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A Closer Look at the Dynamic, Premium Wines of Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is an exciting wine producing region (Designation of Origin) in the Minho Region of northwestern Portugal. I have visited this lush, green, and verdant countryside many times. I had the honor of being the United States Ambassador for the wine region for many years and can speak from experience about how age-worthy, unique, food friendly, and versatile the wines are. When we discuss  premium wines from Europe, Vinho Verde has to be a part of the conversation—and while the low alcohol, cheerful wines with a slight spritz have started the dialogue among wine lovers, the discussion must continue by exploring the grapes, sub-regions and ageability of Vinho Verde.

To understand why I implore you to discover these for yourself, let me paint a colorful picture of what it feels like to be visiting the region. Vinho Verde is a cool, Atlantic Ocean influenced region that takes her name from the area’s green countryside and dense foliage. It is the largest and oldest high quality wine region in Portugal. This amphitheater of vines is planted mainly on granite soils that hug the mountains surrounding rivers that release into the ocean, from the northern border with Spain and the Minho River, to the coast, to the lively city of Oporto, and even inland south of the Douro River.

The varying altitudes and microclimates allow for nine sub-regions—Ave, Amarante, Baião, Basto, Cávado, Lima, Monção & Melgaço, Paiva, and Sousa—which are named after the rivers they surround. I fondly remember studying these sub-regions when I was working towards my Master Som­melier diploma.

Monção & Melgaço is a sub-region that is slightly warmer in climate, blocked from the cooling breeze of the Atlantic Ocean by the Iberian Mas­sif Mountains. They produce textured, fuller, spicier versions of Alvarinho. During one of my visits, I tried a vertical tasting of Alvarinho wines with some age, and they were just as dynamic as some of Europe’s other great wines such as the trocken Rieslings of the Rheingau, or the steely whites of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume. We enjoyed these with the local Bacalhau com Natas (baked codfish with cream) and I still dream about the elegant texture and decadent, yet refreshing and salty quality of both the Alvarinho and the cod.

The sub-region of Baião is on the border with the Douro DOP and allows for a temperate climate which is well suited for the area’s late-ripening va­rieties, including Avesso. There is tremendous opportunity for this grape, which has good aging potential and reminds me of the best Chablis wines with its texture, bright acidity and green apple, lemon rind notes.

Lima is an area that receives a lot of rainfall and is known for the Loureiro grape. It is here that floral undertones of honeysuckle and lilies as well as citrus blossom really shine. I love these wines as aperitifs on hot summer days with prosciutto and melon.

All styles are produced in Vinho Verde, including sparkling, white, rosé, and even light red wines. In my travels, I’ve tasted examples that would be darlings of the sommelier and wine enthusiast community, and all have bright, refreshing, tart acidity that serve as the backbone of the wines and make them so food-friendly. Whether it is mineral-laden Avesso, the floral Loureiro, the age-worthy and noble Alvarinho, or the red-fruited, concen­trated red Vinhão grape.

I live in Shelter Island, New York and we have incredible access to local Long Island clams—and I recently devoured a bowl of clam and corn chowder paired with a premium Vinho Verde made from a blend of grapes and was transported right back to the region, a land of small growers with tiny holdings who are open to innovation and so proud of their traditions. Vinho Verde is truly a land of beauty—in landscape, the people, and the wines—and I can’t wait to get back. In the meantime, I am traveling via my wine glass.

By Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, Master Sommelier

One of only 28 female Master Sommeliers in the world, Laura Maniec Fiorvanti is the CEO and owner of pop­ular wine bar Corkbuzz, which has multiple locations in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina. Laura has contributed to numerous industry publications, Food & Wine, and the New York Times, and also sits on the board of directors of the Guild of Sommeliers. She appeared in the hit wine documentary Somm 3.

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