Vinho Verde with an Alentejo Backstory

The winemaker João Portugal Ramos got his start in the Alentejo region of Portugal decades ago and expanded north in more recent years to try his hand at vinho verde. A comparison of the João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020 and the João Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021.

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alvarinho grapes
After port, the second largest category of Portuguese wine exported globally is vinho verde.  Among Portuguese white wines, vinho verde is probably the most popular abroad.  A lot of well-meaning Americans have asked about “Portuguese verde wine” or “Portuguese green wine” – verde means green in Portuguese – so let’s begin with some clarifications. 
First off: not all vinho verde is white.  And it’s definitely not green. (OK, occasionally a white wine will have a yellow-green hue, but that’s as far as I’ll go.)  Vinho verde is really more about geography.  It’s a Portuguese DOC region, which stands for denominação de origem controlada (protected designation of origin) and signifies that wines produced in this DOC meet production standards not required of regular table wine, many of which require certain Portuguese grape varietals to be used in the wine.  The vinho verde DOC spans the territory between the Douro and Minho rivers in northern Portugal.  Since the vinho verde region is a DOC, any kind of wine produced there – red, rosé, sparkling, and of course white – can be called vinho verde.  Not coincidentally, the vinho verde region is also the “greenest” area of the country with a higher annual rainfall, which may also be part of the origin story of the DOC’s name.
Wines that carry the vinho verde appellation are characterized by a relatively higher acidity than wines produced in other Portuguese DOCs.  An unripe fruit would be called verde in Portuguese, and unripe fruit tends to be more acidic than sweet, which is a nod to the flavor profile of vinho verde wines in general.  Yet it’s a common misconception (even in Portugal) that vinho verde is made with uvas verdes, or unripened grapes, compared to uvas maduras, or ripened grapes.  In fact, all wines are made from ripened grapes. If the grapes aren’t ripe, they don’t have enough sugar to produce alcohol, and therefore the “wine” isn’t wine.
Now that we’re all on the same page about vinho verde, let’s talk about our two wines here. 
Unlike other vinho verde winemakers with a longer history in Minho, João Portugal Ramos was a wine consultant first in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal, later moving north into Lisbon and surrounding areas. He started his own vineyard in the late 1980s in Estremoz (east of Lisbon in the Alentejo), and eventually launched new labels in the Douro and vinho verde DOCs in the 2000s.  The hotter and drier Alentejo brings unique growing challenges for vineyards than, historically, has been the case in the north, but in a changing climate that will impact Portuguese wine production, this experience may be especially useful in other regions of the country.
One of the so-called “noble” grapes of the vinho verde DOC is alvarinho, particularly alvarinho produced in the Monção e Melgaço sub-region where the João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020 we’re trying is made. (Portuguese alvarinho is the same grape as Spanish albariño, mostly produced in Galicia in northern Spain.)  Slightly less famous internationally but equally as good, loureiro is another renowned vinho verde varietal.  Loureiro is often blended with alvarinho in vinho verde, as is the case for the João Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021.

First Up: João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020

  • Alcohol Content: 13% vol.
  • Average Price: US $17.99
Joao Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020
This alvarinho starts off with a pleasant but light aroma, a touch of citrus, and bit of an earthy nose.  This is a fresh, dry, mineral-tasting wine, but it’s not astringent.  (Your mouth won’t pucker with every sip.)  It pings the top of the palate and finishes with a clean slate taste.  The fruit notes are subdued.
The Monção e Melgaço sub-region of the vinho verde DOC, where this wine is produced, is considered the gold standard of “terroir” for alvarinho wines.
For deliveries in the United States, find the João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020 here at wine.com.

Next Up: João Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021

  • Alcohol Content: 12% vol.
  • Average Price: US $10.99
Joao Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021
This loureiro presents more citrus fruit on the nose, with a slight hint of oil.  Minerally with a lemon finish, the wine is rather dry but finishes soft, despite the citrus notes.
The word loureiro translates to “laurel” in English, and while loureiro grapes do not come from laurel trees, the bay leaves that do come from laurels – and that are often used in Southern European cooking – can leave a strong or even slightly bitter aftertaste, similar to many loureiro wines.  However, this wine recalls bay leaf in a pleasant, aromatic way.
For deliveries in the United States, find the João Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021 here at wine.com.

How the Wines Are Similar

The main unifying factor among all vinho verde wines is their mineral, acidic profile, and our two wines here fit the bill.  They are both young and easy-to-drink.
In Portugal, vinho verde is typically paired with fish and seafood, especially fattier fish like sardines (which I absolutely love grilled), because it’s more acidic than other Portuguese white wines.  If you’re looking for a crisp white to take the edge of a heavier summer dish, you can’t go wrong with either of these wines.

How the Wines Are Different

The principal difference is that the alvarinho is monovarietal (i.e., 100% alvarinho grapes), while the loureiro is a blend: 85% loureiro grapes and only 15% alvarinhoAlvarinho grapes are produced in smaller quantities in the vinho verde region, mostly (though not exclusively) planted in the Monção e Melgaço subregion.  By contrast, loureiro grapes can be found throughout the vinho verde DOC.  This is usually reflected in the price: alvarinho tends to be more expensive.
With a slightly higher alcohol content – 13% by volume for the 100% alvarinho vs 12% for the loureiro blend – the alvarinho has a touch more body, though without feeling heavy.  Still, the difference on the palate between the two is quite subtle.
Another difference is vintage.  2020 was long, painful slog for everyone, and it also had an impact on the wine sector, though production in the Monção e Melgaço sub-region, where the alvarinho comes from, was still good that year.  By contrast, 2021 was a more difficult wine year, with less production overall in the vinho verde DOC.  This could mean that 2020 is a decent year for alvarinho but not a banner year for loureiro, however, the difference that would make in terms of taste might may be difficult to pinpoint for all but the most experienced tasters.

The Takeaway

Portuguese alvarinho is less common in the American wine market than Spanish albariño, so the João Portugal Ramos Alvarinho 2020 is a good introduction. A lot of the vinho verde sold in the United States is down market – lighter, fruitier, and artificially carbonized –  so leave that expectation at the door for the João Portugal Ramos Loureiro Vinho Verde 2021. 
Now, you be the judge!
For more wine comparisons like this one, check out our other posts in the Same Maker, Different Wine series.
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