Travel: Driving northern Portugal’s wine route
Explore Portugal’s largest wine region by car on the Vinho Verde wine route, stretching from Porto to the northern Spanish border – stopping off at six wineries along the way…
Northern Portugal road trip: Vinho Verde wine route
Picturesque medieval towns surrounded by vineyards make the Portugal’s northern region of Vinho Verde the ideal destination for a wine lovers’ road trip.
With more hectares under vine than anywhere else in country, the Vinho Verde route is a great choice for those who want to get to the heart of Portuguese wine. Vineyard visits and tasting rooms are plentiful along the way, not to mention a choice of local or deluxe restaurants and hotels.
Scroll down for Vinho Verde wines to try
Start your road trip in the vibrant city of Porto, where you can rent a car or hire a local driver. From here you can drive to Braga in around 45 minutes.
Located in the heart of the Vinho Verde region, it is one of the oldest cities in Portugal, built more than 2,000 years ago, and it is a great central point for discovering the region.
While still in the city, Braga Cathedral and the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte are places not to miss. From Braga you can easily take day trips around the region to visit each of Vinho Verde’s nine sub-regions.
Start your first day by heading to Penafiel for a visit to the region’s largest winery Quinta da Aveleda. The new tasting room, and surrounding parks and gardens with their rare species of trees, are worth the trip alone.
Many of the local restaurants serve the popular arroz de sarrabulho (meat and rice cooked in red wine and pig’s blood) and rojões à moda do Minho (marinated and stewed pork with pig’s blood). Definitely not for the fainthearted, but an authentic local experience, especially when paired with a red Vinho Verde – still served traditionally in a ceramic bowl.
Dipping bread in your food is also highly encouraged during meals around the region.
Only 15 minutes away, Quinta do Ameal is an organic winery and country guest house producing ageworthy Loureiro wines which have been responsible for putting this high-quality white variety on the map.
Nearby, Aphros Wine is the only biodynamic producer in the region, applying holistic principles and ancient techniques – such as long skin fermentation – to make its surprisingly energetic wines.
From Penafiel you can drive north for one hour to the town of Ponte de Lima for lunch with a view of the famous part-medieval, part-Roman bridge.
One hour north, in the direction of the Spanish border, you’ll get to Monção e Melgaço, the northernmost sub-region of Vinho Verde, and home to the fine Alvarinho variety.
More protected from maritime influence than other sub-regions, thanks to the surrounding hills, the combination of grape and climate creates richer, fuller, subtly complex wines.
In Melgaço, Quinta de Soalheiro is an innovator with Alvarinho and leads the region with some of the best examples of fresh, focused and ageworthy whites, including organic and natural versions of Alvarinho.
Also in Melgaço, star winemaker Anselmo Mendes has been experimenting with Alvarinho for over 20 years and is now highly regarded as one of the best in Portugal.
In Monção, the local cooperative Adega de Monção makes some of the most popular regional wines, and is currently working with indigenous yeasts and lees ageing in a bid to improve its Deu-La-Deu range.
Many local restaurants here carry wines from several different producers, so visiting them is an opportunity to try a diverse range of Alvarinho.
Key grapes varieties to know:
White Alvarinho, Avesso, Loureiro, Trajadura, Azal Branco, Arinto (locally known as Pederña)
Red Vinhão, Espadeiro, Borraçal, Padeiro
André Ribeirinho is a food and wine entrepreneur who founded the online platform Adegga.com. Editing for Decanter.com by Laura Seal.