Green Wine: A Guide to Portuguese Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is Portugal’s largest wine region and the third biggest in Europe. The wines produced there are named after the region, contrary to the common belief that Vinho Verde translates as “Green Wine”. Vinho Verde is becoming more popular in recent years, with the region producing more complex and sophisticated wines. That’s why we decided to put together this guide, so you can learn all you need to know about Portuguese Green Wine. 

You can find Vinho Verde in every Portuguese restaurant and supermarket, but it used to be that this wine was more difficult to find outside of the country. Now, Portugal is one of the countries that are famous for wine, with Vinho Verde available much further afield. No longer will wine enthusiasts have to scour specialist shops for a bottle of Portuguese green wine, the wine is now much more popular and easily available in the United States. 

 

Two green wine bottle in a bucket.

Green whine is most commonly white, chilled, and slightly fizzy.

 

Green wine: is it really green? 

No, Vinho Verde is not green in color, although you could argue that certain wines have a greenish tint. Green Wine is actually usually a white wine, however red and rose Vinho Verde is also available. The name “Vinho Verde” refers to the region of Portugal where the grapevines are grown, and this delicious wine is produced. Here, the landscape is a lush green expanse, so this is where Portugal’s most popular wine gets its name. Vinho Verde borders Spain, in the northwest of Portugal, where there are more than 20 thousand producers of green wine. 

 

What is Vinho Verde? 

Vinho Verde also translates as “young wine”, which is a much more accurate description of the drink. Bottles of Vinho Verde are released generally 3 to 6 months after the harvest before the wine has aged. This sets the wine apart from most other bottles, which are stored for years before going on sale. Green wine is very rarely aged in wood, but it is possible to find a more vintage bottle. 

Some producers in Portugal have begun experimenting with oak-aging Vinho Verde, however, the vast majority is still made in stainless steel vats. Traditionally, this Portuguese wine is only drunk young. There’s no point buying a bottle with the intention of aging it a few years, just enjoy Vinho Verde straight away. 

Most commonly, green wines are described as fresh, fruity, and floral. They’re usually drunk in the summer months, deliciously light and refreshing when chilled. Of course, there are many producers creating a wide range of flavors in the Vinho Verde region. 

 

A field of green grapes.

Vinho Verde is usually bottled and sold in the same year the grapes are harvested.

 

Different types of green wine

As we mentioned, Vinho Verde can be a white, red, or rose wine. White Vinho Verde is most common, but there are still plenty of differences in these bottles of wine. There are more than 45 different grape varieties grown in the Vinho Verde region of Portugal, so huge differences in flavor are possible. Certain characteristics are shared between almost all white Vinho Verde, this wine is light and aromatic, crisp and sometimes slightly sweet, and seen often with a little fizz. The flavors can vary a lot depending on the grapes used, but you can trust that any white Vinho Verde will be refreshing and fruity. 

Loureiro varieties of Vinho Verde are usually more floral in taste, whereas Trajadura is described as having a steely flavor. A mineral taste is noticeable in Arinto, and also in Avesso combined with creamy notes, while Alvarinho grapes carry a certain fragrance in Vinho Verde. These are the main fruit varieties used to brew white Vinho Verdes, there are noticeable differences between the wines so it’s definitely worth trying a few different bottles. 

The majority of Vinho Verde is made with a blend of grapes, however, there are some single variety bottles available, which might even be suitable for aging. If you’re interested in selecting a Vinho Verde to age, look out for Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes. These are the most common single-varietal bottles of Vinho Verde. 

Often, white Vinho Verdes have a little spritz, a small amount of fizz in the wine. The level of carbonation isn’t like Champagne or Prosecco, it’s much more subtle, just enough to be noticed. Traditionally, the carbonation of Vinho Verde was mostly accidental, a result of trapped carbon dioxide from the fermentation process. But, we love our sparkling wines, so now Vinho Verde is often artificially carbonated. 

One thing that may surprise you about this Portuguese green wine is that it’s lower than average in alcohol content. The average bottle of wine contains about 11.6 percent ABV, but many wines contain 15% alcohol or more. The Vinho Verde range is more understated, with most bottles falling between 8.5% and 11% ABV. Even at 11%, this wine is still fairly light, making it a popular lunchtime drink. 

