Green Wine? An Introduction to Vinho Verde

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Written by: | Last updated on December 20, 2023 | Est. Reading Time: 8 minutes
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Vinho Verde (which is sometimes translated as “green wine”) is a crisp, aromatic, low alcohol, and often slightly spritzy wine from the North of Portugal. Despite the translation, Vinho Verde is never green: it’s usually a white wine, although it’s possible to get red Vinho Verde and rosé vinho verde as well.

Green, as discussed below, means young rather than anything to do with its colour. In fact, the only thing that really makes a Vinho Verde a Vinho Verde is that it comes from the Vinho Verde region.

You’ll find Vinho Verde in every supermarket in Portugal, and just about every menu in every Portuguese restaurant. It used to be hard to get it outside of Portugal, and often you would have to seek out a specialist shop. These days, most decent wine shops will stock a bottle and it’s increasingly being stocked by supermarkets as well.

Thankfully, a few commercial producers in Portugal had already begun modernising their methods just before the Vinho Verde boom happened or else it might have been very hard to get a hold of a bottle outside of Portugal.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Vinho Verde region was characterised almost solely by small holdings. People would grow the vines in a very unorderly manner: up the sides of fences, pillars, telephone poles, and trees – anything that meant that they could also use the fields for growing vegetables and letting their animals graze. Naturally, this meant that each lot had a very small yield and everything had to be picked by hand.

Over the past few years, the Vinho Verde region has changed considerably as both Portugal and the wider world have grown an appreciation for this wonderful Portuguese wine. Although this has meant that several large vineyards have dominated the Portuguese supermarket shelves as well as the export market, that doesn’t mean that small producers don’t still exist. They do. The majority of the region is still made up of small growers who work together with local co-ops, and as of 2014 there were around 19,000 small growers in the region. The big producers, like Aveleda, are probably the exception, but they do dominate a lot of the market.

Although the past few years have been charicterised by modernisation, that doesn’t mean that all the romance is gone. The popularity of Vinho Verde has lead to several vineyards becoming experimental and creating Vinho Verde wines that didn’t really exist before like single varietal or oak-aged Vinho Verdes.

So, it isn’t actually green?

Green, as mentioned, doesn’t mean that the wine is actually green. If you were worried that you were going to have to drink something the colour of pond water, that probably comes as a relief. Or, maybe it comes as a disappointment. It wasn’t that long ago that orange wine was all the rage, so it wouldn’t be surprising if people were keen to try something that looked like it had been made by Gatorade.

Vinho Verde is usually a white wine, although that isn’t always the case. You can also get red and rosé vinho verde as well.

Although there are a few theories as to where the name Vinho Verde comes from, the most accepted theory is that it means young. The bottles are released roughly 3-6 months after harvest, which means that the wine isn’t really aged.

It’s rare for a Vinho Verde to be oak-aged, although some producers have begun experimenting. Vinification occurs only in stainless steel vats.

It’s also meant to be drunk young, traditionally at least. Don’t put this in your cellar expecting it to improve, just drink it. Knowing that it’s meant to be drunk straight away, some manufacturers don’t even bother putting the vintage date on the bottle.

The different types of Vinho Verde

Since Vinho Verde is the name of the region, that means there can be a lot of different variations. First off, you don’t just get white Vinho Verdes but also red and rosés.

But even white Vinho Verdes taste different to each other, and it isn’t just to do with price. There are certain characteristics of a white Vinho Verde that most whites share – it’s a light, crisp, and aromatic wine that often has a little fizz and may be slightly sweet – but the flavour can vary depending on the grapes used.

When it comes to white Vinho Verdes, Loureiro tends to be floral, Trajadura tends to have a steely flavour, Arinto (also known as Pedernã) tends to be minerally, Avesso also tends to be minerally but with combined creamy notes, and Alvarinho  (the same grape as Spain’s Albariño) tends to be minerally and slightly fragrant.

It’s worth trying to get your hands on a few different Vinho Verdes to see if you can taste the difference, and to see which you like best. Alvarinho, Loureiro, and Trajadura are the main grapes used to make Vinho Verde so start with them before moving onto the others.

Most Vinho Verdes are a blend, but you can find single varietal Vinho Verdes as well and some of them are suitable for aging. Alvarinho and Loureiro tend to be the grapes most commonly used for this, so start off by looking for them.

Grapes used in Vinho Verde

Portuguese grapes is an extremely confusing subject, even for most wine experts. There are more than 250 different grape varieties, and most of them are indigenous to Portugal.

For white wine, you’re most likely to come across Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro, and Trajadura. Other white grapes that may be used are Branco-Escola, Cainho de Moreira, Cascal, Douradinha, Esganinho, Esganoso de Castelo de Paiva, Esganoso de Lima, Fernão Pires, Lameiro, Rabigato, S. Mamede, and Semilão.

For red Vinho Verde, the grapes you’re most likely to come across are Alvarelhão, Amaral, Padeiro, Pedral, Borraçal, Espadeiro, Rabo de Anho, and Vinhão. Other grapes that could be used are Doçal, Doçal de Refóios, Espadeiro Mole, Labrusco, Mourisco, Pical Pôlho, Sousão and Verdelho Tinto.

Rosé vinho verde is normally made from Espadeiro and Padeiro.

Vinho Verde is the name of the region

Vinho Verde is the name of the region. It’s a DOC region that’s situated in the far North of Portugal, above Porto and reaching up as high as the Spanish-Portuguese border.

The Vinho Verde region is then divided into smaller sub-regions: Monção, Melgaço, Lima, Basto, Cávado, Ave, Amarante, Baião, Sousa and Paiva.

Vinho Verde often has a little spritz

One characteristic of Vinho Verde is that it often (but not always) has a little spritz. This isn’t on the same level as champagne or cava, but just enough to be noticeable.

Traditionally this spritz was more accidental than anything else, and happened when a little carbon dioxide got trapped in the bottle. These days, the spritz is usually manually added through artificial carbonation.

As of 1999, some producers are now producing sparkling Vinho Verde wines (called espumante in Portugal). An example of this, which you can easily find in Portuguese supermarkets, is Casal Garcia’s sparkling espumante de Vinho Verde branco which is made from Loureiro and Arinto.

Vinho Verde is fairly low alcohol

Vinho Verde wines are typically very low in alcohol, somewhere between 8.5% ABV and 11% ABV on average. Even at its highest, 11% is still fairly light which makes it popular for lunchtime drinking.

This isn’t the case with all Vinho Verdes, so be sure to check the bottle if you’re looking for something that’s low alcohol. Vinho Verde that’s made from Alvarinho, for example, often tends to be higher in alcohol (typically 11.5 to 14%).

What food pairs well with Vinho Verde?

Vinho Verde goes really well with seafood and, if you visit a marisqueira to try Portugal’s fantastic array of seafood, this is probably the wine you’ll end up drinking.

This isn’t the only food that you can pair Vinho Verde with, though. As it’s normally drunk in summer and often at lunchtime, it tends to pair well with “summery food” like chicken and salads as opposed to stews and heavier foods.

If you have a bottle sitting in the fridge and you’re wondering what to cook with it, take a look at these favourite Portuguese dishes for some ideas. Wine typically pairs well with the food from the region.

Have you tried Vinho Verde? What did you think? Share your reviews and opinions by leaving a comment below. 

Written by

James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.