Despite claiming to be a wine enthusiast, I honestly don’t know as much about Vinho Verde as I do about a lot of other types of wine. We’re heading into learning about this one together! Vinho Verde is an interesting one, and I’m excited to share some of what I know with you.
One of the most notable things about Vinho Verde that everyone should know is that it’s shockingly affordable. You can get most bottles around $5 or $10. Don’t be misled by the fact that they replaced the cork with a screw cap. It’s one of the best wines you’ll try.
Vinho Verde is not a grape. It’s not a blend, either. It’s an entire region in the north of Portugal, home to rolling green hills, family farms, and a lot of wine.
Origin stories behind the Vinho Verde name vary. Some say it’s named for the green bottle in which it comes. Others claim it’s for the lush landscape where it’s grown. You might even enjoy the one that says the wine itself is green.
This is not green as in color, but green as in young. It is harvested early and should be enjoyed young. Some varieties do age well, but most are better right away.
As you can imagine, with a large region, there are many different varieties of grapes grown here, and every one of them is different. Not all origin stories may be true for all wines produced in this area, but I can tell you what the region looks like now.
The Vinho Verde region has nine sub-regions. It’s located in the Douro Valley. Each region has a unique microclimate, but most are dominated by soils with quite a bit of granite.
The region stretches from just below Portugal’s border with Spain and extends out to the Atlantic Ocean. The coastal city of Port is where Port wine is made and is also included in this region.
There are two rivers in this region, the Douro and the Minho, so it’s a wet region that gets a fair amount of rain.
Wine culture in Portugal is a way of life. It’s important to their economy, and it comes almost as a birthright. You can’t look at Portuguese culture without seeing vines on trellises growing across family farms for miles.
Two thousand years ago, the Romans invaded Portugal to find that the natives were already concocting fermented drinks. The Romans exported a lot of things home from the Iberian Peninsula, including wheat, olives, and wine.
Still today, families who own land, no matter how small, grow grapes right alongside their vegetables, herbs, and citrus trees. You won’t find very many areas of the Vinho Verde region that don’t have grapes hung from vines on pergolas stretching across fields.
These vines are draped high, where the cool breeze refreshes and protects them from the moisture and mold below. Even small family gardens have quaint little squares of pergolas just dripping with grapes.
With recent funding to modernize Portugal’s vineyards, many producers in the Vinho Verde region have upgraded their growing systems, but traditional trellises can still be found in small towns and on family farms.
While most of the Vinho Verde we find stateside is white, red is what most Portuguese people drink at home. It’s meant to be consumed in ceramic bowls and is a necessary companion for every meal. Well, maybe not breakfast. Maybe.
It can be hard to find the red Vinho Verde across the pond, but if you’re ever in Portugal, you need to try it. It’s often made from the Vinhão grape, which has an inky texture, medium tannins, low alcohol, and sour flavors.
You may also be surprised to find that there are some commercial wine producers in the region that make organic or biodynamic Vinho Verde wines. It’s not easy to do in humid climates, but they’ve succeeded in eliminating pesticides and non-natural fertilizers from their facilities.
If you want to give these varieties a try, I would suggest looking for Casa de Mouraz organic Vinho Verde or Aphros Wine biodynamic Vinho Verde.
As we already know, Vinho Verde is not a grape. In fact, Vinho Verde wines are made from several different kinds of grapes. Many are blended, although varietal Vinho Verde is excellent, and much more age worth than the blends.
Vinho Verde wines we find in the United States are usually blends of white grapes that are indigenous to Portugal. You may also find some rosé made from Touriga Nacional, a red grape from the Vinho Verde region.
There are two grape varieties that producers are beginning to use quite a bit more than others. The Alvarinho variety is the same as the Albarinho grape from northern Spain. While the Spanish version tends to be softer and rounder, they are nearly identical.
This grape has tropical aromas with a lemon-like character and is very high in acidity.
Loureiro is the other popular grape used to make Vinho Verde wines, and it features more floral aromas with the same acidic character.
These two grapes produce excellent single varietal Vinho Verde wines that age very well. They’ve responded to oak aging with deepening character and complexity. However, these varieties are very hard to find.
Unfortunately, due to Vinho Verde’s reputation of being a young wine, importers pressure Portuguese exporters to deliver them as soon as the wines are bottled in the spring. Very few of them hold their wines back.
The only opportunity you may have to try these fantastic aged Vinho Verde wines is on a trip to its homeland.
