Jolly Green Giant – Vinho Verde

For our 6th WineKnow event on the wines of Portugal, I wanted to get people excited about Vinho Verde – those cheap ($8-15), fresh, low-alcohol, almost transparent, off-dry and slightly sparkling wines from the north.

I’m all about matching wine with MOOD. And a chilled bottle of fruity, barely bubbling Vinho Verde pairs perfectly with scorching day at la playa (ahem, a praia). Plus, with alcohol levels that range from 9-11%, these wines aren’t gonna knock you out.

Unfortunately, Vinho Verde (Green Wine) is a terrible name for a wine region. Everyone guesses that the wine is made from green-skinned grapes or grapes that are a bit unripe. In fact, the ‘green’ in the name just means that the wines are ‘young’ (released within a few months of the crush).

I mean, can you imagine telling your girlfriend that you’ve got a romantic weekend of wine-tasting in Red Wine?

The Vinho Verde region is basically the Portuguese province of Minho, which stretches north of the Douro River (which flows into the Atlantic at Porto) and the frontier with Spanish Galicia. The climate, landscapes, grapes and wines of Vinho Verde and Galicia are similar. Both look a lot more like the area around Seattle than Sevilla.

Most Vinho Verde whites are blends, and several dozen grapes are allowed in the blend, most of which you will have never had before. The best of them are Alvarinho (yes, the same as Albarino), Louriero, Arinto, Avesso and Trajadura.

The label makes it pretty clear what this wine is all about!

Unfortunately, lax labeling means that it is almost impossible to ascertain whether the bottle you’re buying has a classic profile (slightly sparkling, slightly sweet) or is bone-dry and still! There is a lot of innovation happening across the large Vinho Verde region and the information on the wines hasn’t kept up.

So I did the needful and bought a half-dozen Vinho Verdes to try.

The Praia was fruity, petillant and delightful. Tasted a bit like a fruity Prosecco but with less bubbles.

A bit more ‘serious’ than the Praia

The Aveleda was a bit drier with similar bubbles.

The Blanka was my favorite: very lightly sparkling (as in, it wasn’t obviously sparkling when I poured it), fruity but not cloying.

“Branco” on the label tells you it’s a blend of white grapes

In the end, I selected the Fifth Empire “Destino” bottling for the WineKnow event. It didn’t even have Vinho Verde on the front label because they wanted people to focus on the blend of Alvarinho and Loureiro.

Since Vinho Verde wines are so cheap, I’d suggest you do the same thing: buy 4-6 different bottles and see which flavor/sparkle profile you like best. Then buy a case and store them in a cold fridge for your next beach day.