Welcome to Shelf Stars, The Growler’s cheap wine column in which we discover the best under-$15 bottles in town. This edition of Shelf Stars is brought to you with underwriting support from Central Avenue Liquors.
Every spring, my good friends down the block host a gathering in their backyard called the Vinho Verde Opener. It’s held on one of the first nice weekends to be outside after the long winter, and the hallmarks of the event are an endless parade of snacks and a concerted effort to drink as much vinho verde as possible.
And it’s not like that’s a challenge. Vinho verde—the fizzy, light Portuguese white wine—goes down like club soda with a little more personality. It’s truly the hard seltzer of the wine world—low in alcohol, high in bubbles, easy on the stomach and the wallet.
If you stalk the bottom shelves of a wine store as much as I do, you’ve no doubt come across Gazela ($6) or Pavao ($8) or Aveleda ($9) or Nobilis ($9) and I’ve probably had all of those during the Vinho Verde Opener at one year or another. Here are the things I like about those bottles: they contain alcohol. Wait, did I say things, plural? Sorry.
The closer I scan the Portuguese wine shelves, the more I’ve been noticing some “better” vinho verde. These are wines made to a more exacting standard—maybe by a winemaker who specializes in a certain grape or subregion, or made from grapes grown on one estate rather than by growers of varying quality from across the region.
Look at the vinho verdes that cost about $2 more than the cheap ones, and the odds are that you’ll get a wine of much better quality.
Muros Antigos Escolha ($12)
A great example, found widely in the Twin Cities, is made by one of Portugal’s most renowned vintners, Anselmo Mendes. His Muros Antigos Escolha ($12) is a joy to drink. Aromas of sun-baked lemons and stones lead into flavors of grapefruit, flint, beeswax, and a racy acidity that buoys the sip from start to finish. It has uncommon body for a vinho verde—a little bigger, a little more imposing, but that same super dry minerally finish begs a return sip.
Vale Do Homem Alvarinho ($12)
Alvarinho is the standout grape in many Vinho Verde blends, and you’ll find it on the same shelves bottled as a single-variety wine. I like the way the Vale Do Homem Alvarinho ($12) gives you a huge waft of the grape’s signature aromas of blossoms and seaside air. You get unripe pear and white peach fruit flavors on the bone dry body supported by a bevy of prickly acids. Chill it well and enjoy it in the hot sun.
These will be the first two bottles I’ll uncork at the next Vinho Verde Opener. I’ll savor two wines that seem tailor-made for the heat, before getting back to downing Gazela with abandon.
For those that like: Hard seltzer, Prosecco, vodka-sodas
Grapes: Alvarinho, loureiro, avesso, among others
ABV: Around 12%.
Price Range: The standard ones, $6-9, the better ones $10-12.
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