Vinho Verde isnít green in colour. Verde, Portuguese for green, is used here to mean a young wine. It is a fresh wine meant to be drunk within a year of its vintage. This week, while I have been in northern Portugal, I have probably drunk more Vinho Verde than over the past twenty years. It is an ideal lunch-time drink, being low on alcohol at 10% and with a slight petillance producing tiny bubbles that tingle on your tongue.
It is not clear to me why this simple fresh young wine from Portugalís northern Minho region should have gained its international reputation, because all wine regions produce young wines for locals to drink from a carafe with food. Maybe we wouldnít have heard of it if shipments of Port hadnít opened export markets to Portuguese wines.
Vineyards in this area are distinctive. There are many thousand of grape growers but large fields with straight rows of vines, such as you find in other regions, are rare here. Instead from the road can be seen a patchwork of small fields each ringed with vines trained on high T shaped poles to create a flat canopy that a man can walk below.
This practice dates from a long ago edict that encouraged farmers to productively use the land by growing food crops under the vines. The grapes elevated position enables air to flow freely around them which helps avoid mildew while shading ground crops from sun burn.
Vinho Verde wines can be red or white and a carafe of red in a local cafe, purple in colour and served chilled with a taste of blackcurrants and streak of acidity, is most refreshing but white wines are most common. Often the exported wines are sweetened because grapes for Vinho Verde are picked before they are fully ripe and make wines with a sharp crispness deemed to acidic for foreign success.
Portugal abounds with hundreds of indigenous grape varieties, few of which are encountered elsewhere and it is rare that a variety name is shown on a Vinho Verde label. An exception is for made for the best, and best known, variety ó the white Alvarinho, known as Albarino across the border in Spain.
But Vinho Verde is a wine for drinking, not for thinking too much about or querying its contents. A plate of simple local food in a village square, a sunny day and a glass of Vinho Verde and I am content.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africaís Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.