If you ask an American to name a Portuguese wine, there is a good chance they will come up with “Vinho Verde,” which literally means “green wine,” but is quite simply a new wine that has not aged. And although it is made most frequently from white varietals, it can also be red or rosé. What defines what a “vinho verde” is, and what does it pair well with?
First, a vinho verde is produced in the Minho province of northern Portugal with the idea that it will be consumed within a year of being bottled. It is also slightly fizzy, originally because part of the fermentation took place in the bottle, although now the fermentation is usually completed prior to bottling, and the bubbles are added artificially. It’s not nearly as fizzy as a true sparkler, but provides just enough effervescence to make it lively and sharp.
Vinhos verdes are light, fresh wines, that usually have a low alcohol level, often only 8-10 percent. There is no rule regarding what grape variety must be used, although they must be made from local varieties to receive Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) recognition. White vinhos verdes are usually made from Alvarinho, Loureiro, Azal, Avesso, or Trajadura grapes; rosés from Padeiro or Espadeiro grapes, and reds from Amaral, Borraçal, or Vinhão grapes. As one of the most recognizable Portuguese wines, it is also easy to find outside of Portugal.
The natural acidity of Vinhos verdes makes them pair well with fish and seafood, of course, but also with cheese, much as a champagne or sweeter white would do. Basically, it will pair well with almost any classic Portuguese dish you will find on your travels! It can also pair well with other European dishes. We like serving it with a classic, tangy Italian sarde in saor (marinated sardines).
So the next time you try a classic Portuguese fish dish, such as bacalhau (cod), sardinhas assadas (grilled sardines), a traditional tomatada with poached eggs, or a briny dish of Portuguese molluscs such as Amêijoas à Bulhão Pato (clams in white wine), crack open a bottle of Vinho verde.
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By Peg Kern
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