Vinho Verde with Popeye's chicken sandwich | David Hammond

Vinho Verde, a Portuguese wine, is selling at Trader Joe’s (485 N. Harlem) for $4.49/bottle.  It’s one of the best wines you will buy for under $5, and it joins what used to be called Trader Joe’s “Two Buck Chuck” (a notoriously decent wine from Charles Shaw that was initially priced at $2 but now costs about the same as Vinho Verde).

Vinho Verde means “green wine.” That’s not because it’s young and unaged (though it is) but rather because it’s from the Vinho Verde region of Portugal, which is very lush and verdant. There are a lot of Vinho Verde wines, some light and fresh, others more full-bodied and complex. The Espiral they’re selling at Trader Joe’s is quite definitely of the lighter, fresher variety, with a slight sparkle, not a wine to ponder but rather one to quaff on a summer afternoon with foods that are not overly aggressive.

Trader Joe’s Espiral Vinho Verde comes in at 9% ABV (alcohol by volume). Compare that to the ABV of similarly priced and popular whites: Barefoot Pinot Grigio is 12.5% ABV and Sutter Home Chardonnay is 13.5% ABV. When enjoying some wine on the sunny deck, it’s probably prudent to dial down the alcohol, as simple summer thirst could nudge you into over-indulgence. To further lower the impact of the alcohol, consider adding some sparkling water; no, I would not consider doing that with a bottle of Domaine Leroy Musigny Grand Cru — were I ever to have one — but for a simple table wine like Vinho Verde, a little dilution on a hot day might be a good idea.

Reverse Wine Snob, a site for those of us who like wine but rarely spend over $20 a bottle, says the Espiral Vinho Verde from Trader Joe’s is highly recommended, and that it “begins with a pleasing aroma of green apple, citrus (especially lemon and lime), a bit of bread dough and a touch of tropical fruit. Taking a sip reveals a crisp, simple and tasty wine of the porch pounder variety! It also has good acidity; just drink it cold as it loses some of its charm when it starts to warm up.”

Recently, I enjoyed a glass of Espiral Vinho Verde with a “classic” fried chicken sandwich from Popeye’s (fancy, I know!). The wine’s bit of sweetness and slight sparkle went well with the moderate spice of the sandwich (and the Cajun Fries!) — the fruitiness was a good match for the chicken and its fried coating.

With chili-laden Szechuan or Mexican food, this Vinho Verde might tend to be submerged, losing some of its personality and functioning more as a palate cleanser, which is not a bad thing, but such pairings certainly don’t show the wine off to advantage. With mildly seasoned meat and fish, vegetables, and potato salad, Vinho Verde is a perfect summer sip.

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...