Wine with Leslie Williams: Spain’s successful and fascinating white grape Verdejo from Rueda

I have banged the drum loudly for Spanish white wines on this page in recent years but I admit I have focused more on the textured fragrant Albariño and Godello wines of Galicia, and rather neglected Spain’s most successful and equally fascinating white grape Verdejo from Rueda.

I had a hugely enjoyable visit to Rueda in early October and I should warn you I was rather smitten.

The Rueda appellation covers around 16,000 ha and is just over an hour north west of Madrid on high mountain plains rising to 800m above sea level.

The two best known cities are Segovia (with its 2,000-year-old Aqueduct and Royal Palace), and Valladolid with its attractive old city and great tapas bars.

The region is to the west of Ribera del Duero and has Toro to the east and was awarded the first DOC in the Province of Castilla Y Leon in 1980. Sandwiched between two fashionable red wine regions it rather defiantly produces almost exclusively white wine, 85% of which is Verdejo.

In the mid-20th century the region mainly produced a rancio style of wine called Dorado but there are only a couple of producers left such as Bornos and De-Alberto (see below).

Dorado is aged outdoors in glass bottles for a year and then further aged in cask and tastes a little like a dry Oloroso or Palo Cortado, sadly nobody is brave enough to import it to Ireland.

Verdejo likely originates in Rueda and is well suited to the low fertility soils made from pebbly clay, sand and gravel. The Duero River carved out the region and there are lots of terraces close to the river banks. Altitude helps the grape ripen slowly and retain acidity and Atlantic winds have an influence and give the region a Continental climate (despite being at a Mediterranean latitude).

I confess I thought I’d tire of Verdejo after a day or two but this didn’t happen and on day four I was still looking forward to seeing what food we would match the Verdejo with at lunchtime.

The citrus and herbal scents in Verdejo are always pleasing even in lesser examples, and you will find bay leaf, fennel, star anise and almond aromas mixed with pear, apple, lemon and guava.

The best wines are textured and layered and frequently have a bitter almond kick on the finish making them an excellent match for everything.

BEST VALUE UNDER €15

1. Marques de Riscal Verdejo, Rueda, Spain — €13.95-14.95

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Donnybrook Fair, O’Briens, Sweeneys, Independents.

Rueda’s modern renaissance can be traced in many ways to the arrival of the Rioja producer Marques de Riscal in 1970 and they now sell three million bottles of annually.

Their own vineyards are organic as is 50% of what the grapes they buy. This has classic herbal, citrus, lemon-lime aromas.

2. Marques de Riscal, Rueda, Spain — €13.95-14.95

Stockists: JJ O’Driscolls, Bradleys, O’Briens, widely available.

Riscal were pioneers of the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the region and while Sauvignon is almost always less fine than Verdejo it is well worth trying.

As is typical in Rueda this has more tropical aromas than is usual for the grape, fruity and fresh with green apple fruits and touches of pineapple, lemon and Granny Smith with pleasing refreshing acidity on the finish.

3. Monasterio de Palazuelos Verdejo, Rueda, Spain — €13.95

Stockist: O’Briens Off-Licences Nationwide

The de Alberto winery is one of the few Rueda producers still patiently making the traditional (and extraordinarily good) Dorado rancio style wines but sadly O’Briens don’t import it (yet).

This great value Verdejo will have to do for now — bright lemon and herbal-tinged apple and anise aromas, fruity, textured and fresh, taut and focused with good crispness.

BEST VALUE OVER €15

1. Montespina Verdejo 2017, Rueda, Spain — €15.99

Stockists: Higgin’s Clonskeogh; Drinkstore, Stoneybatter; Kelly’s

Clontarf; WineHouse Trim; Vintry Rathgar, World Wide Wines Waterford; JJ O’Driscolls, NextDoor Ennis, Kilrush & Kilkee Montespina are based near Segovia in the South East of the Rueda region.

Aromas of bright lemon fruits with fragrant bay leaf and stones, supremely fresh and crisp with lingering apple and citrus fruits.

2. Pariente Verdejo 2015, Rueda, Spain — €17.40

Stockists: Wines Direct Mullingar and Arnotts www.winesdirect.ie

Winemaker Victoria Pariente has one of the best reputations in the region and I liked all her wines, the barrel fermented version worked particularly well and allowed the pristine fruit flavours to shine.

This was once the house wine in El Bulli and has floral and green apple aromas mixed with lime and herbs, dry apple skin textured fruits and lingering zing

3. Belondrade Y Lurton 2016, Rueda, Spain — €48

Stockists: Honest 2 Goodness Market Glasnevin, www.h2gwines.ie/

Belondrade also have an excellent less expensive (€22) Verdejo called Apollonia but act fast as H2G are running low on stock. This was one of the finest wines I tasted on the trip, fermented and lees-aged in French Barriques.

Aromatic, textured, toasted vanilla mixed with citrus and apple fruits, complex and layered with classic endive bitterness on the finish.


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