Verdejo is the white grape that has won over Spanish palates in terms of day-to-day consumption. Perceived by consumers as a fresh, easy-to-drink, affordable white, it is the undisputed king on bar counters across the country. But success has also brought a mass of standardized, sometimes boring wines which shouldn’t detract from the grape’s ability to make outstanding wines.
Although Rioja has allowed plantings and there are a few thousand hectares in Castilla La Mancha, Rueda is Verdejo’s homeland. The appellation, on the northern Spanish plateau, encompasses vineyards spread across the provinces of Valladolid, Segovia and Ávila in Castilla y León. Vines are grown in alluvial terraces formed by the river Duero and its tributaries. Soils are mostly gravelly, often with pebbles, with clay and sandy areas found primarily in the province of Segovia where ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines can still be found.
Flanked by two red producing regions like Ribera del Duero and Toro, Rueda shares with them the austere landscape, the harsh winters and the broad temperature variations between night and day during the ripening process. The flat terrain allows for vineyard mechanization and currently over 90% of the grapes are harvested with machines. Rueda wines have thus become rather technological, with fermentation at very low temperatures and selected yeasts which go from the neutral to the downright showy).
With this framework in mind, we have selected several wines that are likely to appeal to those willing to go further. There are many others, of course, but we think these five can widen your horizons when it comes to Verdejo.
Malcorta 2014, Javier Sanz Viticultor (Rueda). The fourth generation of a saga of winegrowers in Rueda, Javier tries hard to distinguish himself from the big winemaking groups that have settled in the area over the last few years. He is experimenting with some exotic red grape varieties brought from Arribes de Duero and Sierra de Salamanca, close to the Portuguese border. For his whites, Sanz has recovered an ancient Verdejo clone locally known as malcorta (it means “difficult to cut”) which ripens around 15 days later than the standard Verdejo and provides higher acidity. Five years ago Javier grafted his malcorta clone onto old Verdejo vines —he has been making a separate wine with them since the 2013 vintage. Fermentation is done in stainless steel tanks with selected (although rather neutral) yeasts and barely 8,000 bottles are produced.
The wine displays a fine subtle nose with fennel and white fruit (pear, melon) aromas and it’s really crisp and consistent on the palate. Flavours are not that different from what we usually get from Verdejo, but they are remarkably-defined and there’s also an extra juiciness that brings a mouthwatering effect.
Tinita Viñas Viejas de Verdejo 2013, Soto y Manrique Proyecto de Familia (Rueda). This is the brainchild of Jesús Soto, an experienced wine professional who launched the Pecados Originales wine shop in Valladolid, co-founded Leda Viñas Viejas (a red wine venture on the boundaries of Ribera del Duero) and worked until recently at Rueda’s top producer Belondrade. Tinita, which bears the nickname of Jesús’ wife, is a blend of grapes fermented in stainless steel tanks (75%) and barrel-fermented Verdejo (25%) resulting in complex and well-defined fruit notes.
On the nose there are preserved lemons, dried and infusion herbs aromas with a slight smokiness. The palate is savoury and consistent with discreetly placed oak notes on the background. Thanks to the extra structure provided by the wood this wine holds on nicely and it can be enjoyed throughout 2015.
Find this wine at Enterwine (€7.85).
José Pariente Cuvée Especial 2013, Bodegas José Pariente (Rueda). This top Rueda producer has been making its Cuvée, a concrete-egg fermented Verdejo, since the 2011 vintage. Egg-shaped tanks have proved highly interesting for white winemaking as they reportedly create a vortex that keeps lees suspended in a natural way; they are also suitable for aging whites over a relatively long period avoiding any oxidation issues. Grapes here are sourced from a 40-year old plot planted with bush vines in La Seca, in the heart of Rueda.
On the nose the wine is far more restrained than the winery’s young Verdejo although it feels more complex on the nose with peachy, white fruit and hay aromas. Savoury and with structure on the palate, it displays a marked briny/mineral character.
Find this wine at Vinissimus (€25.45).
Ossian 2010, Ossian Vides y Vinos (VT Castilla y León). Although the current vintage on sale is 2012, we list here this 2010 to show the aging abilities of high-quality Verdejos (see also this Belondrade y Lurton vertical tasting as further proof). This barrel-fermented white —which clearly benefits from additional bottle aging— comes from very old pre-phylloxeric and/or ungrafted vines grown on sandy soils in the vicinity of Nieva in Segovia.
It displays a serious and complex nose that keeps changing with preserved lemons, sunflower seeds, dried herbs, aniseed and smoky aromas. This is the kind of wine that shows what Verdejo is capable of: a full-bodied powerful white with high salinity and a long finish displaying smoky and toasty nuances. It’s worth noting that although vineyards are located within the boundaries of the Rueda appellation, it is released as Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León. The current 2012 vintage can be found for €21-22.
Kilómetro 0 “el origen” 2012, Microbiowines (Vino de mesa). Ossian co-owner and winegrower Ismael Gozalo also crafts his own wines in the area and he follows the same principles as those used for Ossian (co-owned with Ribera del Duero’s top producer Pago de Carraovejas): organically-grown vineyards and extreme, often sulfite-free Verdejo-based whites. Arguably, his most radical and captivating wine is his orange Verdejo, which ferments with grape skins in earthenware jars and is aged in barrels for 10-12 months followed by aging in tanks for an extra 10-12 months. Only the equivalent of one barrel is produced, so this is an extremely rare wine.
Orange in colour, it displays a mixture of exotic and sweet spices (clove, cinnamon), herbs (coriander, basil, rosemary) and tangerine peel aromas. A fresh vegetal character reminds of red wines fermented with whole bunches. Dry and slightly warm on the palate, with a tannic edge that is rarely found on white wines and dried fruit notes on the finish. Definitely, an unusual wine suitable for the most adventurous consumers.