There are four other grapes used for white Vinho Verde that you’ve likely never heard of. They range in style, but most are dry and have notes of green fruit.
- Azal grapes have the highest acidity of all with a lot of lemonade flavors.
- Arinto is also known as Pederna. It has citrus and juicy melon flavors with a bitter finish. This particular varietal can age for up to seven years.
- Avesso is similar to the more popular Alvarinho, with flavors of peach and grapefruit, but it has a bitter note of green almond that adds nicely to its complexity.
- Trajadura is commonly blended with Alvarinho, adding a rich aroma of citrus blossom and pear.
Why It’s Fizzy
The fizz is another fun part of Vinho Verde’s history. A lot of Vinho Verde wines have a hint of fizz that makes it very refreshing, especially in a bright, young wine.
The first Vinho Verde wine developed this fizz when the carbon dioxide created during fermentation was trapped during bottling.
However, today, the carbon dioxide is released during this process, so most winemakers add it afterward. So many people have come to identify Vinho Verde as a fizzy wine, so they’ve kept up the reputation.
It’s commonly referred to as “soda pop for adults.” There’s a time and place for bright and fun, but many winemakers are trying to move away from such a juvenile reputation and into something more sophisticated.
More and more Vinho Verde wines are eliminating the spritz. If you try one, you’ll notice the minerality and acidity of the wine highlighted, even more, when the bubbles don’t get in the way.
Burgundy-shaped bottles with round bottoms indicate that the Vinho Verde is fizzless. The Bordeaux-shaped bottles are indicative of bubbly. If you have trouble, ask your local retailer to help you find a small-production Vinho Verde. These typically don’t have bubbles.
The Best Varieties
Most Vinho Verde is great. It’s tough to pick just a few of the best. However, if you want to try a Vinho Verde, look for some of these. And always remember, if you really want the best, it may be time for a vacation abroad.
This lively variety is fresh and tart. It’s made from the Avesso grape, and it’s a single varietal, not a blend. It’s slightly more per bottle than other varieties, but still surprisingly affordable at less than $20.
It’s full-bodied and smooth, with flavors of plum and pear. One sip reveals vibrant apple and grapefruit as well. It has 13% alcohol by volume. It’s a great wine to showcase the true nature of the Avesso grape.
Fun fact: Avesso means “reverse,” which is indicative of the opposite nature of this grape from most other grapes used to make Vinho Verde. It has low acidity and high alcohol.
This dry variety is a single varietal Alvarinho. It contains the aroma of pineapple, passion fruit, and apricot. It is smooth with a long finish and goes great with seafood, white meat, salad, or spicy Asian food.
The freshness of this wine is exhibited in its tropical fruit flavors. These grapes are hand-picked and delivered to the winery for fermentation in as little as five minutes. This results in the perfect winemaking process.
You’ll begin your experience with the aroma of grapefruit and guava. You may also notice a hint of honeysuckle or peach. It has a smooth, luxurious mouthfeel with rich, fresh flavors. The finish is dry and tart.
This wine is pink and effervescent, consistent with the most common Vinho Verde wines. It’s young, light, and soft, making for a delightful and refreshing experience.
The great thing about this variety is that it goes great with Asian and Italian food, salads, or dessert. This versatility makes it an excellent choice for having on hand at all times, but especially during the warm summer months.
It starts with the aroma of strawberry and raspberry candy. It’s very high in sugar, which doesn’t appeal to all palettes, but the acidity and the bubbles help tame it a bit.
More berry fruit presents on the tongue, but it’s more tart than you might expect. It’s fun and lively but has a certain level of sophistication that even oenophiles can enjoy. It ends sweet and crisp.
This perfect summer wine is made completely from Espadeiro grapes. This red grape is known for its bright color, red fruit aroma, and balanced acidity. This type of varietal is not typically associated with the Vinho Verde region, but it is native to the area.
It’s fresh and fruity, making an excellent rosé, and with the added fizz, it provides a delightful and instantly refreshing experience.
Raspberry, strawberry, and lime aromas simply smell like summer. The taste is refreshingly fizzy, and the acidity balances out the sweet really nicely. It ends on a crisp note and lingers like a Jolly Rancher.
The great thing about this wine is that it cleanses the palette and, thus, pairs well with many different types of foods.
Seafood is common all across Portugal, so it’s a popular food pairing. Cod, in particular, is paired with Vinho Verde often. A typical dish includes creaming rice with pieces of cod, monkfish, or shrimp.
