Cheap Wines That Don't Suck: Espiral Vinho Verde

Vinho Verde is a fresh, light, tart, usually slightly sparkling, naturally low-alcohol, delicious white wine made in the northwestern part of Portugal from otherwise unknown local grape varieties. (There's also a heartier red version, but it's rarely exported, and I have yet to encounter a bottle.) The tradeoff for the wine's charming freshness is that it doesn't keep long: this wine should be drunk, well chilled, within the year following the harvest, so right now you should be looking for 2008s. The vintage year is discreetly printed in the top left corner of the Siglo de Garantia on the back of every bottle.

My general rule about Trader Joe's wines is that the cheap ones aren't good and the good ones aren't cheap. However, there are exceptions, a fine example of which is the $3.99 Espiral Vinho Verde. This tasty wine exhibits all the qualities mentioned above. At a mere 9% alcohol, it has less than two-thirds the punch of most California wines. After tasting four bottles purchased at several different TJs, I feel confident that the 2008 does not suffer from the bottle variation this wine's sometimes subject to, at least not yet.

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