Don’t assume that your Vinho Verde is low-alcohol though, you should always check the label first. Some Vinho Verdes, for example, bottles made using Alvarinho grapes, fall on the higher end of the scale. A bottle of Alvarinho green wine would commonly contain between 11.5% and 14% ABV. 

Red wine from Vinho Verde used to account for the bulk of production, but nowadays only a tiny fraction of Vinho Verde is red wine. In the Minho region, the climate is mainly cool and rainy, making it harder to ripen red grapes. The most common grape used in the production of red Vinho Verde is Vinhao; a name that sounds similar, but shouldn’t be confused. This grape is fermented into a dark, tart, acidic and bitter wine, which divides opinion amongst wine enthusiasts. Some enjoy this singular flavor, but many prefer to stick with the light and refreshing white Vinhos. 

The light fizz in traditional Vinho Verde is now full carbonation in certain bottles, a natural progression considering our love of sparkling wine. Production methods now include both basic and traditional styles, with Chamant Vinho Verde now available. There are less often seen in American stores, where the market is dominated by the more popular bubbly, but sparkling green wine is definitely worth tasting. In the United States, Vinho Verde is known as a light and sparkling wine, so exporters cater to this market. Back in Portugal however, this spritz is left out to allow the acidic and mineral flavors space to shine. Although white Vinho Verde makes up for the vast majority of exports, red wine is actually much more popular in Portuguese homes. If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle, make sure you drink it before the red wine spoils

 

Where does Vinho Verde come from?

The Minho region of Portugal is where Vinho Verde is produced, split into nine sub-regions where different varieties of wine grapes grow. Although Portuguese weather is regarded as hot and sunny, the area where Vinho Verde is produced doesn’t get much sunny weather. Rainy and coastal weather is still great for growing grapevines, so let’s explore the different flavors from different Vinho Verde sub-regions. 

In Moncao and Melgaco, Alvarinho grapes are produced along the border of Spain. These grape varieties have developed mineral notes due to the soil in the Moncao and Melgaco areas. The coastal region of Lima gets a lot of annual rainfall, so here more whites are made using Arinto, Loureiro, and Trajadua grapes, and the Cavado and Ave regions also produce these grapes along Portugal’s coastline. 

In a mountainous area leading to the Douro Valley, the final four sub-regions producing Vinho Verde are located. Sousa, Paiva, Baiao, and Basto are much sunnier than their coastal competitors, so harder to ripen white grapes can grow. Azal and Avesso grapes are used in delicious white wines around the Douro valley, and there are even a few red grapes like Espadeiro grown here. 

 

A green valley with a river.

Green wine may have taken its name from the lush green Portuguese countryside.

 

History of Vinho Verde

Not long ago in the Vinho Verde region, grapevines were grown in an unorganized manner. The fields and the majority of the land were needed to grow vegetables and graze animals, therefore grapevines had to grow in whatever space was left. Green wine vines grew up fences, telephones, and trees, on the outskirts of fields and by the side of roads. Each harvest would have been picked by hand, in a very time-consuming process and generating a relatively small yield. 

As the popularity of Portugal’s green wine has grown, the region produces more wine in a more organized manner. Several large vineyards dominate most supermarket shelves, but the market for smaller producers is still booming. Thousands of small growers in the Vinho Verde region still make up the majority, even though big producers still cover a lot of the market. 

Vinho Verde was actually the first Portuguese wine to be exported to European markets, way back in the Middle Ages. Since 100AD, the popularity of Vinho Verde has grown all around the world, with wine from this region now exported to over a hundred global markets. Vines are grown over 52,000 acres in Vinho Verde, producing on average of 75 million liters of wine per year. 

This region of Portugal was officially classified as the Vinho Verde Region at the beginning of the 21st century. However, Vinho Verde’s current popularity is only a recent occurrence, with this green wine spreading all around the world in the last few decades. All of a sudden, Portugal entered the European Union and began exporting its wines everywhere. At this point, the industry got an influx of funding and resources, revolutionizing the disorganized roadside vines into a successful modern industry. 

 

Single-variety Vinho Verde

Most Portuguese winemaking is done with a blend of white grapes, however, some producers are starting to branch out into single-varietal bottles. Two grape varieties; Alvarinho and Loureiro, are seizing the attention from winemakers as a potential vintage wine. The more common Albarinho grape from northern Spain is very similar to Alvaro, displaying tropical flavors and an overall lemony taste, and high in acid. Loureiro is another acidic grape used in Vinho Verde, with a more floral profile. 

