Discover the Vinho Verde revolution via a particularly appealing example. Alvarinho grapes are harvested in this distinctive green wine country above.
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Not so long ago a student practising blind tasting would have had the following down as markers for Vinho Verde: high acidity, low-ish alcohol and perhaps a touch of spritz. Notice not a lot of mention of flavour among those key features.
While there are undoubtedly wines that conform to that stereotype, what is also beyond doubt is that a group of producers are transforming Vinho Verde. As with much of Portugal’s wine industry, there is a powerful renaissance under way in this northern territory.
One of those producers is Soalheiro. I was introduced to their wines while visiting port country. At the Taylor’s port lodge in Gaia, The Fladgate Partnership team served Soalheiro as the white with lunch and it opened my eyes to just how good Vinho Verde can be – in the right hands.
Vinho Verde is a geographically large region, over 130 km (80 miles) in length, from immediately north of the Douro, right up to the River Minho that demarcates the border with Spain, giving a wide diversity of topographies and exposures to the Atlantic Ocean.
As Emily explained more fully in her 2017 wine of the week from Anselmo Mendes (another of the top producers behind the Vinho Verde revolution), the region also has a diversity of grape varieties, such as Loureiro, Trajadura and Arinto, and most Vinho Verde is a blend.
But it is in the most northerly part of Portugal, in the subregion of Monçao e Melgaço, along the Minho River on the opposite bank from the Condado do Tea subregion of Rías Baixas, that single-varietal Alvarinho (Albariño) Vinho Verde has taken root. Soalheiro has been at the fore of establishing this subregion’s reputation, and with that reinventing Vinho Verde.
João António Cerdeira planted the first Alvarinho vines in the Melgaço area in 1974, then launched the Soalheiro brand in 1982, with a primary focus on Alvarinho. A good 90% of their own estate vines at organically farmed Quinta de Soalheiro are Alvarinho, with the rest dark-skinned varieties. 70% of their partner-growers’ vines are also Alvarinho, though most of the balance is Loureiro, which does make an appearance in a couple of the whites in Soalheiro’s range.
But it is their pure Alvarinho wines that are the flagships for the estate, coming from plots at between 100 m (330 ft) and 400 m above sea level on the granitic soils that dominate the region – and indeed much of Rías Baixas. The presence of surrounding mountain ranges moderates rainfall relative to the rest of the region, while high summer air temperatures promote ripening, helping to make the area particularly good for the variety.
I was recently trying to buy a bottle of Soalheiro’s premium Alvarinho Granit cuvée (Purple Pagers can see what Julia thought of the 2018) from a local independent wine shop. Sadly, it turned out they had run out of stock of the Granit, so we agreed to substitute the regular – sometimes referred to as Clássico – Alvarinho, which is the widely available mainstay of the brand.
It was the 2019 vintage, Soalheiro Alvarinho 2019 Vinho Verde, Monção e Melgaço, which I’d tried at a Wines of Portugal tasting event (remember them?!) in early 2020. At that point, the wine came across as tight and closed, in an ‘only recently bottled’ sense. But a year on it is really hitting its stride, as a terrific example of new-wave Vinho Verde – as well as showing how bottle age can benefit good-quality Alvarinho and Albariño wines.
Right now, this tank-fermented, pale gold wine is giving off a delightful combination of yellow apples, ripe lemon and tangerine, with a bay-leaf herbal lift and stony mineral notes. Crisp, crunchy acidity – it has 6.9 g/l in total and a pH of 3.16 – is nicely balanced with oily lees richness. Linear and pure, with a long floral-scented finish, it’s a 16.5/20 wine. And with prices starting under £15 in the UK, it certainly merits a good value GV, if not a VGV.
I heartily recommend this wine to anyone sceptical about Vinho Verde, alongside those of the aforementioned Anselmo Mendes, Quinta do Ameal and others. A search for Vinho Verde in our tasting notes database yields 422 tasting notes, 224 of which score 16.5 or above, so there are certainly rich pickings in this field for anyone willing to step beyond the old stereotype. See also You say Alvarinho, I say Albariño.