palate between each bite. If you’re playing with pairings at home, these wines always do well with shellfish, light cheeses, and salads.
When it came to the single-varietal premium wines, I was completely shocked to see how well they paired with heartier foods like local Portuguese sausage and pork belly. I don’t usually think of a white wine when it comes to pairing with meat, but this was beyond my expectations. We tried a single-varietal aged Alvariñho with a local Portuguese pork belly. The concentrated flavors in the wine complimented all of the gamey notes in the pork while the acidity cut right through all the fattiness. I love these wines because at home I order a lot of Asian and Indian cuisine, and I find they do an incredible job standing up to those strong flavors while keeping my palate refreshed from the heat.
4. Vinho Verde should be your next trip
There are so many reasons why this region should be on your travel radar! I'll start with the fact that you literally fly into Porto to kick things off. To me, Porto is the most incredible city in Portugal. The wine, the food, the architecture...I'll take all of it! While you're there you can visit the historic Casa do Vinho Verde which is the headquarters of the Vinho Verde region viticulture commission. Enjoy a tasting in the back garden while overlooking the Douro river. Does it get much better?
There are incredible places to stay in the region. If you're looking for a wine-focused hotel, look no further than Monverde Wine Experience Hotel. Monverde is a 4-star hotel among the vines of Quinta da Lixa. It's located in Amarante right in the heart of Vinho Verde. This property is the FULL experience featuring a spa, pool, incredible restaurant, and winery. If you're looking to plan a honeymoon, look no further than the private suites - each featuring its own pool. They aren't short on fun activities either. We had a blast at the winery where we got to create our own blend of Vinho Verde wine before checking out the "scent room" where we explored all the common aromas found in wine.
THE PEOPLE! The people from this part of Portugal are the best. Friendly, hospitable, and FULL of personality! Whether it's a restaurant or a winery, the passion for this region shines through in every conversation. After you visit this magical place you'll understand why the people who have already been never stop talking about it.