The Rise of Single variety Vinho Verde

21 April, 2016


Quinta do Covela is an interesting estate that’s situated on the border of the Minho and Douro. The previous owner, Nuno Araujo, went bust with a badly timed property development on the estate, so the bank auctioned it in 2009. At the time, current owners Tony Smith and Marcelo Lima bid for it and won, but in a strange twist, the bank made its own bid for Covela and acquired it, then went bust itself, being absorbed into a state-owned bank. Two years later this bank called Smith and Lima and asked if they were still interested.

So, when Tony Smith arrived here in 2011, Covela had been abandoned for two years. Because of this some replanting was necessary – half the existing vineyard was pulled out and portions were replanted and regrafted. Under the previous regime Covela’s wines had been 50:50 white and red. One of the changes Smith and Lima have made is to shift the balance more in favour of the whites, reducing the proportion of international varieties and focusing more on the Portuguese ones. Ultimately, the goal is for the estate to be 80% white, with Avesso the main grape. Covela’s intention is to make serious white Vinho Verde. “We have to know how to take the concept of Vinho Verde,” says Smith, “because this is what we should be promoting, but on the other hand we are different from the mass-produced Vinho Verde.”


Originally, Covela had been planted with Cabernet Sauvignon and international varieties by Joao Nicolau d’Almeida in the 1980s for Nuno Araujo. “At the time it was a revolution and it belongs to the DNA of Covela,” says Smith. “We have always been iconoclastic. It planted 25 varieties initially, did microvinifications, and then chose the varieties it wanted.”

Winemaking is in the hands of Rui Cunha. In the first year of the new regime, 2012, there was bad weather and hail, taking out half the Chardonnay, so suddenly there was more Avesso than it could use in the trademark Covela blend (which pairs Avesso with Chardonnay), so this single variety Avesso was made and sold out in just three months. In addition to making Avesso as a single variety, Smith and Lima have rented some Arinto vineyards and produce this as a single variety. On the right side of the river, more Avesso is grown, while on the left, more Arinto.

The Lima sub-district is where Loureiro seems to do best. It’s also home to one of the most interesting wine projects of Vinho Verde, the biodynamic Aphros. Owner Vasco Croft, a Lisbon architect, took a career change some years ago when he began this project, then called Afros, at his own family quinta. As well as working biodynamically and making some impressive still and sparkling Loureiros, Croft has also begun working with large amphorae that he purchased from the Alentejo, and makes these wines without electricity. Projects such as this are important for boosting interest in Vinho Verde at the high end.

This is a region in transition. “I envisage a day when the old 9% fizzy demi-sec style is a distant memory,” says Oakley. The only speed bump on the road seems to be one of perception. “The new wines are unlike Vinho Verde as the international market understands them,” he adds. “But change is all around us. Single varietal Vinho Verde is the future.”

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