Vinho Verde is a semi-sparkling Portuguese wine whose name literally means ‘green wine’, referring to the fact that it is a ‘young wine’ and not to its color. The grapes are picked relatively young and Vinho Verde maybe a white, Rose, red or sparkling wine called Espumante.
Gateway is a traditional style of Vinho Verde, low in alcohol with a slight fizz and a lot of freshness; it is made from a blend of Trajadura, Loureiro, Arinto and Azal and comes from the Amarante sub-region.
Trajura is fragrant, has a lower level of acidity and higher alcohol levels than other Vinho Verde grapes and is used as a balancing combination for blending with other Vinho Verde varietals which are usually high in acid and low in alcohol. It is also known as ‘Trinca-dente’ or ‘Trincadeira’ in the Arcos de Valdevez region or ‘Treixadura’ in Galicia, Spain.
Loureiro whose name means ‘Laurel’ is one of the typical grapes found in white Vinho Verdes. The aroma of Loureiro is said to resemble that of laurel flowers hence its name. It impairs flavors of citrus, acacia, apple and peach. It is usually refreshing with a balanced acidity; however it is best blended especially with Trajura, Arinto or Alvarinho. It is vigorous with high yields and needs to be controlled.
Arinto is found in most of Portugal’s regions. In the Vinho Verde region it is also known as ‘Pedernã’. It makes lively and refreshing wines showing relatively high levels of acidity. It adds subtle fruity flavors typically ranging from apple to lime. Arinto keeps high levels of acidity even in warmer climates, as a result it is often blended to other lower acid driven grapes such as Trajura and they complement each other fairly well. Arinto adds to the aging potential of a wine, due to its acid levels, although it is often consumed while young.
Azal is traditionally used in Vinho Verde blends and it is the second most planted grape in the Minho region after Loureiro. It produces wines with delicate and intense aromas, with light citrusy flavors and often has a slight fizz from both the high acidity and unresolved CO2, often found in white Vinho Verdes.
The Vinho Verde region is the largest appellation in Portugal and it is located along the Atlantic Ocean coast in the north of Portugal between the Minho River, which marks the border with Spain to the north, the city of Porto to the south and the Douro River 30 km away from the coast to the East, in the Minho region.
Most of the region lies on a granitic structure, with the exception of two narrow strips that cut across it from the north-west and the south-east. The first one is called Silurian it is composed of carboniferous and a granitic structure, the second one is made of old schist. The soil is mainly made of decomposed granite. It is shallow, from predominantly sandy to Franco-sandy (superficial) textures, with a natural high acidity and poor in phosphor. The fertility levels are naturally low from the overall composition. However due to the nature of the agricultural methods used in the region since the old times, the soil gained considerable fertility that allowed supporting one of the highest population densities in Portugal. The reason for this fertility may be attributed to two main forms of human intervention in the natural environment: the control of the terrain with the construction of terraces and the intensive and continuous addition of organic matters. The area covers 9% of the surface of Portugal while its population is over 20% of Portugal’s. This is the most fertile and populated region in Portugal.
Combined together these specific terroir characteristics produce wines with a good proportion of natural acidity, moderate levels of alcohol and a rich minerality, especially for vines growing on granitic soils. The influence from the Atlantic Ocean offers ideal growing conditions for indigenous grape varieties which are perfectly adapted to this unique terroir.
Vinho Verde is characterized by numerous small holdings with over 30 000 wine growers on a surface covering 35 000ha of vineyards (2005), although the number of growers has been reduced by half since the early 80’s. Production is still assumed by numerous small scale family operations. Vines often are trained high off the ground, on poles, pergolas, edges, trees and fences. Below the vines, vegetables and other crops are grown. This method allows for grapes to get more sun exposure, better ripening conditions and avoid rot due to the cool and wet climate conditions from the Minho region. Winters are fairly cold while summers are usually humid and relatively hot at times. The average rainfall is the highest in Portugal with 1 500mm a year; when the rest of the country is fairly arid.
There are nine sub-regions to the DOC, and they are named after rivers or towns: Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa and Paiva.
The grape varieties permitted for the DOC are as follows:
• Recommended white grapes: Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura
• Permitted white grapes: Branco-Escola, Cainho de Moreira, Cascal, Douradinha, Esganinho, Esganoso de Castelo de Paiva, Esganoso de Lima, Fernão Pires, Lameiro, Rabigato, S. Mamede and Semilão
• Recommended red grapes: Amaral, Azal Tinto, Borraçal, Brancelho, Espadeiro, Padeiro, Pedral, Rabo de Ovelha and Vinhão
• Permitted red grapes: Doçal, Doçal de Refóios, Espadeiro Mole, Labrusco, Mourisco, Pical Pôlho, Sousão and Verdelho Tinto.