Over the hills and far away lies a fairy-tale land where green wine is made. What kind of tale is it? Relax: it is a classic and it ends well. Indeed, the name of the land sounds quite poetic and you have to cross the continent to get there. It is a region as green as Ireland, located in the northern part of Portugal, right by the border with Spanish Galicia. Celtic origins are the common denominator of the regions in this part of the Iberian Peninsula, as evidenced by burial mounds, menhirs and the well-preserved fortification of Citânia de Briteiros. Welcome to Minho!
The verdant landscape is the product of the cool and humid microclimate typical of areas located in the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean. The lush greenery of the region is reminiscent of Beskid Mountains rather than arid landscapes that we tend to associate with the Iberian Peninsula. Compared to the shale terraces of Douro or the quasi-desert plains of southern Alentejo, the green, mountainous area around the Minho River may surprise an unsuspecting visitor. It is in the fairytale landscape of Minho that the spiritual core of the country, Braga, lies, together with the historic town of Guimarães, Portugal’s first capital. Wandering along the trails of the Peneda-Gerês National Park, one comes across a number of monasteries and charming towns. The stunning nature and rich culture provide a backdrop for the region where Portugal’s most interesting white wines are produced. Their name perfectly reflects the surroundings: vinhos verdes, that is, green wine.
This legally protected term refers not so much to the colour of the drink, but to its character and ludicrously young age. For when it comes to vinho verde, the younger the better! In their case green, that is, immature – as a greenhorn – is a compliment! Given the climate, light and indigenous grape varieties, green white wine prevails in the region.
Mysteriously-sounding names of arinto, loureiro and trajadura are all grape varieties that deserve a mention in this context. The more famous alvarinho, known for its unique character and solid construction, and the undisputed star of the neighboring Spanish region of Galicia, also grows in Portugal. However, the serious alvarinho is nothing like the typical vinho verde. The latter is always refreshing and light, a perfect drink for a hot day. It seduces with its lightness and simplicity, its fresh aroma and stimulating taste. It winks at you with its joyfully sparking, green eyes. Its refreshing aroma and taste is often highlighted by a hint of carbon dioxide. Its style resembles that of the semi-sparkling Italian frizzante. It is to be enjoyed in a light and casual setting, also due to the low alcohol content – in some cases below 10%! It is to be savoured with fresh vegetables, salads or shrimp. In general, it marries wonderfully with healthy snacks and light dishes. The majority of vinhos verdes are white, but rosé and red varieties also exist. While the rosé, just like white, is a delightfully refreshing summer drink, the red is rather acidic and remains a local, rarely exported speciality. The Portuguese often emphasize the casual style of vinho verde with light-hearted and playful labels that feature floral elements. Bottles are transparent or bluish. Green wines are affordable, which is quite important given the amount consumed in their country of origin. If you fancy the idea, look for a simple vinho verde, preferably from 2018, and no older than 2017. Remember: young age is an asset of green wine!