Vinho Verde is a Portuguese wine that originated in the historic Minho province in the far north of the country. The modern-day 'Vinho Verde' region, originally designated in 1908, includes the old Minho province plus adjacent areas to the south. In 1976, the old province was dissolved.
Vinho Verde is not a grape varietal, it is a CAO for the production of wine. The name literally means "green wine," but translates as "young wine". It may be red, white, rosé and are usually consumed soon after bottling. Although a Vinho Verde can also be a sparkling, a Late Harvest or even Brandy. In its early years of production, the slight effervesce of the wine came from malolactic fermentation taking place in the bottle. In winemaking this is usually considered a wine fault but Vinho Verde producers found that consumers liked the slightly fizzy nature. However, the wines had to be packaged in opaque bottles in order to hide the unseemly turbidity and sediment that the "in-bottle MLF" produced. Today, most Vinho Verde producers no longer follow this practice with the slight sparkle being added by artificial carbonation.
The region is characterized by its many small growers, which numbered around 19,000 as of 2014. Many of these growers used to train their vines high off the ground, up trees, fences, and even telephone poles so that they could cultivate vegetable crops below the vines that their families may use as a food source.
The Vinhos Verdes are light and fresh. At less than one bar of CO2 pressure, they do not quite qualify as semi-sparkling wines but do have a definite pétillance, the quality in wine of being only slightly sparkling. The white Vinho Verde is very fresh, due to its natural acidity, with fruity and floral aromas that depend on the grape variety. The white wines are lemon- or straw-coloured, around 8.5 to 11% alcohol, and are made from local grape varieties Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal. Vinho Alvarinho is made from Alvarinho grapes, from a small designated subregion of Monção and Melgaço. It has more alcohol (11.5 to 14%) and ripe tropical aromas. The reds are deep red and tannic, and are mostly made from Vinhão, Borraçal and Amaral grapes. The rosés are very fresh and fruity, usually made from Espadeiro and Padeiro grapes.
A record exists of a winery being donated to the Alpendurada convent in Marco de Canaveses in 870 AD, and the vineyards seem to have expanded over the following centuries, planted by religious orders and encouraged by tax breaks. Wines were mostly produced for domestic consumption, although Vinho Verde may have been exported in the 12th century, to England, Germany, and Flanders. The first definite exports to England are recorded by John Croft as taking place in 1788.
The arrival of maize in the 16th century left a distinctive stamp on viticulture in the region. To maximise production of maize, new regulations banished vines to the field margins, where they would be draped over trees and hedges, forcing the vignerons to pick them from tall ladders. Today, you can find some examples of vines trained byt the old methods, but most of the Vinho Verde Region is now using modern methods, which give larger and better yield.
The "Vinho Verde Region" was demarcated by the law of September 18, 1908 and a decree of October 1 of the same year. The regulations controlling production were largely set in 1926, with recognition as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) in 1984. The AOC is overseen by the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes ("Wine Commission of the Vinho Verde Region").
The Vinho Verde AOC is divided into nine subregions, which may be indicated on the wine label together with the name of Vinho Verde, for example as Vinho Verde-Amarante. The subregions are: Amarante, Ave, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção e Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa.
The grape varieties recommended or permitted for the DOC are as follows:
- Recommended white grapes: Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura
- Permitted white grapes: Branco-Escola, Cainho de Moreira, Cascal, Douradinha, Esganinho, Esganoso de Castelo de Paiva, Esganoso de Lima, Fernão Pires, Lameiro, Rabigato, S. Mamede and Semilão
- Recommended red grapes: Amaral, Azal Tinto, Borraçal, Brancelho, Espadeiro, Padeiro, Pedral, Rabo de Ovelha and Vinhão
- Permitted red grapes: Doçal, Doçal de Refóios, Espadeiro Mole, Labrusco, Mourisco, Pical Pôlho, Sousão and Verdelho Tinto.
The two most successful white wine varieties are Alvarinho and Loureiro. Alvarinho tends to produce low yields and can reach much higher alcohol levels. The grape is widely planted in the northern Minho between the Lima Valley and Spanish border. Loureiro produces higher yields but very aromatic wines. The most successful red wine grape has been Vinhao, followed by Azal Tinto and Espadeiro. These grapes can produce wines with deep purple coloring and peppery notes.
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