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. The name literally means "green wine," but translates as "young wine", as opposed to mature wine. It may be red, white or rosé, and it is meant to be consumed within a year of bottling. 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 sparkling 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 and instead complete malolactic fermentation prior to bottling with the slight sparkle being added by artificial carbonation.
The region is characterized by its many small growers, which numbered more than 30,000 as of 2005. Many of these growers train their vines high off the ground, up trees, fences, and even telephone poles so that they can cultivate vegetable crops below the vines that their families may use as a food source. Most countries limit the use of the term Vinho Verde to only those wines that come from the Minho region in Portugal. In Europe, this principle is enshrined in the European Union by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status.
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. Even today, vines are trained on tall trellises, although now that has more to do with reducing rot caused by the region's high rainfall (1500 mm on average). Another problem is that the rainfall encourages vegetative growth which shades the grapes.
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 1929, with recognition as a Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) in 1984. The DOC is overseen by the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes ("Wine Commission of the Vinho Verde Region").
The Vinho Verde DOC 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.
Further, two special designations are connected to a grape variety and a wine style, Vinho Verde Alvarinho and Vinho Verde Alvarinho Espumante.
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 alcohol levels of 12.5%. 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.
- Grossman, Harold J., Grossman's Guide to wines, beers, & spirits. Scribner. ISBN 0-684-17772-2. p. 158
- R. Boulton, V. Singleton, L. Bisson, R. Kunkee Principles and Practices of Winemaking pgs 251-253 Springer 1996 New York ISBN 978-1-4419-5190-8
- T. Stevenson "The Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia" pg 333 Dorling Kindersley 2005 ISBN 0-7566-1324-8
- "Chronology". Comissao de Viticultura da regiao dos vinhos verdes. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-08-22. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
- "?". Comissao de Viticultura da regiao dos vinhos verdes. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-01-24. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
- "Vinho Verde". Comissao de Viticultura da regiao dos vinhos verdes. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2007-04-28.
- "Production Statistics". Comissao de Viticultura da regiao dos vinhos verdes. 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-28.[dead link]
- Official Journal of the European Union C 187/1, 8.8.2009: List of quality wines produced in specified regions (reflects situation as of July 31, 2009)
- "Grape Varieties for the Vinho Verde". Comissao de Viticultura da regiao dos vinhos verdes. 2006. Retrieved 2007-04-28.[dead link]
- vinhoverde.pt Official website of the Comissão de Viticultura da região dos vinhos verdes
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