THE city of Oporto (Porto) is known for port, and there is much
justification for this, for it gave its name to the wine, as did
the city of Jerez to sherry, and, until quite recently, this had to
be aged in the warehouses, across the River Douro, in the twin town
of Vila Nova de Gaia. There is, however, another vineyard region
whose vines surround the city to the north and east. This is the
only Portuguese wine region that has no geographic connotation:
In Britain, Vinho Verde is almost invariably seen as a light
white wine, often with a hint of acidity. Because of its crisp
freshness, it can make an ideal wine for summer drinking at an
affordable price. But, in Portugal, it is multi-faceted. Indeed,
until comparatively recently, there was more red Vinho Verde
produced than white, and even now it accounts for 40 per cent of
production. The red version has an acidity that acts as a wonderful
match to the oiliness of the freshly grilled sardines that, in
season, are the feature dish of the restaurants in the Oporto
suburb of Matosinhos.
White Vinho Verde can be made from a broad variety of grapes.
The majority of wines are therefore blends of three or more
varieties. One of the problems is humidity - this is one of the
rainiest regions in Europe. Traditionally, the vines were planted
"promiscuously", being trained up trees. Now, however, most of the
vines are trained on head-high wires, so that the breezes can dry
them. Of all the varieties for the white , the best are probably
the Loureiro, the Trajadura, and the Alvarinho.
This last grape featured in an article of mine some months ago;
for it is the same as the Albariño of the Rías Baixas region of
Spanish Galicia. The vineyards of the two countries face each other
across the River Minho. There is a Rota do Vinho Verde Alvarinho,
based on the beautiful town of Monҫão, perched on a bluff
overlooking the river.
One of the highest-reputed producers in the area is the Baroque
Palácio de Brejoeira, inhabited by the 96-year-old Herminia de
Oliveira Paes. Sadly, her wine is not sold in this country.
Alvarinho wines are generally sold in brown "flute" bottles, and
are more expensive than the regular Vinho Verde.
This region includes the historic cities of Braga and Guimaraes,
and the beautiful resort of Viana do Castelo. The Spanish border is
little more than an hour from Oporto, with its airport lying on the
right side for an easy getaway. I suggest that you take with you
Charles Metcalfe and Kathryn McWhirter's The Wine and Food
Lover's Guide to Portugal (Inn House, 2007), a wonderful
source for not just the best wineries to visit, but also where to
eat, and where to stay.
One of the leading commercial producers of Vinho Verde is
Sogrape. Its Quinta de Azevedo 2011 is available from Waitrose for
£7.29, and the 2012 from Majestic for £7.99 (£5.99 a bottle if you
buy two). Tanners of Shrewsbury offer the Vidigal 2011, which they
claim has "plenty of zippy, sherbet fruit", for £7.
If you cannot visit the region, at least try some of its wine