Portugal’s Green Revolution
While the spritely, low-alcohol versions of Vinho Verde are perfect for warm-weather sipping, some producers are aiming for more richness and complexity. It’s an exciting time for Portugal’s “green wine.”
By Roger Voss
Nothing says summer like Vinho Verde, from northern Portugal.
With their crisp fruitiness, low alcohol levels and off-dry styles, the big--production, brand-name wines are Portugal’s answer to Pinot Grigio—with a spiral of bubbles to give them a lift on the palate. Delicious and thirst quenching, buy them today, and drink them outdoors as the temperatures climb.
That’s one aspect of Vinho Verde.
The other side of Vinho Verde is only just becoming known and appreciated.
These dry wines are sophisticated, mineral and elegant, while remaining fruity and relatively low in alcohol. They are new takes on traditional styles, the wines that were made to go with the region’s seafood well before the arrival of the off-dry brands. These wines have the same polished, sophisticated feel as top-class white wines from Austria or France’s Loire Valley.
The Vinho Verde wine region, (also known as “the Minho”), is Portugal’s greenest, a complete contrast to the beaches of the Algarve or the harsh mountains of the interior. Watered by frequent cool rains that come off the Atlantic Ocean, it is a region where agriculture rules. Dramatic forested mountains alternate with lush river valleys that broaden out at the coast.
Visitors to the region fly into Oporto, then travel by land to Guimarães, the country’s first capital, and Braga, one of the oldest cities in Portugal. They surf the white-sand ocean beaches in the morning and taste wine in the afternoon. They stay in private manor houses where the owners provide historic accommodations and terrific meals. And they eat caldo verde—the local potato and collard greens soup—grilled sardines, duck with rice or amazingly fresh fish of every shape and description.
The landscape and cuisine provide the background for the delicious, always inexpensive—you’ll rarely pay more than $20, even for the best—wines labeled Vinho Verde or the regional designation Minho.
And while the large production of red Vinho Verde tends to stay in Portugal, rosés that have the same crisp, fresh, low--alcohol character as the whites are now appearing abroad, ready to brighten up any summer moment.