Vinho Verde is the biggest DOC of Portugal, up in the verdant North West. The vines grow in fertile, granite soils along rivers that flow from the mountains of the east to burst out into the ocean between golden surfing beaches.
Cool, wet weather always makes ripening more difficult, but the climatic problems were long compounded in the region by the tradition of training vines along pergolas on the edges of fields, and sometimes up trees, in order to gain space and free up the centre of fields for other crops.
Today may find modern vineyards, and certainly the vineyards of major estates, are now low-trained on wires, giving better exposure to the limited sun, and better ripening.
Vinho Verde is still distinguished by its high acidity. Flavour depends on the grape varieties used – floral Loureiro, steely Trajadura, mineral Arinto (known here as Pedernã), creamy and mineral Avesso, and the fine, mineral, subtly fragrant Alvarinho. Most white Vinho Verde can be relied upon to be light, crisp and aromatic.
The fine Alvarinho grape rules around the towns of Melgaço and Monção in the north, along the Minho river. The climate here is warmer and drier, the maritime influence partially blocked by hills, and the combination of grape and climate makes for richer, fuller, subtly complex wines, made dry and totally still.