When the heat is on, as it has been lately, the last thing you want is a big, high-alcohol wine. Portugal's vinho verde offers a pleasant alternative. Weighing in at around 10 percent alcohol or less, and at around $10 a bottle, this white is as easy on the wallet as it is on the palate. The name means "green wine," and it's typically marked by racy acidity. Carbon dioxide added after fermentation results in a slight fizziness. And don't look for a vintage date--you'll seldom find one. Here's the panel's top picks for this perfect-for-summer white.
Aveleda Praia Vinho Verde, $11.99
This wine offers a light-but-steady stream of bubbles that tickle the tongue for the first few sips. The citrus aromas are round, ripe and are marked by touches of gooseberry and mineral. That minerality comes through on the palate, which is a mix of sweet fruit like melon, mango, kiwi and lime. An unusual bit of cherry brightens the finish in this surprisingly rich vinho verde.
Casal Garcia Vinho Verde, $9.99
The lightest of the three in terms of fizz, this wine is the richest when it comes to aroma. There's a definite unctuousness to the nose that's filled with stone and tropical fruit, along with hints of basil, green tea and ginger. Bold citrus flavors (lemon, lime and tangerine) make for a lively combo of sweet and sour fruit. An intriguing bit of quinine colors this oh-so-refreshing entry.
Dalila Vinho Verde, $9.99
You get just a light spritz with this wine--the tiny bubbles clinging to the side of the glass offer more of a visual experience than a tactile one. Lovely floral notes mark the nose, with its white flower aromas backed by touches of honeyed clover and tarragon. The sweet stone fruit is balanced by tart citrus in a very user-friendly style that is charmingly elegant and refreshingly crisp.