Portugal’s (not so) Green Wine
Vinho Verde may mean “Green Wine” in English, but it is not green-coloured wine. Vinho Verde is the name of a wine-producing region in the north of Portugal, and actually means “Young Wine”. It is a cold region where crisp mineral wines are mostly made to be consumed young, shortly after being bottled. However, all this is changing. The once “cheap and cheerful wines with a bit of fizz” are being upstaged by smooth, complex wines with great ageing potential.
Although red, rosé (such as Mateus Rosé), sparkling and even fortified wines are produced in the Vinho Verde region, it is estimated that 86% of the wine it produces is white, made with the region’s primary grape varieties: Alvarinho, Loureiro and Avesso.
The star varieties
The Vinho Verde region is known for its unique varieties, Alvarinho being the most famous one. Grown on the border with Spain in the Monção & Melgaço sub-region, where it is most expressive and exuberant, it produces full-bodied, dry wines with subtle, fresh and complex aromas of apricot, peach and citrus fruit, combined with an attractive mineral character.
Loureiro is found south of Monção & Melgaço, in the Lima, Cávado and Ave sub-regions. Known as the “aromatic” variety, it gets its name from the scent of its berries, similar to the flower and leaf of the laurel tree. The wines it produces are usually fresh and aromatic, with citrus and floral notes.
And Avesso, a once unloved variety grown in Baião, is making a comeback and a big impression on wine merchants as far as New York City. It produces wines that are much more serious and complex than the regional standard, voluminous and smooth, but simultaneously fruity and fresh, and even with great aging potential.
Cheap and Cheerful
The ideal drink to pair with grilled fish and seafood, cheap and cheerful Vinho Verde wines are popular across the country.
Every Portuguese tasca’s wine list will inevitably feature Muralhas de Monção (€4.80), a refreshing light and fruity blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura with tiny bubbles and intense orange, pear and peach aromas.
Or, the more recently launched Bico Amarelo (€5), produced at Esporão’s Quinta do Ameal in the Lima sub-region. A blend of the three-star Vinho Verde varieties – Loureiro, Alvarinho and Avesso – it has a delicate aroma, notes of citrus and orange blossom, and a touch of green apple.
The classic Alvarinho
This “low-cost” reputation, however, is fast changing. The evolution of the region’s wine started over 40 years ago with Soalheiro, “the first brand of Alvarinho in Melgaço”. The story started in 1974 when João António Cerdeira planted a small plot of vines of Alvarinho called Soalheiro (Sunny), because it was exposed to sunlight throughout the day.
Today, the Soalheiro Alvarinho 2022 (€11.50) is known as the “Classic” as it was the first wine produced at the winery in 1982. It perpetuates the classic single varietal style of the Alvarinho variety, with aromatic freshness, intense flavour and an extraordinary potential for evolution in the bottle.
Alvarinho has become increasingly popular with top producers, spreading beyond the borders of its northern comfort zone. However, one producer stands out. A man who knows this variety better than any other, who has studied its potential and experimented with it. Recognised for the excellence of his wines, Anselmo Mendes consistently innovates, taking Alvarinho to new levels by increasingly fermenting it in oak barrels and testing its ageing potential.
One of his most notable wines is Muros de Melgaço 2022 (€17), presented in an unusual conical bottle. Mineral on the nose, with wet stone and smooth spice, this Alvarinho is full-bodied and very creamy, has beautiful acidity, a long and elegant finish, and has an ageing potential of around 12 years.
Another is Parcela Única 2020 (€35), a complex and austere wine on the nose with hints of wildflowers and hay, delicate minerality of wet stone and some hazelnut and vanilla resulting from fermentation and ageing in oak. On the palate, it has a refreshing acidity, a touch of smokiness and a long and elegant finish.
The aromatic grape
The aromatic Loureiro, mostly used in blends with Alvarinho, is now venturing independently. Anselmo Mendes has also experimented with this variety and brought out its best characteristics in the Loureiro Private 2020 (€32), an elegant wine with a very delicate floral aroma and fresh notes of aromatic herbs. In the mouth, along with a delicate unctuousness, it also presents evolutionary kerosene notes.
Another notable Loureiro is the Royal Palmeira 2019 (€17.50) produced by Ideal Drinks. Presented in a beautifully designed bottle, it is an elegant wine with hints of pineapple, lychee and citrus fruit, and a floral aroma characteristic of the grape variety. Delicate and fresh, it is a persistent and complex wine.
This producer is also well known for its Quinta da Pedra Alvarinho 2016 (€23), presenting citric, mineral and gentle notes of apple and pineapple. On the palate, it reveals its smoothness, with good acidity that gives it freshness and a long finish.
Up and coming
Grown in the southern part of the Vinho Verde region, particularly in the sub-region of Baião, Avesso produces low-alcoholic and very fresh wines and is rapidly gaining notoriety in this winemaking region. One producer who saw and invested in its potential early on is Quinta de Covela, located in Baião, on a historic property that once belonged to Portuguese filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira. Here, winemaker Rui Cunha has been experimenting with Avesso for over a decade.
The Covela Organic Avesso Reserva 2021 (€17) is one of the winery’s latest releases; a very young and expressive wine, revealing good complexity. Elegant with a delicate floral aroma, with hints of apple and peach, and subtle tropical notes of pineapple, it is fresh, intense and persistent. A very gastronomic wine with good ageing potential.
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