Beyond Vinho Verde: The Portuguese Region Producing Unforgettable Wines

Established in 1908, the Vinho Verde region occupies the majority of northwestern Portugal. It’s crisscrossed by scenic valleys that add depth and complexity to its wines. At its northernmost point lies the valley of the Minho River, where Portugal historically and geographically begins. From there, the subregions Monção and Melgaço unravel before your eyes in every curve of the path, granite stone window and curl of the vine.

Home to some of the best white wines in the country, Monção and Melgaço produce quality wines with personality that age beautifully in the bottle. The two villages were founded more than 700 years ago and currently border Spain, but wine has been part of daily life in the valley since long before the country’s borders were established. By the 15th century, the famous “vinho de Monção” was sought by English traders who lined the Portuguese coast, eager to trade it for codfish.

 

THE LAND

The Minho River separates Monção and Melgaço from their neighboring Rias Baixas, located on the north bank in Spain. The slopes of this valley are blanketed with elegant, meandering vines that descend smoothly to the river’s edge. Once granite stone, the soil here reflects millennia of erosion. It shimmers in the sunlight as the surrounding mountains loom majestically.

The subregions resemble a green amphitheater, facing the Minho and enclosed in a semi-circle of stately hills that protect it from the harsh winds of the Atlantic, providing cold, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. This geography creates perfect conditions for excellent wines.

The subregions grow many grape varieties, but Alvarinho, which originated in the Minho river valley, is present in nearly every white wine from Monção and Melgaço. The grape contributes considerably to area identity. Other varieties grown here include white wine grapes Trajadura and Loureiro, and red wine grapes Borraçal, Vinhão or Alvarelhão.


 

THE PEOPLE

A wine region is more than its hills and valleys, soils and climates, vines and grapes. The genesis of wine requires people above all. Over the centuries, the people of Monção and Melgaço have shaped the area’s history, culture and identity, and they impart their knowledge to subsequent generations. In Monção and Melgaço, there are more than two thousand winegrowers farming 1700 hectares of vineyards annually. These local experts oversee every aspect of the winegrowing process, from flowering to the birth and growth of the clusters, from controlling and avoiding diseases and pests, to giving everything they have to the vines during. Many of these farmers are also winemakers create the 250-plus wines with the Vinho Verde Monção and Melgaço certification.

Today, centuries-old practices inherited from ancestors merge with scientific innovation. The majority of Monção and Melgaço producers are members of a new generation, rooted in their history, but with specific training in viticulture and oenology. In the vineyard and cellar, they apply practices and concepts that combine tradition with modernity. Knowledgeable, creative, and attentive to environmental sustainability and biodiversity, these next-generation winemakers create sublime wines that leave lasting impressions.

THE WINES

Wines from Monção and Melgaço have characteristics that set them apart from all others made in the Vinho Verde region, not to mention the rest of Portugal. They are also distinct from one another. In Monção and Melgaço, different styles of wine coexist, and vary depending on the grapes’ origins, the mixture of varieties used and the personality and practices of the producer. A blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura, for example, might create a light, cheerful, refreshing white. An Alvarinho and Loureiro blend, however, could create a fragrant, elegant and fine wine.

The most ambitious wines are almost always made exclusively from Alvarinho, though even those wines have diverse profiles. There are exuberant wines with aromas and flavors that resemble tropical fruits; more contained wines, focused on orange and tangerine citrus fruits; and wines fermented in wooden barrels to build a full body, creamy texture and intense flavor. Plus, there are fruity sparkling wines, which are gaining more devotees.

That said, the white wines of Monção and Melgaço have some important common denominators. They are intense, elegant, and expressive, with a strong identity that speaks to their place of origin. They are also long-lived, growing over time in the bottle with nobility, and gaining the complexity and refinement that is only within reach of truly great wines. And they are gastronomic bottles—that is, perfect wines to pair with food.


 

THE TABLE

At the table, wines from Monção and Melgaço truly shine. They are deeply versatile and can accompany a variety of meals and occasions.

Sparkling wines pair well with smoked oysters and fish like salmon or swordfish. Blends of Alvarinho and Trajadura, or Alvarinho and Loureiro, accompany cooked seafood or grilled lean fish, like sea bream, sea bass and sole. Alvarinho whites, with their intensity, balance and fruit expression, beautifully complement dishes like seafood rice; baked snapper, corvina, or grouper; Caesar salad; or grilled lean meats, like quail or chicken. A Monção and Melgaço Alvarinho fermented in barrels will be rich and dry with lovely acidity, and can pair with a variety of meals. A few exceptional pairings include cod dishes, fatty fish, pasta, grilled veal, and a charcuterie plate of sheep’s cheese and Iberian ham.

Regardless of the dish or the occasion, the wines from Monção and Melgaço are an experience unto themselves, rich with aromas, flavors and memories by the bottle.

Published on November 1, 2020