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Tucked into the northernmost point of Portugal, right along the Minho River, is Monção e Melgaço, one of the 9 subregions of the Vinho Verde demarcated region, that is synonymous with Alvarinho. A lush, green region shaped by mountainous hillsides, valleys, and tributaries like the Gadanha and Mouro rivers, Monção e Melgaço has become the ultimate destination for super-premium white Vinho Verde wines with energy and elegance.
Though it does craft a range of wine styles, Monção e Melgaço is predominantly known for its white wine production. About 85 percent of the region’s wines distributed globally are whites made from grapes including Loureiro, Trajadura, and—most importantly—Alvarinho. In fact, the Alvarinho grown in this tiny pocket of Portugal is one of the reasons for Vinho Verde’s rising popularity today.
“I think some of the best wines of Vinho Verde come from Monção e Melgaço,” says Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, the beverage director for Madrina in St. Louis, who notes the subregion has a lot more to offer than consumers are familiar with. “There’s a lot more concentration and beautiful wines besides that.”
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The greater Vinho Verde region might have more name recognition, but Monção e Melgaço could be its most significant subregion. And the reason for that starts with its history.
The Origin of Monção e Melgaço
Winemaking in Monção e Melgaço dates back to the second half of 100 BCE. Although the official record of the region doesn’t begin until the early 1900s, pitchers for wine transport and other artifacts discovered by researchers over the years confirm the presence of wine in ancient times. In the 14th century, wines from Monção expanded beyond Portugal’s borders when it was traded with the English for cod, particularly during times of war when wine supplies from France diminished.
In 1908, when Vinho Verde was officially recognized as a wine region, the subregion of Monção was created. It was later renamed Monção e Melgaço to include the township of Monção and the town of Melgaço, both of which exude growing conditions well suited to producing extraordinary Alvarinho wines.
A Unique Terroir and Microclimate
Monção e Melgaço’s reputation for creating Alvarinho with vigor and complexity is thanks, in part, to the land from which the grapes are grown. The subregion’s west side is surrounded by mountains that protect it from the Atlantic winds, meanwhile, the subregion’s north, south, and eastern parts are nestled on slopes along the bay of the Minho River, providing a unique microclimate. Winters are cold and rainy, and summers are hot and dry—the perfect conditions for growing grapes with freshness and varying levels of ripeness.
“There’s protection from the Atlantic coast, so [grapes are] allowed to get riper,” says Jacob Brown, the beverage director of Lazy Bear in San Francisco. “[They aren’t] just being blasted nonstop by oceanic influence. The area is green and it’s lush. It’s this really beautiful area, kind of this Eden-esque spot with loads of history.”
Granite soils dominate the subregion and influence the grapes’ flavor profile. However, clay and rolled pebbles—found mainly in the Northeast—and shale strip in the central part of Monção e Melgaço play a role, too.
Although the terrain and climate resembles that of Rías Baixas—the Spanish winemaking region known for Albariño just on the other side of the border—the specificity found in Monção e Melgaço is in a league of its own. Bottles from the region are marked with the Nature of Alvarinho seal, a badge signifying the authenticity and quality of wines made exclusively in and with fruit from Monção e Melgaço.
Wines With Energy and Elegance
Like the greater Vinho Verde, Alvarinho produced in Monção e Melgaço has striking acidity. However, the region’s wines go far beyond the stereotypical light, effervescent, quaffable profile associated with Vinho Verde. In Monção e Melgaço, winemakers intertwine innovative techniques with centuries-old practices to create white wines that “offer a lot of flavor, depth, and concentration,” says Blackwell-Calvert.
The wines also offer great versatility. For instance, Falua Barão do Hospital Alvarinho 2021 exudes rich, ripened citrus fruit that’s fresh on the palate and bright; both it and the Provam Portal do Fidalgo 2022 showcase how zestiness can balance out the weight of the wine. The Quinta de Paços ‘Casa do Capitão-Mor’ Alvarinho Reserva 2021 shows more white tea, thyme, and sage characteristics. “You still get the DNA of chisel, focus, and weight, but it definitely leans much more toward savory elements than fruity,” says GuildSomm educator Jonathan Eichholz, MS.
Wines from Monção e Melgaço can show great minerality, like the Anselmo Mendes ‘Contacto’ Alvarinho 2022, which underwent a brief maceration before fermenting in stainless steel tanks and resting for three months on the lees with occasional bâttonage. Other examples, like Valados de Melgaço Alvarinho Reserva 2021, can display seashell saltiness, or the Quinta do Regueiro ‘Foral de Melgaço’ Old Vines 2022, which Brown describes, as starting floral, with fruit in the middle, and ending with a salty finish.
Then there are the Monção e Melgaço wines that are just downright refreshing while still maintaining a core of complexity, like Quinta de Soalheiro ‘Granit’ Alvarinho 2022, which Eichholz describes as the perfect “gateway wine” that could introduce drinkers to the world of white wine. “You have structure. You have florality. You have a depth of flavor to it and so much malleability with pairing,” says Eichholz. Brown adds, “It’s bright and refreshing. It’s salty. It’s got all the qualities of a tasty summer day wine.”
Wines from the region have remarkable aging potential, too. “The voluptuousness that develops as the grape ages is a testament to what Alvarinho can do in the best conditions,” says Blackwell-Calvert.
Unparalleled Gastronomic Capability
One of the best attributes of wine from Monção e Melgaço is its pairing potential. “This region has so much usefulness in a restaurant setting because [the wines are] ripe and fresh,” says Blackwell-Calvert. “[Most restaurants] have some sort of seafood offerings on the menu. This is the perfect wine for oysters, lobster, light pastas, or caprese.”
Brown notes that the body and structure of Alvarinho allows it to pair well alongside heavier food options as well. “These are super serious wines,” says Brown. “There’s weight to the wine. It sits on the palate. There’s actual concentration in the wines. It hits on the acidity—the saltiness alone makes me happy to pair with any food.”
Monção e Melgaço should appeal to any consumer in search of white wines that deliver dazzling high quality, complexity, and a sense of place. “With Alvarinho from Monção e Melgaço, you have this beautiful confluence of a grape that is also really malleable to a variety of different styles of winemaking,” says Eichholz. “I wouldn’t be surprised if this truly becomes one of the great popular white wines over the next few years.”
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