Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vinho Verde Trip: The Wine

Much delayed, but there was a sick cat and then a sick child plus two deadlines for the 2013 edition of this. More travel thoughts to come, but now, the wine.

First, a few facts , to serve as an introduction to the region, from the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes.

The Geographical boundaries of Vinho Verde are naturally defined. 
• In the North by the Minho River
• In the South by the river Douro and the Freita, Arada and Ontemuro hill ranges
• In the East by the Peneda, Gerês, Cabreira and Marão ranges
• In the West by the Atlantic
There are: 
21,000 ha vineyards (Portugal 240,000 ha)   
129,000 parcels of vineyards  
25,500 grape growers
2000 wine brands 

The US is their largest export market. 

A Seal of Guarantee, issued by the CVRVV, assures the quality and authenticity of Vinho Verde Region wines. This Seal is the final result of a certification process that includes Sensorial and Physicochemical analysis in order to assure that its characteristics meet those set for the region's products. Approximately 500 wines are tested each year and we were told that up to 6 or 7% of the wines tested fail, more on sensory than on chemical.
The production is 70% white, 20% red and 10% rosé. The rosés are starting to be exported in greater quantities while the reds, are essentially available only in the domestic market.

The recommended varieties for whites are:

300 year old vine

If my math is right, we visited with 10 producers and tasted wines from quite a few more at three different multi-producer tastings. The producers we visited ranged from the large and very well known Quinta da Aveleda, whose non vintage Casal Garcia is the most sold Vinho Verde in the world, to those with with either no or limited US distribution.

Many think of Vinho Verde as a light, refreshing, summertime white wine.  Easy to drink, perhaps even gulpable, while sitting under a beach umbrella. And that is not a criticism. As one of my trip-mates said, "It could be the best bargain wine in the world." There is a market for good $7 wine and, sure enough, there is plenty of it produced in Vinho Verde. Some of these bargain wines are very good, some less so, but rarely were they bad and that is a rare thing in such an inexpensive wine.

That said, what really stood out to me on this trip were the high quality, age-worthy single grape Alvarinhos and Loureiros. These were wines that I was not familiar with at all and they were a revelation. The wines of both Soalheiro and Anselmo Mendes stood out to me as prime examples of this with fruit, floral notes and balanced acidity. Alongside their current releases, Soalheiro poured both a 94 and a 99 at lunch. At Mendes, we tasted verticals, in several cases 05-11. A standout for me was the 08 Muros Antigos Alvarinho, which was beautifully fresh and bright. I carried a bottle home with me and look forward to tasting it again very soon. Although these wines may be harder to find, they are imported into the US and are well worth seeking out. 


  1. Vinho Verde has long been one of my choices for "house white," it's inexpensive, refreshing and low in alcohol. I've never understood why it wasn't even more popular.

  2. To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.