What is Vinho Verde (Green Wine) – characteristics, varieties, and how to consume

Despite being a territorially small country, Portugal has an exceptional variety and quantity of wines. More and more Portuguese wines are winning honorable prizes in high-quality international competitions. Not only for a brand, a grape variety, or a region but for the generality of the wines. Among them is the Vinho Verde – a wine that has always been popular in Portugal but whose popularity across borders has grown exponentially in recent decades.

Vinho Verde only exists in Portugal and only in the northwest, specifically in the region known as Entre-Douro e Minho (between rivers Minho and Douro). It has a controlled designation of origin, and that is why they are controlled and certified with a guarantee seal on its bottles.

Unique in the world, Vinho Verde is characterized by its citrine color, fruity and floral aroma, fresh with a soft and balanced flavor, light-bodied, perfect acidity, low alcohol content, and excellent harmony and persistence in the mouth.

Why is it called Vinho Verde or green wine?

Actually, there is not just one explanation, but several… it’s hard to say which one is the truest. So we leave it to you:

  • Vinho Verde/Green Wine because it is a wine that should be consumed young.
  • Vinho Verde/Green Wine because of its acidity and freshness.
  • Vinho Verde/Green Wine because its origin is in the Minho with humid, green, and exuberant landscapes. The landscape gave the wine its name.

On the other hand, there are two explanations and features that are no more than legends.

  • Vinho Verde doesn’t have a green color – it can be white, red, or rosé. They can be sparkling or not, and the sparkling wines can be either red or white.
  • The grapes are not harvested green or before their maturation. They are harvested when ripe, as in other types of wines.
What is Vinho Verde (Green Wine)
Vinho verde served in a tipical cup of the region of Minho

Characteristics of Vinho Verde

Although it can be white or red (or even rosé), it can be sparkling or not, and it has a huge diversity of grape varieties, Vinho Verde has a set of common characteristics. So, Vinho Verde is:

  • Light
  • Fresh
  • Refreshing
  • High acidity
  • Low alcohol content.
  • And sometimes a gassy touch.
Characteristics of Vinho Verde (Green Wine)
Drinking red vinho verde in a restaurante in Gerês

Where does vinho Verde come from?

As we mentioned earlier, Vinho Verde is unique. It doesn’t exist anywhere else; it is produced in the largest demarcated region of Portugal and one of the largest in Europe.

Established in September 1908, the Vinho Verde region is located between the Minho and Douro rivers, spreads across 48 municipalities, and has more than 20,000 producers. It is a smallholding region, mostly composed of small properties.

The entire region is a vast amphitheater that rises from the seafront, gradually rising from the coast to the interior, exposing the entire area to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. The orientation of the valleys and rivers (Minho, Lima, Cavado, Ave, and Douro) flows from east to west, facilitating the penetration of sea winds.

This maritime influence, plus the granitic soils, the mild climate, and the high precipitation, constitute the terroir of Vinho Verde.

However, it was necessary to divide the demarcated region into nine sub-regions, due to variations in soil typology and microclimates, due to the use of different varieties which best adapt to these sub-regions.

Regions of vinho Verde
Vines of Melgaço – vinho verde

Thus, within the greater demarcated region of Vinho Verde, we have the sub-regions and the following varieties:

  • Amarante: comprises the municipalities of Amarante and Marco de Canaveses; maturation takes place later. The whites are Azal and Reverse, while the reds are Amaral and Vinhão. Espadeiro is the grape variety for the rosés of this region.
  • Ave: comprises the municipalities of VN Famalicão, Fafe, Guimarães, Santo Tirso, Trofa, Póvoa de Varzim and Póvoa de Lanhoso, Vieira do Minho, Vila do Conde and Vizela. White wines from the following varieties: Arinto, Loureiro and Trajadura.
  • Baião: covers the municipalities of Baião and Resende, and part of Cinfães. The main grape varieties are Azal and Reverse in whites, in red the Amaral.
  • Basto: comprises the municipalities of Celorico, Cabeceira, Mondim de Basto and Ribeira de Pena, in the whites we have the Azal caste, in the reds, the Espadeiro and the Rabo de Anho are the most used varieties.
  • Cavado: It houses the municipalities of Esposende, Barcelos, Braga, Vila Verde, Amares and Terras de Bouro. The white varieties are: Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadura. In the reds, Vinhão and Borraçal.
  • Lima: includes Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Ponte da Barca and Arcos de Valdevez. The most used varieties are Loureiro for whites: loureiro, and vinhão and barroçal for reds.
  • Monção – Melgaço: integrates the municipalities of Monção and Melgaço. This is the kingdom of Alvarinho Branco, the noblest variety of Vinho Verde, which we will talk about a little more below.
  • Paiva: includes the municipalities of Castelo de Paiva and part of Cinfães. In whites, the varieties dominate: Arinto, Loureiro, Trajadura and Averso. In the reds we have mainly Amaral and Vinhão.
  • Sousa: comprises the municipalities of Paços de Ferreira, Paredes, Lousada, Felgueiras and Penafiel. In the whites we have the Arinto, Loureiro, Trajadura, Azal and Averse varieties, while in the reds we have Borraçal, Vinhão, Amaral and Espadeiro.
Where does vinho Verde come from
Vinho Verde vines in Celorico de Basto with Senhora da Graça on the backdrop

