Vinho Verde is a well-known DOC in the Minho region of north-western Portugal. Each year it is responsible for vast quantities of straw-yellow, light-bodied, tangily tart wines produced from many thousands of smallholdings throughout the region. And amid the wash of white wine is the faint glimmer of ruby-tinged red Vinho Verde, relatively hard to come by outside Portugal, but worth the effort.
A quantity of the wines made here are so fresh and youthful that they earn the moniker verde ('green'), which applies even to the reds. Although not sufficiently effervescent to be officially classed as sparkling wines, much white Vinho Verde has an obvious petillance. They are most often based on such classic Portuguese white-wine grapes as Arinto, Loureiro and Trajadura. The tart, zingy reds employ the services of the Azal Tinto, Vinhao and Espadeiro vine varieties.
It isn't just the wine here that is green; the countryside is lush and leafy across much of Minho. Vines are grown in the majority of properties, whose average area is just a few acres. The tell-tale sign of a Vinho Verde vineyard is not just its diminutive size, but its upwards orientation: the density of viticulture here is such that most farmers train their vines on high pergolas, and even telephone poles.
The famous Douro river crosses the southern fifth of Minho, in the latter stages of its long journey from the hills of Castilla y Leon. Along this stretch of river, Port, the nation's most famous wine, is transported to the town of Porto from the Douro vineyards. Vinho Verde and port could barely be further apart on the spectrum of wine styles.
Minho, the historical province which corresponds roughly to the Vinho Verde viticultural area, is named after the Minho river. This flows along the region's northern edge, skirting the international border between Portugal and Spain. The Minho river rises in the hills around Lugo in Spanish Galicia, and for the majority of its south-westward course snakes through the countryside on the Spanish side of the border.
The region's proximity to the Atlantic Ocean accounts for its highly productive terroir. Rain-bearing winds blow in from the Atlantic, allowing yields to rise much higher than they can in drier, inland regions such as neighboring Transmontano. High rainfall and humid summers in this part of Portugal mean that fungal diseases are a perennial threat. The ventilation provided by the open, vertically trained vines partially help to counter this.
The vineyards which surround Moncao, a town on the Spanish border, are typically viewed as some of the finest sources of Vinho Verde. They stand out from their mainstream counterparts not only in their flavor profile, but also in their general quality. The yields here are low relative to those harvested on the coast, resulting in a noticeably fuller style of wine. Moncao wines are the only ones exempt from the 11.5% alcohol-by-volume maximum stipulated in the Vinho Verde production laws, and often reach closer to 13%. Alvarinho is usually the grape of choice here, an indicator of Moncao's proximity to Albarino-centric Rias Baixas, in north-western Spain.