Vinho Verde is a unique product, misunderstood by some but loved by many. Its blend of fresh aromas, ripe fruitiness and a cheeky pétillance combine to make it a deliciously refreshing beverage. It is a highly regarded wine, especially when served chilled for Summer drinking. Malolactic fermentation adds a distinctive buttery softness and rounds off the wines to crisp acidity. Whilst a light prickly fizz is achieved by a second fermentation in the bottle. Vinho Verde comes in white, red rosé and sparkling variants.
The reds are full-bodied wines with an intense colour and a rosy or light red foam. The whites usually present a lemony or straw colour. The distinctive character of these wines is the result of soil and climate characteristics, social-economic elements, grape varieties and vine-growing methods.
CVR Vinho Verde Official Website
The Vinho Verde demarcated wine territory is divided into nine distinct sub-regions:
Located in the interior of the Minho, the sub-region of Amarante is protected from the influence of the Atlantic. It lies at quite a high average altitude. The average annual temperatures are warmer than other sub-regions. These conditions favour the production of certain late-ripening varieties: Azal and Avesso (whites) and Amaral and Espadeiro (reds). The soil is granite, like most of the region. The white wines usually present fruity flavours and an alcohol content greater than the regional average. But Amarante's fame comes from its reds, particularly from the Vinhão variety, which produces wines with a deep colour and much appreciated by the locals.
In the sub-region of Ave, the vines are planted along the flood basin of the river Ave. It is an area of somewhat irregular terrain and low altitude, therefore more exposed to sea breezes. The climate is thus characterised by lower-temperature ranges and higher average rainfall. As a result Ave sub-region produces mainly white wines with a crisp freshness and floral, citrine fruit hints. The Arinto and Loureiro varieties are well suited to this climate due to their average maturation. Also to be noted is the Trajadura variety that ripens early and helps to soften the wines.
Bordering the Douro wine region, the sub-region of Baião lies at a moderate altitude. The climate is less temperate and has colder winters, less rainfall and hotter and drier summer months. These characteristics allow the correct ripening of the late maturing grape varieties like Azal and Avesso (white) and Amaral (red), which have greater demands for heat in their final ripening stage. This sub-region has become known for the production of highly acclaimed white wines from the Avesso variety, which combine an intense fruity aroma with lively acidity.
The most inland sub-region in the Minho is Basto. It lies at an average altitude and is protected from the Atlantic winds. The climate is quite rough, with cold and rainy winters (together with the Lima valley, which has the highest annual rainfall) and hot dry summers. The terrain favours grape varieties that ripen late such as Azal (white), Espadeiro and Rabo de Ovelha (red). The Azal variety reaches its greatest potential in Basto. It enables very distinct wines to be obtained, with a very fresh aroma of lemon and green apple. Reds are also widely produced here, presenting a high vinosity and a full-fresh bouquet.
As with Ave, the vines in Cávado are scattered throughout the Cávado river flood plain, covering areas of varying elevations and quite low altitudes that are exposed to Atlantic winds. These factors provide a pleasant climate with no great extremes of temperature and with moderate annual rainfall. As well as granite soils, there are also various types of schist, though it is not particularly extensive. The climate is suitable for producing white wines, using particularly using Arinto, Loureiro and Trajadura grapes. They are wines with moderate acidity and citrus notes of ripened apples and pears. The red produced here is mostly from Vinhão and Borraçal varieties, with deep garnet colour and fruity aromas.
In terms of temperature range, the sub-region of Lima occupies an intermediate position compared to the other sub-regions. However, rainfall is higher. The altitude of the vineyards is variable and increases the further you travel from the coast, where the terrain is also more irregular, giving rise to some micro-climates in the Lima Valley, sometimes referred to as Lower Lima and Higher Lima. Like in the Cávado sub-region, there is a strip of soil originating from schist as well as granite soils, though it is not a significant stretch.
The most famous white wines from this sub-region are produced from the Loureiro varieties. The aromas are fine and elegant and go from citrus to floral. The Arinto and Trajadura varieties are also widely found here. They adapt well to climate that are less influenced by the Atlantic winds. The reds are mainly produced from Vinhão and Borraçal varieties. Usually, the red wines from the more inland zones of this region show better potential, due to climatic conditions that affect ripening.
The sub-region of Monção and Melgaço has a very specific microclimate and uses only Alvarinho (white, Albariño in Spain), Pedral (red) and Alvarelhão (red), these three varieties mature early. The soils here are from granite, though there are some places with strips of shingle.
The microclimate is noted for cold winters with average rainfall, while summers are hot and dry, which shows limited influence from the Atlantic. The sub-region runs along the south bank of the River Minho in an area of half-slopes. The extreme wines from the Alvarinho variety are the ex-libris of the sub-region of Monção and Melgaço.
Similar to the Lima in temperature range and hot summer. Neither is it the region with the highest rainfall indices since it is not so exposed to the influence of the sea, but rather inland and at a high altitude.
This is why the red varieties of Amaral and particularly Vinhão reach an optimal state of ripeness here and produce some of the most celebrated red Vinho Verdes in the whole Minho region. The whites come from Arinto, Loureiro and Trajadura grape varieties, which are adapted to the temperate climate and therefore common almost throughout the region, but usually found allied with Avesso in this sub-region.
Like the Ave and Cávado sub-regions, the climate here is pleasant and the range of temperatures vary slightly. Rainfall is below average. Sousa could be considered a transition sub-region since it is not directly exposed to the influence of the Atlantic, though it does have some effect due to the slightly accentuated elevation. It is an inland zone, but without extremely cold winters or extremely hot summers. The recommended varieties are those typical of the more temperate areas such as Arinto, Loureiro and Trajadura, as well as Azal and Avesso, whose ripening is more demanding. Reds are made with Borraçal, Amaral and Vinhão, Espadeiro varieties.
Vinho Regional Minho, formerly Rios do Minho, covers the entire Vinho Verde region and is a less restrictive designation than DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) regulations, similar to France's vin de pays. The Minho VR allows for a broader pallet of grape varieties and production techniques and as such allows the wine-maker to be more creative with the treasures the region has to offer. VR wines should not be considered lesser quality than those which carry the DOC Label. In recent times varietal wines have become popular along with the resurgence of interest in the wines from the Minho.
Although there has been a history of making sparkling wines in the region their labelling as Sparkling Vinho Verde is recent, only coming into being in 1999. Essentially it's classic Vinho Verde which undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle for a minimum of nine months. The taste profile is much the same as Vinho Verde with a reinforced aromatic freshness. These Espumantes need to be served cold, between 8-10ºC.