If you are like most American wine drinkers, you probably are not. So, allow me to invite you to open up your palate and think outside the box for a change, as we discover a delicious, vivacious white that everybody should be drinking. Verdejo is by far my favorite Spanish white grape variety, and the most important variety of D.O. Rueda, a Spanish appellation dedicated mostly to making white wine.
To situate ourselves, the Rueda appellation is located in Castilla León, to the south of the city of Valladolid and the Duero River.
map courtesy of D.O. Rueda
Verdejo (named from verde, which means green in Spanish) is an early to mid budding and ripening variety, very resistant to drought. Besides growing indigenous Verdejo, we can find other white varieties in Rueda such as: Palomino Fino, the Sherry grape, which was important once upon time, Viura, the most important white variety in Rioja, Sauvignon Blanc and thanks to a recent change in regulations: Viognier and Chardonnay. By law, any Rueda white must have at least 50% Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc in the blend and the rest could be any of these other grapes, in most cases, Viura. However, if the word Verdejo appears on the label, the wine must be 85% from this variety.
Beautiful Verdejo Grapes.
Picture courtesy of RiberaRueda campaign
What makes the Rueda appellation so special?
For starters there's a long winemaking tradition in this area, they have been producing wines since the 11th century, however an important revival took place in the 1970s, when a very well known producer from Rioja (Marqués de Riscal), advised by Emile Peynaud saw potential in the area to make wines from Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc.
The climate in Rueda is continental, which means extreme, hot short summers and very cold winters, with low rainfall falling mostly in Spring and Autumn (400 ml per year). These dry weather conditions during the growing season, make this spot an ideal place to practice organic farming, with many producers certified as such. Altitude of the terrain, makes a big difference here, with most vineyards located between 500- 800 metres, the cooler night temperatures will allow the vines to rest and to keep acidity levels.
Verdejo grapes grow on two types of soils, some are stony and pebbly with good drainage (like those in the area of La Seca) and others are sandy with limestone (like those in Segovia). This appellation hosts some of the oldest vineyards in Spain with vines averaging 30-130 years old, most of them ungrafted, having survived the deadly phylloxera louse.
Verdejo vines planted on stony soils.
picture courtesy of Ribera Rueda campaign.
Most Rueda wine is made in stainless steel, at low temperatures to preserve the fine aromatics of this grape. Some producers have dared to experiment with barrel fermentation and aging in oak, as well as some aging in lees which will add creaminess, with successful results. There’s also a small production of Verdejo Traditional method sparkling wines as well, and fortified Verdejo wines called Rueda Dorado and Pálido (similar to Sherry and aged for a few years in oak). New regulations in Rueda, created a new designation for wines that come from older vines, 30+ years old, now defined as Gran Vino de Rueda (Great Wine from Rueda).
Verdejo’s tasting profile will feature an aromatic wine with notes of green herbs, grass, fennel, lime, grapefruit and passion fruit; with aging they acquire bitter almond notes. Old vines will yield very concentrated wines, with medium plus to high acidity, medium to medium plus bodies and medium plus alcohol (some can easily have 14%). Rueda wines are better drunk young, but thanks to their acidity can age up to 8 years.
Match your Verdejo/Rueda wines with salads, as well as seafood, especially delicate white fish such as Flounder, Mahi Mahi or Cod. I also love it with Sushi or Poke salad.
Recommended Producers: best Verdejo can only come from Spain, here are some the top producers:
Naia, J&F Lurton, Jose Pariente, Telmo Rodriguez, Carlos Moro, Cuatro Rayas, Marqués de Riscal,Marqués de Cáceres, Jorge Ordoñez.
Here some Verdejos I tasted lately that I liked:
Jorge Ordoñez Nisia Las Suertes Verdejo 2018 $29.99
Made from dry farmed, ungrafted old vines, and aged for a year on its lees.
This smooth Verdejo offers pineapple and honeydew melon notes. Complex, focused and elegant.
Cuatro Rayas, Vendemia Nocturna 2019 $15
Fermented in stainless steel, this wine is made from grapes harvested at night to avoid oxidation. Very lively Verdejo featuring green herbs (fennel) and citrus (lemon zest and lime notes).
Shaya Verdejo 2017 $17.99
A Verdejo with a touch of oak, 20 to 30% is fermented in barrel. Smooth Verdejo offers tropical passion fruit and pineapple notes supported by a vibrant finish. Made from very old vines grown in sandy soils.
Bodegas Beronia Verdejo 2019 $16.99
Fermented in stainless steel with grapes featuring different grades of ripeness, one part was harvested early to preserve freshness and acidity and the second later to show riper fruit. This juicy Verdejo exudes red delicious apple and guava flavors framed by nervy acidity.
Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo 2019, $12.99
Bright Verdejo showing white peach, grapefruit and blanched almonds notes ending in a clean and crispy finish.
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