A Whole New Old World: Vinho Verde Comes into Focus

In recent years, Vinho Verde has been increasingly championed by Master Sommeliers, retailers passionate about terroir, globetrotting travelers and even your in-the-know cousin who’s been bringing Alvarinho to Thanksgiving since before it was cool, as she likes to remind you.

Evolving trends have vaulted a new generation of premium Vinho Verde styles to the forefront. But while Vinho Verde enjoys nearly universal name recognition among U.S. wine lovers, the region’s nuances—and dizzying range of native grapes—are just now coming into focus, helping to grow the Portugal section of wine lists across the country.

Think you know Vinho Verde top-to-bottom? Prepare to be surprised (and make sure you have your wine glass ready). Here’s an insider’s look at the region’s history, varieties and innovative new production techniques, plus a few sommelier-approved culinary pairings.

History & Heritage

While many wine lovers may mistakenly think of Vinho Verde as a “young wine,” or one that is bottled soon after harvest and meant to be enjoyed within a year, the region is anything but a newcomer on the world stage. Now, public perception is finally catching up to the quality and ageability of Vinho Verde wines.

First planted millennia ago, Vinho Verde’s winemaking legacy entered historical record as early as 1st century AD by ancient philosophers Seneca and Pliny the Elder—groundbreaking thinkers whose learned palates wouldn’t be out of place at a present-day confab of high-flying New York City sommeliers.

Fast forward to the 1300s, and U.K. drinkers considered the wines of Vinho Verde to be on par with that of Burgundy. When the latter wasn’t available, Brits’ go-to quaff was the former, and vice versa.

These days, next-generation, premium Vinho Verde is winning splashy, topline recognition for its ageability. Particularly notable is flagship grape Alvarinho, whose natural acidity, especially when supported by oak aging and bâtonnage, endows these terroir-driven wines with the ability to improve and gain complexity for a decade or more.

A Variety of Varieties

Until a few years ago, U.S. consumers might have struggled to name more than one of the grapes of Vinho Verde; these days, it’s a whole new Old World, with grapes like Trajadura and Vinhão slipping of the tongues of sommeliers with ease.

On a retail shelf of the same-old suspects like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling, Vinho Verde’s varied range of native grapes make it one of the most dynamic and genuinely exciting wine regions in all of Europe. There’s a Vinho Verde for every season, occasion, palate and personality—and each grape is full of surprises.

Alvarinho, the focal point of the region’s premium category, yields layered, complex and ageable varietal wines in both oaked and unoaked styles; it also blends beautifully with nearly all of the region’s other white grapes. Alvarinho can have a range of fruit characteristics from peach to lychee, quince to banana, which are elevated by notes of orange blossom, violet and hazelnut.

Arinto is fresh and mineral-driven with layers of citrus, and grows in complexity with age. Avesso is fruity, intense and full-bodied. Azal thrives in inland areas where it can reach optimal ripeness, and has fruity aromas on the nose. Loureiro, which is cultivated across nearly the entire region, is deeply floral and can be identified by its mint, honey, and green apple notes. Elegant Trajadura is soft and round on the palate, defined by notes of ripe pear, apple, and peach.

Diversity at the Table

With few other fine wine regions on earth able to match Vinho Verde’s diverse range of grape varieties, the food pairing possibilities for the region’s wines is unparalleled.

Thai green curry
One of Thailand’s most popular dishes, green curry is driven by key ingredients like cilantro and k lime leaves. This extremely vibrant and complexly flavored dish requires an equally aromatic wine. Consider a Loureiro-driven Vinho Verde, which is versatile, fruit-froward and floral.

Maine lobster roll
Lobster pairs best with deep, rich wines. Look to the highly textured, oak-aged Alvarinhos of Vinho Verde’s marquee Monção e Melgaço subregion for an especially memorable pairing.

Tacos al pastor
A classic Mexican dish of spit-grilled pork marinated in pineapple and spices, tacos al pastor delivers a unique combination of intense flavors and textures which requires an equally vibrant pairing. Get creative and consider a vivid, steel-fermented blend of Alvarinho and Trajadura.

Sushi and sashimi
Just like premium Vinho Verde, quality sushi and sashimi are fresh and nuanced. Try a citrus-driven, palate-cleansing blend of different Vinho Verde varieties to see why these wines’ often saline minerality makes the perfect match with anything from the sea.

Published on November 12, 2021