Portugal’s Vinho Verde wine region is an unusual in that if one set out to look for a place to grow grapes, Vinho Verde is one of the last places you would look. The cool, rainy, granite-soiled region is not at all conducive to growing wine grapes. The soil lacks many of the nutrients that one would normally look for, the growing season is too short to permit ripening and the frequency of rain can endanger the grapes at harvest time by promoting mold.
Growers and winemakers, therefore, have to make adaptations. Some can be seen from just a drive through the region. While some vines are grown and trellised in the same way as in the U.S. and most other wine regions, others are grown high and fully pruned all the way up to the canopy and are spread horizontally as a means of maximizing sun exposure in a climate with such a short growing season which expends to harvest in late September and early October.
The adaptation continues through the fermentation process. Since grapes seldom ripen completely, they don’t achieve their full sugar content. This yields wines that must be bottled quickly (typically by March) and often injected with a dose of CO2 to prevent premature oxidation. The results are crisp, dry, somewhat acidic, and minerally wines that are low in sugar and alcohol. And since they undergo only a short fermentation process and are bottled with little or no aging, they sometimes complete their fermentation in the bottle. This, especially when CO2 is added, along with may result in a slight fizz or effervescence.
Although not especially suited for drinking with most meals, they are very refreshing, especially when served chilled. They make for pleasant sipping on a warm day, are a nice aperitif and may go well with raw, chilled and light seafood. The unique growing season and the characteristics of the wine that results from it has earned Vinho Verde its own DOC.
The only winery open on a Sunday when we were in the region was the huge producer, Quinta da Aveleda in Penafiel Portugal. The winery has 500 hectares of its own vineyards. Still, it has to buy many of its grapes from smaller vineyards to feed a market that now spans the globe. It exports 70% of its 22 million bottles per year production.
The beautiful estate has 17th century buildings, gardens, large forests and peacocks and chickens strolling the grounds. It is very lovely and very peaceful.
But we were there to taste its wines. We had a cursory tasting of three 2021 wines—Alvarinho, Loureiro, and a 50/50 blend of the two. All reflected the primary character of the region’s wines. While the Loureiro has slightly less alcohol (11 percent versus 12 percent for the Alvarinho), slightly less acid, and bit more flora aromas, all three were fresh, crisp, had significant acidity and notes of grapefruit.
These, of course, represent but a small portion of the company’s total production. Although it has multiple labels and sources grapes from all different regions of the country. the vast majority of its Vinho Verde production uses Alvarinho and Loureiro, along with Arinto, Terano Quas and Azal grapes.
Nor is Aveleda the winery’s largest brand. This honor goes to Casal Garcia, a line of sweeter, lower alcohol wines that are targeted at younger customers.
Aveleda also produces wine from some red grapes, especially Touriga Nacional. Red grapes are used in a Rose and especially the region’s Aqua Andente brandies (under the Adega Velha label).
Unfortunately, we were more impressed with the estate than the wines. Oh well.
See our other blogs for more on Vinho Verde wines.