While Portugal is increasingly known for its fresh and succulent red wines, the country is also home to deliciously light, bright white wines brimming with freshness and acidity. If you’re a lover of white wines, this is the country for you.
“Our whites are typically light in alcohol and high in acidity. They have a clean profile of fruit and a burst of energy to them that feels electric in the glass,” says Eugenio Jardim, co-founder of WifiWinetime and the U.S. Ambassador for Wines of Portugal.
Not only do Portugal’s white wines offer crisp and clean characteristics, but the wines are mostly made with indigenous grapes, making them unique.
Another important point about Portugal’s white wines is that the grapes and styles vary across the country. One easy way to remember them is to think in terms of north and south.
White wines of the north
No discussion about Portuguese white wines would be complete without mentioning Vinho Verde, an area known for producing light and slightly effervescent white wines. The region sits in the northern part of the country along the Minho river, where it shares a border with Galicia in Spain, and extends to the Atlantic Ocean.
Though Vinho Verde wasn’t officially deemed a wine region until 1908 and made an official DOC until 1984, winemaking in the area dates back some 2,000 years.
“The region is like an amphitheater which, starting at the coast, gradually climbs in elevation towards the interior, exposing the entire area to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean,” says Carla Cunha, director of marketing at the viticultural organization Comissão de Viticultura da Região dos Vinhos Verdes. “That, along with the typical granitic soils, mild climate, and high rainfall, is reflected in the freshness and elegance of the wines of this region.”
There are a few different grape varieties that thrive in Vinho Verde. The best-known grape is the age-worthy and structured Alvarinho — known as Albariño in Spain — notable for its white peach, almond, and saline nuances.
Although U.S. drinkers generally know about Alvarinho, it’s hardly the most popular grape in the region. That title would belong to Loureiro, the most-planted variety, which makes a wine that exudes rich honeysuckle and floral nuances.
“Loureiro is king,” says Jardim.
There are plenty of other white varieties to get to know: Arinto makes high acid wines with citrus and pear nuances, while Azal, which thrives in the warmer, inland areas of Vinho Verde, is loved for its deep lemon and green apple notes. Avesso is lower in acid, showcasing stone fruit and flowers, while the medium-bodied Trajadura is the alluring spice box of the bunch, delivering body, ripe stone fruit, and perfumed spices.
“These are all great varieties and are usually used for white wine blends. When you have a nondescript bottle of Vinho Verde that doesn’t specify the grapes used, it is often a blend of two or more of these varieties,” says Jardim.
Some single-varietal white wines can be found in Vinho Verde, made mainly with Alvarinho. Though, thanks to a new, young generation of winemakers that have emerged in the region, Avesso is gaining attention as a single-varietal option. White wines from Vinho Verde may boast incomparable fizzy, freshness, and minerality. But as you start heading south, styles change.
White wines from Northern Portugal to try:
Gazela Vinho Verde (~$9)
Made with a blend of Loureiro, Pedernã, Trajadura, and Azal, this light and fresh Portuguese white wine has an effervescent quality. The wine’s aroma offers fragrances of green apple and lemongrass, while the palate is crisp and approachable with vibrant citrus notes. Ample acidity can be detected from the first sip to the finish.
Casa de Vila Verde Vinho Verde (~$11)
This wine hails from the Lousada subregion of Vinho Verde and is made with a blend of Arinto, Avesso, Loureiro, and Trajadura. The wine is fresh and fruity, displaying orchard and citrus fruit aromas and flavors with a clean line of acidity that continues through the finish.
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde (~$10)
Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes are used to create this refreshing and bright white wine. Delicate fruit notes complete the aroma, while the palate is fresh with minerality and clean acidity.
Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde Fonte (~$10)
Crisp and elegant, this wine is made with a blend of Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, and Fernão Pires grapes. It’s a favorite among wine critics and has received high scores from reviewers at Wine Spectator, among other publications. Aromatic with green apple and lime notes, this wine displays a slightly fizzy palate marked with minerality and citrus fruit nuances.
Quinta da Aveleda Vinho Verde Loureiro Alvarinho (~$12)
Made with Alvarinho and Loureiro grapes, this Vinho Verde features a medium body with ample pear and lemon characteristics. Fresh and zippy with mouthwatering acidity, this wine displays a lingering citrusy finish.
