This was a tasting of a number of wines from a number of producers of Vinho Verde, presented by the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes
For some time, at least in Britain, Vinho Verde has been the ugly sister of Portuguese wine: other areas have made great advances in terms of both quality and popularity, in particular, the immediately adjacent area of the Douro where the table wines are beginning to become as important as port. But vinho verde has remained a curiosity of little interest both on the high street and for wine enthusiasts.
An EU funded campaign, with the strapline “a region with great opportunities,” aims to bring this wine back to consumers' attention. So what is it, and does it merit the EU funding and our interest?
Vinho Verde is made in the DOC region, originally demarcated in 1908, in the Costa Verde region starting immediately north of Oporto and stretching north to the border. The region is also known as the garden of Portugal because of its engaging green scenery. This is also the origin of the name: nothing to do with a green tinge to the wines' appearance or their green-ness as young wines – though both can often be found in the wines.
There are similarities between Vinho Verde and German wine. Both have an image problem and are currently unpopular; both are characterised by low alcohol, their lightness and their aromatic nature; both can be very refreshing, with good fruit-acid balance; and, for the better examples, both represent very good value. Both German wine and Vinho Verde are represented on supermarket and off-licence (and a few wine merchants') shelves by low grade, low cost wines. The difference is that, however unpopular German wine is, there is a history of great estates and these are still available in Britain, if you know where to look. Vinho Verde, at least the good ones, is not as readily available; and there is not the same history of great estates. Many wines have historically been made by small growers for their own and local consumption and only the biggest, often industrial producers have been readily available outside the region.
The vinho verde vineyards cover around 35,000 hectares in the north of Portugal, accounting for about 15% of the total area under vines in Portugal. The wine benefits from the good soils, cool breezes blowing in off the Atlantic which moderate the climate and the unfamiliar grape varieties peculiar to the region. The grapes used in white vinho verde are the Alvarinho, Arinto or Pedernã, Avesso, Azal, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Red vinhos verdes are also made (so the name really is nothing to do with the wine having a green colour!), but are rarely seen outside the region – often for very good reasons as they can be quite savage! The grapes used in the reds are Alvarelhão, Borraçal, Espadeiro and Vinhão (Sousão, Amaral and Azal Tinto also make an appearance).
It's worth mentioning that the vines are traditionally grown in an unusual manner in the region. The traditional method is the ‘enforcado': vines are left to grow up trees (and telegraph poles), often reaching considerable heights. You can still see this in some places, but the obvious difficulties mean that it's increasingly rare. More common now are the still fairly traditional ‘ramadas' – pergola grown vines, creating green tunnels. These too are now being replaced by ‘cruzetas' (“like a cross”) – a more standard vine-training system that facilitates mechanisation.
In the past, vinho verde was normally a blend, though now more producers are making single variety vinhos verdes. In the past many were also semi pétillant, though most are now produced completely still; and those that are likely sparkling are usually lightly carbonated rather than the bubbles being natural. I concentrated on these single variety wines.
2004 Quinta da Lixa
The Loureiro grape is what provides the fragrant character in blended vinhos verdes.
A clean, fresh, fragrant nose. Good on the palate with a slight pétillance. Nice light acidity. A very refreshing wine.
Very Good Indeed. 90/100
2004 Quinta da Lixa
A much broader nose than the Loureiro. Still fresh on the palate, but much wider and with lower acidity.
Very Good Indeed. 89/100
2004 Quinta da Lixa Vinho
This is made from a blend of grape varieties, mainly loureiro and trajadura. On the nose, it's pretty much a combination of the above two wines. But to me, it doesn't really seem to gain from the blend. A bit less than the sum of its parts. This and the two single variety Quinta da Lixa are fermented dry with no residual sugar. 85/100
2004 Terras do Minho Vinho
Verde, 11%; 4g residual sugar
A clean floral nose. Good, light, fresh structure with nice body. Very much a straightforward old-fashioned vinho verde with a tiny touch of sweetness on the finish. 83/100
2004 Vinha Real Vinho
Verde, 9%; 15g residual sugar
A fruity, fresh broad nose. Immediate fruit on the palate. Good fresh acid throughout then a touch of sweetness afterwards. Good. 5
Quinta de Santa Maria
The Sociedade Agricola da Quinta de Santa Maria was founded in 1965 and runs two estates in the municipality of Barcelos. Starting in 1981 there has been an extensive replanting programme, with priority being given to the aromatic variety Loureiro. The vineyards in the Quinta de Santa Maria cover 21 hectares, planted with Loureiro, Arinto (Pedernã) and Alvarinho for white wine and Vinhão, Borraçal and Touriga Nacional. The vineyards of the Quinta do Tamariz extend over a further 14 hectares and are planted predominantly with Loureiro.