Vinho Verde castes

Although Vinho Verde has many common characteristics, the diversity of grape varieties in the Vinho Verde region allows the creation of a multitude of wines with some distinct attributes.

In fact, this diversity of grape varieties is in itself a characteristic of Vinho Verde, which translates into a greater intensity and specificity of the Vinho Verde. Many of these varieties are considered autochthonous due to the antiquity of wine production in northwest Portugal, and above all, they only exist in northwest Iberia.

Main varieties of white Vinho Verde:

  • Alvarinho,
  • Arinto (Pedernã),
  • Avesso,
  • Azal,
  • Loureiro,
  • Trajadura.
Vinho Verde varieties
White vinho verde – Alvarinho caste

Main varieties of red vinho verde:

  • Alvarelhão,
  • Amaral,
  • Borraçal,
  • ESpadeiro,
  • Padeiro,
  • Pedral,
  • Rabo de Anho,
  • Vinhão.
everything about vinho verde
vinho verde of the Espadeiro caste

A reference to two varieties, Vinhão and Alvarinho

Alvarinho

Alvarinho, due to its high quality, great storage potential, and evolution in bottle, allows the commercialization and exportation in the years following its harvest. It is mainly cultivated in the sub-region of Monção and Melgaço, but due to its high quality, it is being taken to other sub-regions.

Alvarinho is the noblest variety of Vinho Verde; it was and continues to be the main responsible for the internationalization of Vinho Verde.

Information about vinho verde
Vinho verde of the Alvarinho caste

Vinhão

Vinhão is a variety with great development throughout the Vinho Verde region. Considered the only red dyer grape variety, it is responsible for the red Vinho Verde with intense color, garnet red, and pronounced aroma.

It is very gastronomic, and it is the only Vinho Verde variety whose wine is served in bowls, enhancing its vibrant color. 

Harmonization of Vinho Verde

As they have high acidity and freshness, white greens go very well with starters (cold, hot, and raw) and fish and seafood dishes. Due to its characteristics, it is also the ideal accompaniment to Japanese cuisine.

On the other hand, reds are suitable for heavier meals, such as feijoadas, Portuguese stews, roast beef, duck rice, suckling pig, etc. Traditional Portuguese food is ideal to be accompanied by a good red Verde.

Roses usually accompany sausages, carpaccio, and stews.

The temperature at which a wine should be served is related to the acidity content. The more acidity, the lower the temperature of the wine should be.

The low alcohol content is one of the characteristics of Verde wine, particularly in comparison with other wines from other regions. However, green wines are already reaching graduations of 11 and 12 degrees.

Facts about vinho verde
vinho verde of the Santa Cristina vineyard in Celorico de Bastos

Production of Vinho Verde

Verde wine production in the 2021/2022 campaign reached 84.9 million liters, which corresponds to an increase of 3.7% compared to the previous year’s campaign.

Exports reached a value of 73 million euros up to November 2021, an increase of 6.9% in relation to the same period of the previous year.

Currently, Portugal exports more than 50% of its production to more than 100 countries. The USA is the main customer, with around 10 million liters, and it is a market that continues to grow. This is followed by Germany, Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, Angola, Brazil, Canada, and Japan. Poland and Russia are also fast-growing markets.

Vinho Verde is currently the 2nd most exported wine, right after Port wine.

Production of  Vinho Verde
Production of green wine in Melgaço

Visit the Vinho Verde region

To conclude, the region that gave rise to the Vinho Verde is a region with lush green landscapes. Its people are known for their hospitality, which manifests in its gastronomy, perhaps the best in the country (which means a lot).

In the Vinho Verde region, the villages and cities are beautiful, the monuments stay in your memory, and the sea and magnificent beaches are always present. It is a land of festivals and pilgrimages, with differentiating folklore and a unique wine region.

All this in a region that awaits your visit – to enjoy the wine and everything else!

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