Vinho Verde 101

Glass of White Wine on a Barrel in Wine Cellar
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Nothing says "summer" the way a glass of Vinho Verde does, with its tart and effervescent lightness! Not that that stops the Portuguese from drinking it at all other times of the year as well.

This wine has just begun to reach the radar of American wine drinkers. According to the Portugal Global Trade & Investment Agency, Americans bought 5.5 million bottles of it in 2012. While that might not come close to some other imported wine purchases, when you consider that it was just a bit over 1 million bottles a short while ago and that it comes from a very small region in a very small country, it's a pretty impressive number!

What is Vinho Verde?

The literal translation of Vinho Verde is "green wine," but what that really means is "young wine." This wine is specifically meant to be consumed while it is still young, usually within about a year.

Vinho Verde can be any color: red, white or rose, although it is the white that is easiest to find and most commonly purchased here in the United States. The white Vinho Verde is usually a pale lemon or straw color. The alcohol content is between 8.5 and 11%.

Whatever color it is, it is marked by a light effervescence, which varies from vineyard to vineyard. At less than one bar of CO2, it doesn't quite qualify as a semi-sparkling wine, which shows how very light the effervescence is.

Personally speaking, I find its tart and gently bubbly nature works best in the white varieties. I have never tried the rose version of this wine, but I have had the reds and do not care for them.

However, that is just my personal taste and I do know folks that enjoy the red.

What Types of Grapes are Used?

There are several different grape types that are used to make Vinho Verde, and each grower has their own particular combination.

Whites are usually fermented from the Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal grapes.

Reds are made with Vinhão, Borraçal, or Amarel, and the roses from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes.

Where Is It Grown?

To be legally classified as Vinho Verde and marked with the Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC), the wine must come from the Entre-Douro-E-Minho area of Portugal, which translates to "between the Douro and the Minho." This is in the upper northwest corner of Portugal, marked by the Minho River on the Spanish border at the top, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Douro River to the South and the mountains to the East.

Within this region there are 9 sub-regions: Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa.

There are roughly 30,000 small growers who make Vinho Verde in the region. One of the interesting characteristics of these vineyards is that the grapes are grown on very high trellises, and sometimes even up telephone poles! The reason for this is to avoid rot at the base of the plants (it is a moist region), but also to provide room for some of these small growers to plant vegetables for their families to eat.

What pairs well with Vinho Verde?

The white Vinho Verde goes well with the same foods that any light white wine will go with. Seafood is big on the list, of course.

Try it with the Funchal Fish Stew, for example. It's also ideal as a brunch drink instead of champagne or prosecco.

The reds and roses go well with seafood too. If you want to have them with meat, they pair best with lighter dishes, such as a chef salad or a grilled steak.

Price Range

I saved the best information about Vinho Verde for the end! The great news about these wines is that they are super affordable. You can buy most of them for under $10 and some even as low as $5. In terms of quality, I have not yet purchased a bad bottle of the stuff and haven't seen a correlation between price and taste so far.