Quinta do Tamariz produces only a singly variety (Loureiro) vinho verde. Quinta de Santa Maria produces four vinho verdes: a Loureiro, an Arinto, a colheita Seleccionada and a red).
2004 Quinta do Tamariz Vinho Verde Loureiro,
A very floral, elegant nose that's almost muscatty. Really floral on the palate. A bit overdone maybe? 84/100
2004 Quinta de Santa Maria, Vinho Regional Minho, 11.5%
This is a blend of Arinto and Loureiro. (Why it's Minho and not Vinho Verde, I'm afraid I have no idea.)
A nice elegant broad nose with some floral notes. Very well balanced and clean. Wider and clearer tasting than the Tamariz Loureiro. 88/100
2004 Portal do Carregal
Rather a dull nose. Lots of acidity immediately evident on the palate. Very light and acidic. Plain and uninteresting. 76/100
Caves do Casalinho
2004 Casalinho Vinho Verde Arinto, 10.5%, 5g residual sugar.
Made from 100% Arinto grapes, carefully selected, de-stemmed, pneumatically pressed and fermented at a controlled 17ºC
Very light nose, with just a hint of floral notes. A real sparkle on the tongue. Very fresh and attractive with good elegance, though not much structure. Very Good Indeed. 90/100
2004 Santo Adrião Vinho Verde, 10%, 10.6g residual sugar.
A blend of 40% Loureiro, 40% Trajadura, 20% Azal, again destemmed, gently pressed in pneumatic presses and temperature-controlled fermentation.
A broader, clean nose. Huge acidity on the attack, which mellows as some of the very noticeable residual sugar kicks in. Good balance and length. Very Good. 87/100
Casal do Paço Padreiro
Casal do Paco make three Vinhos Verdes in the sub-region of Lima under the “Afrós” label (Afros as in Aphrodite, apparently): a single variety Loureiro Branco (white); a single variety Loureiro Escolha fermented in French oak, and 100% Vinhão. All are made in small quantities: only 1650 bottles of the Escolha were made in 2004, and this was not available to taste. The vineyards are farmed in accordance with biodynamic principles.
2004 Afros Vinho Verde Loureiro Branco
100 % Loureiro; fermented in stainless steel; 11% abv; residual sugar is under 1g/l; 8,100 bottles produced in 2004.
A floral nose with lychees, like a gewurztraminer crossed with muscat. Very fresh and well-balanced. Excellent structure. Very good finish. A really lovely wine. Very Good Indeed+ 93/100
2004 Afros Vinho Verde Tinto Vinhão Tinto
The grapes were picked late after green harvesting; fermented on the skins in stainless steel with some maceration; 12% abv; 3g/l residual sugar; 5,300 bottles produced in 2004.
As I approached this with some trepidation (based on previous experience of red vinho verde from many years ago), Vasco Croft from Casal do Paço produced two bottles of this for me to try. The difference between them was merely of temperature, but it was remarkable what a difference the fairly small temperature variation made.
The wine had an amazing vibrant colour and didn't so much have legs as big meaty thighs – it completely clings to the glass: one of the densest thickest textured wines I've seen.
The first bottle was served at just above cellar temperature. A very interesting nose – quite exotic with hints of the Douro in a chocolatey texture. Very fruity and refreshing on the palate, with cherries dominating the fruit profile. A very interesting wine.
The second bottle was served at room temperature. It had a rounder, fuller nose, but was still very interesting, with the same character from the vinhão grape as in the first bottle. This little bit warmer, the wine seems more integrated, with softer tannins, though it has more tannic structure on the finish.
