It’s not easy being green (Vinho Verde, Portugal)

The Vinho Verde region is in the far northern part of Portugal on the border with Galicia, Spain. The astute amongst you would have noticed (if you didn’t already know) that the translation into English is literally ‘green wine’. I’m sure most people would hear this name as I did when I was out for dinner in Lisboa, and be slightly shocked at the idea of green wine. The name of course refers to them being young wines that need to be drunk within 12 months, and the fact that the grapes are harvested a little early to retain the acidity. There are around about 30,000 growers in the region who predominantly grow the fruit in pergolas so that they can grow other crops underneath and more intelligently use the land. The wines are pretty awful in general, and are mass-produced and often pumped with carbon dioxide to give it a little spritz. As far as I know this is the only region where the region is named after the wine rather than the other way around. The associations with the region and the quality of the wine don’t make it way for the few producers who are trying to make higher quality wine, the most prominent of which I visited in the evening.

Duck rice, a typical dish from Minho in northern Portugal

Pedro Araujo is a man of conviction, and it sounds like the Vinho Verde viticultural association would like to convict him of treason. Of everything that the region represents there are only two fundamental things that he agrees with; the varieties and the place. Everything else from the viticulture to the winemaking is almost totally different. Instead of growing fruit on pergola-trained vines and trying to get as high a yield as possible, he has re-trained his vines in a cordon-spur trained system and reducing the yields. The hard work performed in the vineyard using minimal intervention practices produces much better fruit, and makes Pedro’s job in the winery much easier. The main variety he focuses on is the Loureiro grape, which is at its most aromatic and characterful in this particular part of the Vinho Verde region of Lima. Careful selection of the fruit is performed in the vineyard long before it gets to the winery, as Pedro believes that by the time it gets there it is too late to fix any problems. Treating the fruit as gently as possible is of the utmost importance to capture the freshness and the essence of the white varieties in this climate.

Pedro Araujo near his vineyards at Quinta do Ameal
The Ameal vineyards are referred to in the annals of the Refóios do Lima convent, written some time before 1710. Situated in one of the oldest parishes in Portugal which was founded before the country itself in 1143, Quinta do Ameal boasts a rich environmental heritage, notable for its stunning woodland. It is considered to be property with exceptional agricultural and ecological potential, as well as an area of historical significance. Pedro lost part of his vineyards due to the highway that was put in a few years ago, which has influenced the range of wines he produces. He is an eternal optimist and also a pragmatist, and in addition to his truly exceptional and unique wines he is developing wine tourism at the Quinta which has amazing potential thanks to the historic buildings he has on site including the guest house I stayed in overnight. He very generously recommended a local restaurant for dinner and without me knowing called and arranged to pay for me, as he needed to make an appointment back in Porto where he lives. Click here to read my notes from the tasting.
The very minimalistic Ameal winery
Click here to see more photos from my visit to Quinta do Ameal in Vinho Verde, Portugal. The rest of the week is spent in Rias Baixas across the border to the north.

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