Quinta de Soalheiro Vinho Verde Granit (~$22)
There’s no escaping the minerality of this wine. As its name suggests, this wine, made with Alvarinho, is full of crushed stone nuances highlighted by racy acidity and a crisp, elegant texture.
White wines from the south
Look to Portugal’s warmer, drier regions for silky, complex white wines with body and structure.
“The Douro Valley is so famous for Port and the big complex red wines, but the white wines are extraordinary,” says Jardim.
Like the red wines of the region, most of Douro’s white wines are blends of grapes like Viosinho and Rabigato — the most popular white wine varieties, which display great minerality with racy acidity while also exuding rich, mouth-filling textures. Gouveio, Malvasia, and Códega are also found in white wine blends from the Douro.
Between the capital city Lisbon and Porto, lies the Beiras wine region, where sparkling wine reigns supreme in the subregion Bairrada.
“About 65% of all the sparkling wine made in Portugal comes from here because it is also a coastal region with a cool climate,” says Jardim. “Bairrada makes exciting white wines from aromatic Bical and Fernao Pires grapes. The island of the Azores makes fresh, crisp, and saline white wines. And then there’s Alentejo, farther south.”
A large number of Portugal’s more than 250 indigenous can be found in Alentejo, but three, in particular, are commonly used in white wine blends: the vibrant, aromatic, and full-bodied Antão Vaz, the versatile and minerally Arinto, and citrusy Roupeiro.
White wines from Southern Portugal to try:
Herdade do Esporão Vinho Regional Alentejano Monte Velho Blanco (~$13)
This wine hails from the Alentejo region. It’s made with a blend of Antão Vaz, Perrum, and Roupeiro. Ripe white fruits and citrus notes lead the aroma while the palate is balanced with fresh fruit flavor and clean acidity. The finish is long and elegant with a bit of salty minerality.
Herdade do Rocim Vinho Regional Alentejano Mariana Branco (~$19)
Produced with Antão Vaz, Arinto, and Alvarinho grapes, this wine from Alentejo exudes generous fruit, with lots of soft fleshy yellow apple, pear, and bright and citrusy lemon and lime notes. The palate is rich and as intensely fruit-forward as the nose.
Quinta da Alorna Vinho Regional Tejo Arinto Branco (~$10)
This wine is made in the Tejo wine region, just a ways inland from Lisbon. Made with Arinto, it displays intense aromas and flavors of white suit and citrus. Midway through the sip, flavors of banana leaf and green tea arrive, while the finish is soft and elegant.
Herdade de São Miguel Vinho Regional Alentejano Colheita Seleccionada Branco (~$7)
From the Redondo-Alentejo southern region of Portugal comes this vibrant yellow blend of Antão Vaz, Verdelho, Viognier, and Arinto. The wine displays complex white flowers and tropical fruit aromas, while the full-bodied palate is awash with fine acidity and minerality. The finish is long and memorable.
Quinta Vale D. Maria Douro Vinhas do Sabor White Blend (~$24)
This wine is produced in the Douro region with Rabigato, Viosinho, and Arinto from vines planted between 25 and 30 years ago. Aromatic with concentrated white and tropical fruit notes, this medium-to-full-bodied wine has a fresh, elegant, fruit-forward palate that also displays hints of spiced oak from barrel aging. The finish lingers with an essence of apple and fresh acidity.
Doña Maria Vinho Regional Alentejano Amantis Reserva Branco (~$23)
This white wine from Alentejo is made with Viognier grapes and exudes a lively, refreshing floral character. Intense with tropical fruit aromas and flavors, the wine also displays a dash of oak on the palate with a velvety rich structure framed with minerality and zesty minerality.
Wines for all occasions
Regardless of where in Portugal the white wines come from, there’s one thing they all have in common — they’re great for drinking at any time. With their low alcohol content and body that leans on the lighter side, many Portuguese white wines are consumed as aperitifs, though some wines have the structure and balance to stand up to various foods, too.
“They’re really versatile wines,” says Cunha. “A lighter, younger white wine always pairs well with delicate fish and seafood. A full-bodied and more intense white, like a Vinho Verde Avesso, can be a great pair with spicy Asian or Mexican dishes. A structured and complex white wine from the Douro is ideal for lobster gratin, veal chops, and roasted meats.”
Or you can drink them entirely on their own. “I like to call them patio pounders. Many of Portugal’s white wines are delightful single sippers,” says Jardim.