Light touch

Feeling stuck in a white wine rut? Then why not explore Portugal’s superior white Vinho Verde wines, which come from a verdant region located between the Douro and Minho rivers. These revitalising white Atlantic wines have an agreeable medium alcohol content, making them perfect for summer says James Viner. He also reveals where to enjoy a glass or two in local stopover Porto, the dynamic city that gave Portugal its name…

Could Portugal’s most exciting white wine region be Vinho Verde? Unquestionably, the quality of wine in the region producing it – the country’s largest DOC, first demarcated in 1908 – has never been higher. Located on the doorstep of the vibrant city of Porto (where you can hire a local driver or rent a car), Vinho Verde offers an unbeatable destination for a wine-tasting getaway. 

Exploring the region and grapes

Now on the map for enoturismo (wine tourism), Vinho Verde is in the northwest of Portugal, in the area traditionally known as Entre-Douro-e-Minho, and bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the River Minho to the north, and Peneda-Gerês National Park to the east. Extending down the ‘Costa Verde’ (Green Coast), through Porto, almost to the River Vouga’s banks, Vinho Verde has high rainfall and a temperate maritime climate. 

Its 17,268 hectares of vineyards (the UK has nearly 4000 hectares in comparison, according to recent WineGB figures), principally located along the expansive river valleys that drain the northeast upland region of Trás-os-Montes, are mainly sited on granitic bedrock with sandy topsoil for good drainage, and two narrow bars of schist.  Once dominated by red wine production, nowadays Vinho Verde showcases predominantly white wines – last year, according to the Porto-based CRVV, around 87% of sales were still whites – which are celebrated for their quality and elegance. It is divided into nine officially recognised sub-zones, each producing different styles of wine based on its terroir and unique grape mix.

From Simple Sips to Today’s Stylish Single-Estate White Vinho Verde Winners

Whilst still known for its light, simple, slightly pétillant, thirst-quenching white wines meant for quick consumption, Vinho Verde now also produces dazzling, complex white wines that can age gracefully and hold their own on the world stage. These dry, sleek, unfizzy, gastronomic still wines, from around a dozen or so leading single estates, highlight the stylistic range and undeniable calibre of winemakers keen to showcase the potential of pukka white Vinho Verde wines that belong in your fridge (and cellar). Saúde!

Viner’s Top Two Supermarket White Vinho Verde Picks…

1)2022 Cuba Azul Alvarinho Vinho Verde

£10 Morrisons, 12.5% | w: casaldeventozela.com | in Mogege

2)2023 Quinta de Azevedo Vinho Verde 

£9.99 Waitrose, 12% | w: sogrape.com/region/vinhos-verdes | in Lama

After sampling numerous inexpensive, slightly spritzy, low-alcohol white Vinho Verdes at supermarkets recently, I found Azevedo’s mostly Loureiro, the DOC’s most widely planted grape variety, wine topped up with 30% Alvarinho (‘Albariño’ over the border in Rías Baixas, Spain) – which produces wines with a higher level of alcohol than the other main Vinho Verde varieties — and Casal de Ventozela’s Cuba Azul’s 100% Alvarinho to be the standout choices. These dry, refreshing still whites are perfect for sushi, summer salads and a seafood barbecue and offer an excellent introduction to a drier and more sophisticated taste profile.

Three Outstanding Single-Varietal White Vinho Verde Wines from Top Single Estates…

3)2022 Quinta do Ameal Loureiro Vinho Verde 

£11.45-£13.99 N.D. John, Eton Vintners, Roberts & Speight, 12% | w: quintadoameal.com | in Refóios do Lima (owned by Esporão)

Sophisticated varietal Vinho Verde bottles are increasingly available in the UK. Look out for high-quality Alvarinho and aromatic Loureiro from Quinta do Ameal, a historic property with records dating back to 1710. Bouncing with energy in the glass and bolshy of length, this textural (thanks to seven months on lees), crisp, mouth-watering, gently saline, spritz-less Vinho Verde has palate-tickling acidity and notes of acacia blossom, pear, orange, grass, linden, laurel, lime and bay leaf. It reminds me a little of Riesling and will age well over the next decade. A revelation with caldo verde, punheta de bacalhau (raw cod salad, not unlike ceviche) with cornbread, mackerel and fritto misto. Finely tuned, moreish and, most importantly, delectable.

Located an hour’s drive north of Porto on the banks of the River Lima, just a stone’s throw from the historic riverside escape of Ponte de Lima (home to an excellent wine cooperative and a market, dating from 1125, that takes place every two weeks on Monday), Ameal’s a haven for wine tourism, trekking and water sports. It’s situated in the most rural part of Vinho Verde and a great place to discover the Lima Valley and Loureiro grape. Accommodation is available. e: reservas.ameal@esporao.com

Lovers of biodynamic wine should also visit nearby top-tier Aphros Wine, some 6km down the River Lima from Ameal, which has notably fine pét nat sparklers, Loureiro and a delicious, sweet and sour red made from the characterful, deeply coloured, high-acid Vinhão grape (aka Sousão in the Douro, Vinho Verde’s fourth most-planted grape variety) – just the ticket with grilled fish, especially sardines. Guided visits are available. Great tasting room and wine bar. w. aphros-wine.com/en/visit-us

4)2023 Soalheiro ‘Clássico’ Alvarinho Vinho Verde

£19.25-£21.95 Whisky Exchange, Oxford Wine Company, Hennings Wine, The Good Wine Shop, 12.5% | w: soalheiro.com | in Alvaredo

Soalheiro’s vineyards were established in 1974 in far northeastern Alvaredo, in the municipality of Melgaço, one of Portugal’s most northerly towns (just under a two-hour drive from Porto), overlooking the River Minho, just 500m from the Spanish border. The winery’s name means ‘a sunny place,’ a reference to the luminous microclimate. Soalheiro’s present owners, brother and sister António Luís and Maria João Cerdeira produce some of Portugal’s best Alvarinhos.

Catnip for white Vinho Verde wine aficionados, this dazzling, unoaked, age-worthy ‘Clássico’ Alvarinho has a distinctive mineral-like pulse and brims with blossomy grapefruit, lemon balm, peach and orchard fruit. Classy, compelling drinking. Hello, oysters! The winery offers a superb visitor experience. Stay at the Casa das Infusões (yes, Soalheiro produces fine organic herbal teas too!), which accommodates six people. e: enoturismo@soalheiro.com

5)2021 Parcela Única Alvarinho Vinho Verde, Anselmo Mendes

£36.99-£47.50 Delicias, Hedonism and Fortnum & Mason, 13% | w. anselmomendes.pt | in Melgaço

Influential Anselmo Mendes (aka ‘Mr. Alvarinho’) is one of Vinho Verde’s foremost winemakers, producing outstanding, finely-etched, long-lived, mineral-driven wines with nervy acidity in the Monção e Melgaço region, adjoining the Spanish border, well protected from the Atlantic coast. You may not look at this distinctive thick-skinned white grape variety in the same way ever again! It was fermented and aged in 400-litre new French oak barrels for nine months with lees stirring, resulting in a delightful combination of orange blossom, hazelnut, and white peach, with subtle notes of flint and vanilla. Long and complex, it’s a study in restraint and deliciously gastronomic. As good as it is now, this will continue to improve for some time. Guided visits/tastings at Quinta da Torre in Moreira. Beaujolais lovers will enjoy Mendes’ silky red wine (100% Alvarelhão/Brancelho), Pardusco Private. enoturismo@anselmomendes.pt

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