Well, I have to say this has changed my preconceptions of red vinho verde, though I still have doubts about how many are going to be as well made as this.
This is a wine of real character and interest, and in its flavour and aroma profiles reminds me a little of the red wines from the boutique wineries of north-east Italy, particularly Friuli.
Really Very Good Indeed. 93/100
In May 2007, I tasted the latest releases of the Afros wines:
2006 Afros Loureiro Vinho Verde, Casal do Paço Padreiro, 11.5%
A bright fresh nose. Light, clean, fragrant palate. This is a very good vinho verde. Very Good Indeed. 90/100
2006 Afros Vinho Verde Escolha, Casal do Paço Padreiro
Aged in oak for six months. This has a nice nose with the oak just detectable and really only giving it a pleasing roundness. Nice palate, with very good balance and fruit. Very Good Indeed. 91/100
NV Afros Vinho Verde Espumante Bruto, Casal do Paço Padreiro, 12%
This new addition to the Afros range comes from the 2004 and 2005 vintages. It has a very slight nose indeed. Very foamy on the palate. Nice and dry, but it lacks any real fruit character. Good. 83/100
2005 Afros Vinhao Tinto, Vinho Verde, Casal do Paço Padreiro, 13%
Quite a meaty, sweaty black fruits nose. Very interesting palate. It has quite a high acidity, but it doesn’t dominate. It’s not a world beater, but it is a very interesting wine that deserves exposure. Very Good. 88/100
Quinta das Arcas
2004 Quinta das Arcas Arca
Nova Loureiro Vinho Verde, 11%
A very elegant, floral nose. Clean, fresh and fragrant on the palate with a light prickle. Very clean and precise. Excellent balance. Very Good Indeed. 91/100
2004 Quinta das Arcas Arca
Nova Vinho Verde Branco, 11%
A blend of Loureiro and Pedernã, with Loureiro dominant.
Again a delicate, elegant floral nose, but this one's really rather unusual with scents of green peas and sweet peas. This is more complex on the palate than the straight loureiro. This is the most complex of all the vinhos verdes that were being presented by the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes. Quite broad and full with lots of interest. Good depth and light structure. Very full flavours, slightly Pledge-y, slightly confected pear drop flavours. But in this wine they work and don't jar. Very Good Indeed. 92/100
2004 Quinta das Arcas Arca
Nova Vinho Verde Rosé, 11%
A very light, slightly fragrant young nose. Simple, light and fresh on the palate with an interesting creamy texture. Very slight pétillance. But very simple. Good. 85/100
Joaqium Campelo started out in the wine trade in 1923. In 1951, he established what is now one of the largest production facilities in the Vinho Verde area. In contrast to many of the other producers present, Campelo are a big operation, producing some 4 million litres of wine a year, of which 75%-80% is for the domestic market, much of which is (it has to be said, low quality) table wine (vinho de mesa) and Vinho Regional Minho. Much is apparently sold in 5-litre demijohns. If I'd known this before tasting the wines, I'd have expected more industrial, poorer quality than the other Vinho Verde producers present. And I would have been right.
Alexandra Santos took me through the following three wines.
2004 Campelo Chantel
Loureiro Vinho Verde, 10%
100% Loureiro. The data sheet helpfully describes the winemaking processing in two words: “wine vinification”. Gosh, really?
A light, gently fragrant nose. Clean and fresh with decent balance. Fairly low acidity, but still very dry indeed. Bigger and chewier than other producers' single variety loureiro. OK. 79/100
2004 Campelo Vinho Verde
A blend of Azal, Loureiro, Trajadura and Pedernã.
A very light nose: clean and fresh, but unexceptional. Light and very ordinary on the palate, with a touch of sweetness throughout. Very simple. 76/100
2004 Campelo Adamado
Loureiro Branco Demi Sec, 9%
A somewhat murky nose – round and a touch sweet. Simple. Decent balance. But a very simple, industrial wine. Curiously, there's some acid that comes through more on the finish and after. Drinkable, but scarcely more than poor. 65/100
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Last updated: 12 July 2007