The high acidity of Vinho Verde makes it the perfect companion for seafood dishes, especially when accompanied by a rich sauce or a fried breadcrumb coating. Pork and potatoes are also an excellent choice.
If you’re drinking a white Vinho Verde that’s dry, crisp, and fizzy, you can pair it with pork, seafood, sushi, Thai food, and other spicy dishes to bring out the citrus in the wine.
If you like rosé Vinho Verde with hints of sweet fruits, try it with roasted chicken, light pasta, or a fresh berry snack.
Red Vinho Verde can be served slightly chilled with grilled meat, hot dogs, and hamburgers. It’s a fantastic summer wine.
Vinho Verde is a fantastic sipping wine by itself. You really don’t need to pair it with anything to enjoy it. However, if you do want to drink it as a dinner wine, which is also a delicious use of this bottle, try some of these.
Because most Vinho Verde is light and bubbly, there are some common alternatives that you can try instead. You may be more familiar with some of these varieties than you are with Vinho Verde.
Prosecco shares a lot of characteristics with Vinho Verde. Namely, bubbles. However, aside from the fizz, Prosecco also has bright fruit flavors with floral aromas. You may also notice notes of banana cream, vanilla, honeycomb, and hazelnut with a dry finish.
Prosecco may be fizzy, but its bubbles aren’t very persistent. They dissipate on the tongue quickly.
Because Prosecco is a sweeter wine, it goes great with spicy Asian cuisine. Where it differs from Vinho Verde is that it’s not nearly as acidic. It’s also made in Italy, rather than in Portugal.
If you’re looking for similar characteristics with a few more bubbles, Prosecco is a good choice, but it also comes at a slightly higher price than Vinho Verde. The benefit here is that it’s more widely available, too.
Champagne is made in the Champagne region of France. Most people are familiar with Champagne, where it comes from, and how it’s made.
Champagne comes from Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay grapes. It’s bubbly with flavors of white peach, white cherry, citrus fruits, almond, and toast. The effervescence is persistent and carries through to the finish.
The primary differences between Vinho Verde and Champagne are that Champagne ages very well, and it tends to be very expensive. It pairs well with shellfish, pickled vegetables, and fried appetizers. You may also want to try it with salty potato chips.
While white Vinho Verde is the most common in the states, there are similar varieties to red Vinho Verde, like Merlot. There are plenty of red wines that have similar qualities to a red Vinho Verde, but nothing is quite like the real thing.
However, Merlot does share some similar characteristics. It’s a smooth, full-bodied wine with subtle fruit flavors. You might notice plums, raspberries, and vanilla. It also has balanced acidity for a versatile bottle.
While Merlot isn’t nearly as sweet as red Vinho Verde, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great wine. Merlot goes great with red meat, strong cheese, and almonds.
If you’ve never heard of Vinho Verde, here are some frequently asked questions to help you understand it a bit better.
The answer to this question is always going to be subjective. However, Vinho Verde is popular for a reason. Perhaps it’s the rich history or the fun bubbles. Either way, many people enjoy a lot of different varieties of Vinho Verde.
It’s a sweet but balanced wine, and its affordability helps its popularity, too. Most winemakers take great care in producing Vinho Verde, making it a great wine at a great price.
Yes, Vinho Verde is very sweet. However, if you go for a variety that has more balanced acidity, you may not notice overly sweet flavors. Most Vinho Verde varieties are very sweet with low alcohol, but there are a few that have higher alcohol content.
Whether it’s white, rosé, or red Vinho Verde, you will encounter fruity flavors that taste a lot like candy.
By nature, most sweet wines with low alcohol content are better chilled. Vinho Verde is no different. Most varieties should be chilled before tasting to enhance the flavors. The bubbles also effervesce better when chilled.
While less sweet reds can be chilled less than very sweet whites, you should aim for about 45 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about three hours in the refrigerator.
Because Vinho Verde is meant to be drunk young, it doesn’t last very long in the fridge. If you don’t finish the contents of your bottle (how is that possible?), you can store it for up to two days.
You may notice it going sour if you try to drink it after it’s expired. It definitely won’t be a pleasant experience.
Vinho Verde is unique and exceptional. While there are common white varieties and rosés everywhere in the United States, to try a traditional red, you’ll have to travel to Portugal.
Because Vinho Verde refers to a region rather than a grape, Vinho Verde wines range in color from white to red, and they’re made from many different grapes.
No matter how you try it, you’ll enjoy the sweet, bubbly, refreshing qualities, and the affordable price.