June 2011

Green All Over

By: Deborah Parker Wong
photos by the author

Vinho Verde producers in Portugal's Minho region realized a healthy 34 percent increase in exports to the U.S. last year according to the Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes (CVRVV) and there are many reasons why the easy-drinking, lower-alcohol wines they produce are striking a chord with consumers.

Blessed vineyards on the 12th-century estate of Quinta de Azevedo.

Interest in Alvarinho (the same variety is called Albariño across the border in Spain's Rias Biaxas region) has drawn attention to the sub-region of Monção e Melgaço where it has DOC status but many of the Minho's nine sub-regions also produce regional Alvarinhos labeled by brand name and variety. These cooler-climate wines tend towards leaner, tropical and green citrus aromas and flavors that mirror the verdant terroir and are competitively priced in relation to those from neighboring Galicia.

Alvarinho's spotlight is casting a warm glow on several other indigenous white varieties namely Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto that also have DOC status and are produced as lower-alcohol Vinho Verdes (under 11.5 percent alcohol) by producers with an eye for quality.

Mono-varietals or blends with more alcohol must also carry the name of the sub-region on the label. Although the Minho region is still dominated by small producers, their numbers are steadily declining as younger generations forgo viticulture as a hobby and large and mid-sized companies amass vineyard sites across several sub-regions. The role and image of cooperatives in the region has shifted as well and many like Ponte de Lima and Ponte da Barca in the Lima sub-region are focused on developing portfolios of brands for export.  The Ponte da Barca cooperative recently opened a sleek consumer tasting room in the town of Ponte da Barca on the Lima river.

All wine styles produced in the region (white, red, rosé and sparkling) are referred to as Vinho Verdes or green wines for their youthful character. Traditionally, the still wines show pétillance from the addition of CO2 at bottling (or the remnants of malolactic fermentation in the reds) which gives them a lively spritz. The practice helps preserve aromas and youthful fruit flavors but winemakers seem to be toning down the style and many of the wines have only the slightest tickle.

The region's sparkling wines like Vinhos Norte's Miogo, a blend of Loureiro and Arinto varieties, demonstrate quality and this Ave producer's success using local grape varieties with the traditional Champagne method.

Many of the Minho's nine sub-regions are named after rivers that flow through their valleys to the Atlantic Ocean; the most notable being the Douro to the south and Minho river which forms the northern border with Spain. The Sousa sub-region just east of Porto is home to the region's largest producer, Avaleda, a 17th-century estate and botanical garden owned for generations by the Guedes family which also has holdings in the Douro and Bairrada.  Signs of new plantings are evident at Avaleda which is championing the Maria Gomez variety and at neighboring Quinta Das Arcas which is moving away from traditional pergola trellising to high-density cordon for its hillside sites.  The 70-hectare Casa de Vila Verde is housed in a 12th-century complex and produces expressive Alvarinho and varietal whites. Wine tourism in Sousa is blossoming and Quinta da Lixa which owns six estates, is constructing a 30-room sustainable hotel, spa and restaurant to cater to Vinho Verde enthusiasts/

Just north of Sousa lies the Vale do Ave sub-region where producer Quinta de Gomariz produces DOC Vinho Verde and Regional Minho wines using only local varieties like Alvarinho, Loureiro for whites, Espadeiro for rosé, and Vinhaõ in reds. The Medieval village of Guimarães located here is considered the birthplace of Portugal and, as a World Heritage site, it draws visitors from all over Europe.  Nearby, in the town of Fafe, highly successful domestic producer Vinhos Norte's modern winery is increasing production of mono-varietals and blends for export. On a high plateau to the east, in the warmer sub-region of Basto, Quinta da Raza's estate is planted to clay and schist soils which are rare among the homogenous sandy, granitic soils of the Minho.  Older Alvarinho vines and the rare Azal variety respond to warmer temperatures here.

In the coastal Cávado sub-region near the town of Lama, Portugal's largest producer Sogrape owns the stunning Quinta de Azavedo. The company made news recently when they bottled their 2010 Vinho Verde, a blend of Loureiro and Pedernã, under screwcap. Azaveda's global brand Gazella is a non vintage blend that currently has ten percent of the world's market for Vinho Verde.

While the majority of Vinho Verde's Alvarinho is planted in the northern-most sub regions of Lima and Monção e Melgaço in Lima, it's the emerging white varieties and the rustic red Vinhaõ that shine. Biodynamic producer Afros, located just north of the Ponte de Barca cooperative, produces Lourerio and an international-style Vinhaõ that spends eight months in French oak. Afros' charismatic winemaker Vacso Croft subscribes to the ancient Japanese belief that our life is extended every time we experience something new.

Monção e Melgaço, the region's DOC for Alvarinho, produces many world-class examples that are lower in alcohol and different in flavor profile than their Spanish counterparts. Provam, a producer located between the towns of Monção and Melgaço buys grapes from nine different growers for its white-only portfolio. Quinta de Touquinheiras is a single estate that produces Riesling-like Alvarinhos and Clémen, a charming Alvarinho and Trajadura blend. Alvarinho gets the sparkling treatment at Adego de Monção which produces a non vintage reserve in addition to a portfolio of mono-varietals and blends.


Vinhos Norte NV Cruzeiro Branco
Ave sub-region. Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto blend with tropical fruit aromas, light, creamy fruit on mid-palate; slight pétillance. 9°.

Quinta da Raza 2010 Dom Diogo Alvarinho
Basto sub-region. Mineral-driven honeydew and citrus aromas. Basto's warmer climate adds weight to the mid-palate of citrus and apple. 13.5°.

Quinta de Gomariz 2010 Branco
Ave sub-region. Alvarinho and Tradjadura blend with delicate pear aromas, clean citrus-driven mid-palate and persistent lemon verbena finish. 11.5°.

Adega de Monção NV Reserva Sparkling
Monção sub-region. Perfumed nose of mango and almond; full-bodied with delicate stone fruit flavors and crisp finish. 13°.

PROVAM 2010 Portal do Fidalgo Alvarinho
Monção sub-region. Soft aromas of apple blossom opening to bright, intense mineral and citrus flavors. 12.5°.


Quinta das Arcas 2009 Arca Nova Loureiro
Sousa sub-region. Green, tropical fruit and orange blossom aromas that concentrate on the palate to complex stone fruit all lifted by plenty of CO2. 11.5°.

Quinta das Touquinheiras 2009 Alvarinho
Monção sub-region. Fresh, lively with apple aromas and medium-bodied Meyer lemon, green apple and lychee flavors. 12.5°.
IBERIAN (Connecticut) and MARQUIS (New York) 
   Aveleda 2009 Quinta da Aveleda
Sousa sub-region. 60% Loureiro, 30% Trajadura, 10% Alvarinho. Aromas of chalk and ripe citrus with complex, lean flavors of white stone fruit and mineral finish. 11°.

Casa de Vila 2010 Verde Vinho Verde
Sousa sub-region. A blend of Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, Loureiro and Azal showing stone fruit and citrus aromas with rich, clean peachy flavors and plenty of length. 11.5°.

Quinta da Lixa 2010 Trajadura
Sousa sub-region. Mineral-driven aromas and flavors of green apple and pear, balanced and clean with flinty mineral finish. 11.5°.

  Quinta de Azevedo 2010
Cávado sub-region. 70% Loureiro, 30% Arinto. Citrus and green fruit aromas with bright peach and green pineapple flavors and crisp finish. 10.5°.

Afros Wines 2009 Loureiro
Monção sub-region. Biodynamic production. Ripe apple aromas, mineral-driven, tart green apple flavors and pretty, complex finish. 12°.

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