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Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Vinho Verde, and Viognier

Cheap Riesling.

Riesling is a well-known white wine grape from Germany that now grows in the Alsace region of France, as well as Austria, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, upstate New York, California, and Washington. The growing conditions and timing of the harvest strongly affect the character of the wine, which may be dry, semi-sweet, sweet, or sparkling.
Regardless of the style, Riesling grapes produce wines filled with floral and fruit aromas and tasting of fresh fruit -- a bit of citrus, a tad of apple. In its drier states, the residual sugars and natural acidity make it a good wine for many foods, such as fish, pork, and spicy Asian cuisines.

Some experts assert that it's close to impossible to get a good Riesling for under $10. Take non-vintage Barefoot Riesling (starting at $5). It has hardly any fruit flavors, but it's sweet -- really sweet, as a blogger describes at SourMashed. One of our tasters suggested it might be fit for sangria, as long as you left out the sugar.

Still, our review turned up three Rieslings that fill the bill. Washington Hills Late Harvest Riesling 2012 (starting at $9), from Washington state, is semi-dry, with flavors of apricot and peach. In the opinion of The Washington Post, it's a value buy that hovers between very good and excellent.

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Also from Washington comes Columbia Crest Two Vines Riesling 2012 (starting at $6), with 85 points from Wine Enthusiast. It's on the sweeter side, according to that review, with flavors of honey and lemon tea and a finish that yields a hint of earth before falling off. Our tasters tried an old-school favorite, P.J. Valckenberg Zeller Schwarze Katz 2012 (starting at $10), from Germany, and found it sweet and enjoyable -- a natural choice for dessert.

Cheap Sauvignon Blanc.

Sauvignon blanc was originally a French grape but now grows in regions with cooler climates, including Canada and Chile. New Zealand and Australia are well-known for varietal Sauvignon blanc wines, as well. Sun levels during the growing season and the degree of ripeness at harvest affect the finished product. Under the right conditions, Sauvignon blanc will be dry, crisp, and tangy with hints of melon, citrus, bell peppers, and even grass.

California vintners sometimes call this wine Fume blanc, and the style ranges from quite dry to fairly sweet; the wines often have a high alcohol content. Sauvignon blanc is a versatile wine that stands up to pungent tastes, such as garlic and tomato, and also works with cheese, fish, and sushi.

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We found several good cheap Sauvignon blanc wines. One of our picks for best white wine overall, Bogle Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (starting at $8), boasts California origins and scores a big 88 points from Wine Enthusiast. Consumers at Cellar Tracker also rate it highly, deeming it fresh, light, and a bit acidic -- a refreshing match for shellfish and other seafood. This Bogle Vineyards entry made the Wine Curmudgeon's 2104 Hall of Fame.

We also cottoned to a French offering from the Loire Valley, Sauvion Touraine "Les Eglantines" 2013 (starting at $10), available from some vendors at a relatively low price for wine from this region. Tasting notes describe a light and sprightly palate with a touch of citrus and honey.

Cheap Torrontes.

The Torrontes grape is indigenous to Argentina and yields white wines that are light and smooth in the mouth, brightly floral on the nose, and crisp and fruity on the palate. Wine reviewers like it as a summer pour and a mate for seafood and savory cuisines such as Chinese and Mexican. This is a varietal that doesn't age well and should be consumed within a couple of years of bottling. Torrontes wines generally sit at the lower end of the price spectrum.

Santa Julia Torrontes 2012 (starting at $8) is fragrant and herbal, tasting of rich, ripe fruit, asserts a review at Cellar Tracker. Wine Enthusiast praises the flavors of orange and honey, adding that the wine has a bit of acid and weight at the finish. Another pick: Quara Estate Bottled Torrontes 2012 (starting at $10), which is praised for a very tropical feel, with flavors of mango and passion fruit. Wine Enthusiast awards it 87 points.

Cheap Vinho Verde.

These wines from Portugal are named not for a grape (the grape variety depends on the growing region) but for the fact that the grapes are young when harvested. They taste young, too -- light, fresh, and sometimes mildly effervescent. That fizziness, according to a report in The New York Times, used to result from fermentation but is now mostly a product of direct injection of carbon dioxide.

Vinho verde wines are low in alcohol and most definitely a summer drink. Because of their newness, the vintage that was reviewed last summer probably won't be the one you find next summer. Vinho verde wines should be drunk within a year of bottling. Perhaps the most important feature of vinho verde is that just about every bottle sells for less than $10, because the wine spends little time aging. This wine pairs well with light, summery meals of fish, salad, or sushi.

The 2012 Vera Vinho Verde was beloved by our tasters for its summery freshness and flavors redolent of citrus. The 2013 vintage (starting at $8) is equally mouthwatering and enjoys a perch on our list of top budget whites. A roundup at Shape names it best in class, giving a shout-out to the lime and pink-grapefruit aromas and slightly bubbly mouth feel. Caves Alianca Vinho Verde 2013 (starting at $7) would be perfect for a beach party or just sipping on its own, well chilled. A Wine Enthusiast review of this vinho verde identifies it as a best buy that's in its prime right now, ready for drinking.

Cheap Viognier.

The Viognier grape grows primarily in the Rhone region of France, and also in California and Australia. There is great variety in the flavor, body, and nose of the wine based on the region in which the grapes were grown. This is a grape with the potential to yield wines with lots of alcohol but also floral and fruit flavors (e.g., apricot and a touch of spice, as well as a unique aroma of honeysuckle or ripe peaches, according to experts).

Viognier is sometimes blended with Chenin blanc and Chardonnay, and occasionally with Syrah, a red wine, for its softening effect. Viognier wines are best enjoyed when relatively young. They are robust enough to drink with cuisines such as Thai and Mexican and with salty cheeses and strongly flavored dishes.

Cline Cellars North Coast Viognier 2012 (starting at $8) comes from California and wins praise from outlets including the Weekly Wine Journal, which awards it a whopping 95 points and pronounces it weighty with rich, deep tropical fruit flavors. Wine Enthusiast makes a similar assessment in recommending the wine as a best buy. From Chile comes Cono Sur Bicicleta Viognier 2012 (starting at $7), which presents hints of spice and nuts. Reviews at WineAlign comment on the mild floral notes, tropical fruit taste, and creamy finish.

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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap White Wines
  2. Cheap Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Grigio
  3. Cheap Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontes, Vinho Verde, and Viognier
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