Supreme green: exploring the next level of Vinho Verde wines

Vinho Verde produces wines of complexity and depth, says David Kermode, despite the region's association with fruity simplicity. Here, he selects five bottles that demonstrate the range of high-quality wines on offer

Words by David Kermode

vinho verde lead
Anselmo Mendes looks over the vines at Quinta da Torre in northern Portugal (Photo: Hugo Pinheiro)

Famed for their gentle spritz, low alcohol and fruity simplicity, to most of us a bottle of Vinho Verde would seem perfectly suited to a summertime lunch or even leisurely afternoon ‘sessioning’ – but probably not dinner. Yet there’s a small subset of these wines that offer a stunning level of complexity and depth that might make the region’s white wines Portugal’s best kept secret.

Translating literally as ‘green wine’, the name Vinho Verde is often assumed to be a nod to youthful freshness but it is actually inspired by the verdant nature of this vast swathe of Portugal’s north-west. It runs from the Atlantic coast into the mountains and is sandwiched by two rivers: the Minho, along the northerly border with Spain and the Douro with its mouth in the city of Porto. Visit Vinho Verde’s lush, salad bowl countryside at pretty much any time of the year and the only colour to rival green is the blue of the sky, assuming it’s not raining, which it does… a lot: average rainfall is around 1,200 millimetres a year.

There’s a small subset of Vinho Verde wines that offer a stunning level of complexity and depth

For those tapping into the zeitgeist concern about wine homogeneity, most especially the ubiquity of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Vinho Verde offers a refreshing antidote, with a treasure trove of indigenous grapes focused on a ‘super six’ of white varieties – Alvarinho (aka: Albariño), Loureiro, Avesso, Arinto, Azal and Trajadura – each of them thriving in different parts of the region’s nine sub-zones.

Vinho Verde grape harvest
A harvest in Vinho Verde: wines in the DOC are made from indigenous grapes, including Alvarinho, Loureiro, Avesso, Arinto, Azal, Trajadura (Photo: Hugo Pinheiro)

Historically, blending between these varieties was the backbone of Vinho Verde’s success, as is often the case in regions at the mercy of the elements. However, this century has seen a greater focus on varietal winemaking to showcase the intriguing peculiarities of the native grapes. Traditionally, a typical Vinho Verde has offered a light sparkle – a spritz of carbon dioxide, resulting from malolactic fermentation (the conversion of malic acid into lactic acid, to soften acidity and add texture), which, legend has it, was initially a happy accident but these days that’s usually reserved for cheap and cheerful examples.

While Vinho Verde enjoys an enviable level of awareness amongst wine drinkers, in the United States as well as Europe, the region’s wines are still synonymous with value and unlikely to grace the lists of many fine-dining establishments. This is a shame because the high-end varietal wines offer great pairing potential, chiefly for fish dishes, a natural match in their home market on the Atlantic coast.

The high-end varietal wines offer great pairing potential

President of trade body, the Vinho Verde Commission, Dora Simōes, admits the diversity of styles now coming from the region presents a challenge: ‘Of those that produce the lighter style [of Vinho Verde], most also produce wines in the more age-worthy, complex style … while some only produce the more upscale wines, [so] we are working to figure out a name or category in order to separate them … we will have some work to do, so that selling Vinho Verde becomes easier, but it is important to maintain both styles in the region,’ she tells me.

Though Vinho Verde is yet to establish an obvious, navigable pyramid of quality for its wines, it is definitely worth exploring the different grape varieties – from the seashell minerality of Alvarinho to the floral nuances of Loureiro, Arinto’s vibrant orchard fruit acidity or Avesso’s gentle, textured citrus character – using price as a determinant of quality. Here are five of the best Vinho Verde wines, available in the UK, to get you started.

Five wines showcasing the quality of Vinho Verde

Azevedo vinho verde

Azevedo, Vinho Verde 2023

A thoroughly modern, well-made Vinho Verde from one of the region’s biggest producers, which eschews any spritz to focus on lemon zest and crunchy green apple freshness. Dry with gentle textural charm, it offers great quality for the price.

£10, Waitrose

Chin Chin vinho verde

Quinta do Ermizio, Chin Chin, Vinho Verde 2023

A cult classic during the lockdown years, Noble Rot’s house white was an early ‘Instagram wine’, thanks to a natty label designed by artist Jose Mendez. The modern styling belies the wine, which is relatively old school: an easy-summer-sipping blend of Loureiro, Arinto and Trajadura, with citrus and a gentle sparkle.

£13, Shrine to the Vine

Muros Antigos

Anselmo Mendes, Muros Antigos Alvarinho, Vinho Verde 2023

From a winemaker who works across the region showcasing single varieties and is not afraid to experiment, this is a textbook Alvarinho with bags of juicy stone fruit, tangy grapefruit acidity and lithe texture. Lay this down for a year or so, if you have the patience.

£14.95 at The Wine Society


Soalheiro, Alvarinho Primeiras Vinhas 2022

From one of the top producers in Monção and Melgaço, where it’s a little warmer and drier, there’s juicy ripe peach and apricot, hints of tropical fruit, balanced by lemon acidity and rounded off by a delicious sea breeze salinity. This is a wine that was born for a pint of prawns.

£28, The Good Wine Shop

Sem Igual

Sem Igual, Ramadas Metal, White, 2018

Produced from old vines, in excess of 70 years of age, this is a deliciously complex blend of Azal and Arinto, with toasty nutty notes, ripe apricot, honey and baked apple, the pristine fruit balanced by a firm citrus acidity. A gastronomic wine that offers a glimpse of Vinho Verde’s potential.

£30.39, Portugal Vineyards