Vinho Verde is the biggest DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) in Portugal and occupies the cooly, rainy northwestern province of Minho. The land is almost entirely an elevated granite plateau traversed by rivers, including the Vinho Verde River which divides the region from Rías Baixas in Spain.
Vinho Verde translates as “green wine,” which refers to its early drinkability rather than to its color (a common misperception). In truth, green could just as easily describe the lush, fertile countryside of this region, known for its ability to produce a plethora of agricultural goods.
Wine was grown in the Minho as far back as the Romans, led by religious orders and produced mostly for domestic consumption. Vinho Verde was first demarcated as a wine region in 1908 and became a DOC in 1984.
Like neighboring Galicia in Spain, Minho has substantial Celtic influences. The region was part of the Roman Province and early medieval Kingdom of Gallaecia. Historical remains dot the landscape, a highlight being the Briteiros Iron Age hill fort, which was the largest Gallaecian stronghold in northern Portugal.
In terms of cuisine, the coastal influence is felt in Vinho Verde more than any other region in Portugal. Nearly everything the ocean has to offer is utilized in both new and time-tested preparations, all of which pairs perfectly with the local wine. Particularly popular dishes are octopus, hake, sardines, and, of course, bacalhau.
Vinho Verde is one of the greenest and wettest parts of Portugal, with rainfall averaging over 120” per year. The land there is so fertile and the farming so dense, that vines were traditionally trained high off the ground in a system called enforcado. Vines would grow over trees and hedges forming a canopy beneath which other crops were planted. This practice dates back to the introduction of maize in the 16th century, which created an unprecedented demand for farmland. Today’s modern practices involve trellis systems which hike vines up just enough to avoid rot and shade from surrounding vegetation while maximizing sun exposure.
Vinho Verde is known for its light, crisp, and aromatic whites. They are high in acidity, sometimes with a touch of sweetness, and often bottled with a slight effervescence in a style called petillánt. They are a perfect match for the local oily seafood, such as herring, mackerel and sardines. White grapes include Alvarinho (Albariño in Spain), Loureiro, Trajadura, Arinto, and Avesso.
Today, the DOC has been divided into many sub-regions, each with its preferred grape varieties and styles. For example, in the drier, hotter area to the north around the Minho River, you can find perfumed and exotic whites from Alvarinho. To the south around the Douro River, you’ll find wines featuring the creamy minerality of the Avesso grape.
Vinho Verde is not limited to white wines. The reds are deep red and tannic, mostly made from Vinhão, Borraçal and Amaral. The rosés are fresh and fruity, usually made from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes. The DOC has also permitted fully sparkling wines since 1999. Note that DOC Vinho Verde and the VR Minho share the same boundaries, but DOC wines follow stricter regulations.