Vinho Verde is both the name of a region and a wine, but not the name of a grape. The region part is simple — Portugal’s Vinho Verde region is green, rolling hills on the northwest coast.
As a wine name there is more to the story. The word verde means green, but descriptively is used to communicate the youth and freshness of the wines. The freshness comes from the vibrant grapes, winemaking style and the fact that they are released early: typically within 90 days of harvest.
Vinho Verdes always have bright citrus and spice and many times a touch of salinity. More complex versions bring stone-fruit flavors and even smoky notes.
Vinho Verdes can be white, red or rosé, which brings us to the topic of grape varieties. Since most of the wines exported are white, let’s focus on those. The dominant grape is Alvarinho with Loureiro being its most popular dance partner; while overall there are about 20 grapes allowed for white and the same for reds. Those are the two to know.
So what awaits you in the bottle? First of all, you are going to feel prickly fizz called frizzante. For many years this was the result of allowing a slight, second fermentation in the bottle. This process also resulted in the wines having some visually funky stuff in them, so producers used opaque or dark bottles because the look was unpalatable to consumers.
Vinho Verde makers then decided to fully ferment the wines in barrel or tank and just add that touch of CO2 to the finished wine. Interestingly, in the past decade many Vinho Verdes are made the old-fashioned way and placed in light bottles because this pétillant-naturel style has fans and the floaties are welcome.
As for flavors, there is always bright citrus and spice and many times a touch of salinity. More complex versions bring stone-fruit flavors and even smoky notes; Vinho Verde is always light in body with zippy acid.
After all is said and done, the majority are of the cleaner style and I say, “Hooray.” I find pét-nats from anywhere to be wildly inconsistent and frequently flawed.
The whole reason is to refresh the body and spirit and accompany food. Vinho Verdes are perfect for sea fare and magic with salads, as well. On a hot, sultry day, a well-chilled bottle is a magic elixir.
Spain produces significant amounts of its own version of Vino Verde (Spanish spelling) in the region of Galicia in the northwest corner. This is also the home of the sub-region Rias Baixas famous for Albariño still-wines. As in Portugal, this grape is the backbone of the majority of Spanish Vino Verde-style wines. These can be slightly riper than their Portuguese cousins, but they generally marry with the same foods and moments.