Alvarinho is a special grape within Vinho Verde that is growing in importance with both discerning wine drinkers and the winemakers themselves. The sub-region of Monção e Melgaço is the original home of this grape in Portugal. Wines made here are allowed to carry the designation “Vinho Verde Alvarinho”, which was established to protect this association with the grape and sub-region.
As a result of the potential of this variety and the enthusiasm about it from a new generation of winemakers, there has been a large investment in new vineyards and new vineyard planting systems. Since the 2015 vintage the region has started a six year transition period to allow all the wineries of Vinho Verde region to produce and label Vinho Verde Alvarinho, even outside the sub-region of Monção e Melgaço. In other words, look for even more of the innovative and top quality Alvarinho wines from the Vinho Verde region in the future.
We’ve been extremely impressed with the examples of Alvarinho we’ve tried recently. Today we thought it would be fitting to go right to the winemakers themselves, to get their impression of this exciting variety.
First up is the Aveleda winemaking team (Aveleda is one of the region’s largest producers):
Aveleda has the privilege of having Alvarinho amongst its grape varieties and native to 3 different vineyards coming from different sub regions of the Vinho Verde Demarcated Region: sub region of Sousa, sub region of Basto and sub region of Monção and Melgaço. The fact that the vineyards are distributed throughout the Vinho Verde Demarcated Region, physically distant from each other, is truly beneficial for our wines, allowing us to take advantage of different characteristics of the terroirs as well as the variety of climates that spreads through this region. This combination of unique factors originates one-of-a-kind wines, fresh but at the same time full-bodied with a dense texture and notes of ripe fruit.
For the last 2 decades, it’s part of the Aveleda legacy to experiment and incorporate the best winemaking techniques to ensure that the Alvarinho grape variety is explored to its full potential. These processes and careful planning to constantly reach the perfect balance between the environment, longevity of the vine and highest quality of the Alvarinho grapes are the essence of the work that Aveleda has been developing throughout the years.
Next we have Luís Cerdeira, the owner and winemaker at one of the most respected producers of Alvarinho in the region, Soalheiro, talking about the 2016 vintage:
Melgaço, the most northern region of Portugal, is protected by the surrounding mountains that allow a perfect marriage between rainfall, temperature and the number of hours of sunshine needed for the better maturation of the Alvarinho grapes. The rainfall in winter was low and less than average. In January, the rainfall increased and was very heavy, with an average ambient temperature that was also higher than usual. Overall, the winter was hot, which led to a slightly early budburst with regular flushing. The spring was rainy and cold, basically in the months of March, April and May, which resulted in irregularity and delay in the vegetative cycle. Flowering took place around two weeks late, which reduced setting, allowing for better distribution of production over each vine, with the resulting increase in quality. From June onwards, the rainfall reduced drastically and average temperatures rose. The months of July and August were hot and very dry, with high average temperatures and practically no rainfall. September followed this trend, contributing to an early harvest, starting in its first week, showing a clear recovery from the delay observed in spring. This climate characteristic during ripening is frequently associated with the microclimate of Monção and Melgaço, where hot days alternate with cold nights, allowing for the maintenance of a fresh and fruity aromas with an acidity that is present but moderate, just the way we like it for the Soalheiro.
Next we have António Monteiro, the Export Manager and son of the owner at Quintas das Arcas:
The Alvarinho grape is a very interesting grape to work with, especially in the Vinho Verde region. Despite the low yield, the body and structure of the Alvarinho wines improve many lighter and classic Vinho Verde. On its own, it creates wines with such roundness and mouthfeel that they hardly seem originated in the Vinho Verde region. These wines can age pretty well and richness of the tropical and fruity aromas evolve in a rather nice and pleasant way.
Funny Facts about Alvarinho
1- Both Portuguese and Spanish claim as theirs, the ownership of this grape. The truth is that this varietal was spreading its roots in the region even before there was a border separating the 2 nations.
2- For many years I was hearing from the Germans that the Alvarinho was in fact a descendent from the Riesling brought to the region by monks originated on the Rhine area. It made sense, Alba white and Rinho Rhine river, both grapes have a wonderful acidity and potential to do a wide array of different wines… but recent DNA tests revealed that these two varieties are definitely not the same.
And lastly we have Rui Pires, the Commercial Export Manager of AB Valley Wines:
Working with Alvarinho it’s a huge pleasure, for 2 reasons: it develops very well in the vineyard, and because of the thick skin that it has, it’s not susceptible to diseases; and it provides an excellent pallet of aromas and a great structure as a wine. The good acidity, enables a good aging process in the bottle, which allied to the pallet of aromas that goes from tropical fruits to minerality, provide an excellent complexity that one can only found in an Alvarinho.
Alvarinho is so flexible that one can do every kind of wine and experiments with it. Skin maceration provides good results, aged in oaks enables an outstanding wine and sparkling wine it’s gaining their space in the market. Lately, Late Harvest of Alvarinho it’s proving the potential of the grape variety to make other wines beside the still wine.
For us, Alvarinho is perfect because of the flexibility that allows us to make different wines – monovarietal and Late Harvest – and provide structure and aromas to blend wines.
This post was sponsored by Vinho Verde Wines.