Vinhão is a dark-skinned Portuguese native red wine grape varietal that has its origins in the Iberian Peninsula, from the Vinho Verde wine region above the Douro Valley. Current research shows that Vinhão originates from the region of Minho in north-west of Portugal. Where today it remains as the main red grape varietal in the region for wine production. Until recently only a few wine enthusiasts outside Portugal had heard of red Vinho Verde let alone tried one.
Vinhão is very much at home in the northern wine region of Minho, where it is responsible for most of the red Vinho Verde wines made in the area. Although Vinho Verde is typically perceived as being a white wine producing region, around 40% of its wines are a range of brightly coloured red wines.

 

These red wines are largely made with the Vinhão grape, which produces a dark, mouth-puckering, and sometimes challenging wine. The local wines are made and consumed in with local cuisine to restrain the sharp character of some wines. It is thought that around 1790 it was introduced into the Douro wine region, where it is also known as Sousão where it is used to darken Port wines.
The varietal and the resulting wines from this part of country are known for biting acidity and dark colour. Unlike most red grapes, where practically all the colour comes from the skins, Vinhão also has red flesh and therefore instant red juice, which then darkens further once the blue-black skins are macerated. This is a special advantage in the case of port production, where colour needs to be extracted very quickly. In the Douro Valley, it goes by the name of Sousão, and it is currently being quite widely replanted.
During the growing season, it is a mid-to-late budding and ripening varietal. Typically, in in the Douro Valley with its extreme soil and climate conditions the berries have dark thick-skins, with bunches medium in size. In Spain, the bunches can be small and compact, with berries small-to-medium in size. Vinhão grapes can produce some of the darkest coloured red wine in all of Portugal. This is due to the intense colour found in their dark thick skins which leaches out easily during vinification. Vinhão is the base varietal for all good red wines crafted in the Vinho Verde DOC region in the north west of the country. Resulting in red wines with good structure, rich, dark fruit flavours and very high levels of natural acidity, which have been enjoyed mainly domestically, rather than in international markets. The varietal typically makes up the majority of the red wines from this region, either 100% of the wine or a high portion of the blend. More recently it has also been used to make Rosé wines.
In the Douro Valley, its primary roll is still to add colour to Port wine. But some use the varietal to add freshness to their Port wines. Recently new planting is occurring throughout the region, due to the increase in interest and quality of table red wines. As of 2010 there were some 2100ha of planted vines, but this number is thought to be higher at the next census.
Spain has around 575ha of Vinhão - *(back in 2008), with most of the vines planted in Galicia, the north-west region of the country - where it is typically used as blending component in Rias Baixas, Ribeiro and Valdeorras DO wines. There are also a few hectares of vines planted around the world, including the USA, Australia and South Africa to name a few.
The wines produced from the Vinhão can be dry and astringent, with rich, dark fruit flavours and notes of dried spice, herbs, forest floor and bitter chocolate. Even though Vinhão makes up nearly 40% of the grapes planted in the Vinho Verde region, very little is exported. But this is changing, with improved vinification, crafting international accepted styles and a growing interest from wine enthusiasts.