Certain winemakers in the Vinho Verde region now produce single-variety wines, made from Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes. These producers have found that wine brewed from these grape varieties ages well, responding well to oak barrels and developing more complex and characterful flavors. Unfortunately, these delicious aged Vinho Verdes rarely make it to American shelves, as the reputation as a young wine means Vinho Verde producers are pressured to export wine as soon as it’s bottled. If you ever visit Portugal however, make sure you sample some delicious aged Alcarinho or Loureiro wine. 

 

Oak barrels.

Certain Vinho Verdes are now aged in oak.

 

When to drink Vinho Verde

If you’ve got a nice white Vinho Verde, chill it in the fridge to enjoy in the summer months. This light and fruity drink is perfect for sipping poolside, perfectly refreshing and delicious for hot weather. If you’ve never drunk Portuguese wine, Vinho Verde is a great place to start. Most bottles are highly palatable, easy to drink, and affordable too. 

 

How to serve Vinho Verde

Like any white wine, Vinho Verde should always be served from the refrigerator. Ideally, this wine is best chilled to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 15 minutes in the fridge. Never drop ice into your wine, instead use an ice bucket or wine cooler to keep your bottle chilled out in the sun. 

When pairing Vinho Verde, follow the same general rules about all wine pairings. The majority of the time, you can’t enjoy wine any better than paired with the local foods and dishes from its origin. Luckily, Vinho Verde is made in a lush oceanside heaven, so the wine is perfect for drinking with seafood. Try a bottle of white Vinho Verde with shrimp, cod, or crabs, for a fishy flavor sensation. The higher acidity levels in this white wine also make it a great accompaniment to potato and chicken dishes. 

 

Fun facts about Vinho Verde

We thought we’d share some interesting facts about this delicious and popular wine. There’s a lot to learn about Vinho Verde, so peruse some of these fascinating details and find out about Portugal’s most successful wine. 

 

  • Vinho Verde is Portugal’s largest wine region, with 19,000 grape growers and 600 bottles producing wine from the area. As well as white wine, which makes up 86% of the wine produced in Vinho Verde, the area also makes red wine, rose, and brandy. 

 

  • The average bottle of Vinho Verde costs around $10, and you’re unlikely to pay more than $20 for a much nicer bottle. This delicious wine is so affordable because of the downturn in Portugal’s economy. However, due to the rapidly increasing popularity of Portuguese wine, the industry is receiving a lot of new investment and boosting jobs and the economy locally. 

 

  • Although organic viticulture is a struggle in Portugal’s humid environment, there are a few commercial wine producers who’ve managed to grow organic grapes and even produce biodynamic wine. Organic bottles of wine are made without pesticides or non-natural fertilizers, and biodynamic grapes take it one step further. In order to attain a biodynamic classification, the grapes used must be grown in a holistic farming system, and the wine must be brewed without industrial yeasts. Both of these methods produce lively and flavorful wines, well worth a try if you visit the Vinho Verde region. 

 

  • If you try a Vinho Verde without the popular fizzy element, you might be pleasantly surprised. If you see Vinho Verde in a rounder bottle instead of the usual tall, thin, Bordeaux style, it’s likely the wine is without carbonation. In the absence of the bubbles, you’ll notice more minerals and acidity in the flavor profile. 

 

Tow people holding glasses of green wine.

Vinho Verde is delicious for sipping by the pool, a refreshing summer wine.

 

Final Verdict:

Portuguese culture has winemaking deeply ingrained in its roots. This relatively small country has been fermenting grapes into wine for thousands of years, so you can bet that they know what they’re doing. As Vinho Verde is the most popularly exported wine in Portugal, there’s no doubting its delicious fruity flavors and crisp refreshing palate. However, there’s a lot more to Portugal’s green wine than meets the eye, it’s such a diverse and versatile drink.

Vinho Verde isn’t green, rather young, drank almost exclusively within 6 months of bottling. However, single-varietal and aged Vinho Verde is available, and delicious if you can get your hands on it. Although almost all the wine produced in Vinho Verde is the light, white, and slightly sparkling drink that we all know and love, Portugal has a lot more to offer. If you get a chance to visit, the Vinho Verde region is a heaven for any wine enthusiast. 

 

Bonus tip: Check out this video to see what a winemaker has to say about Vinho Verde!

 

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