Verdejo, a native wine grape variety of D.O. Rueda in Spain, has, for years, been compared with Sauvignon Blanc and has sometimes been marketed as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. Despite their differences in nationalities, there is no doubt that these two aromatic grape varieties can buddy up seamlessly. In fact, to be labelled as a D.O. Rueda white wine, it must be made from at least 50% of either Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc, which can be blended with other permitted verities in the region, but they can also be made as 100% varietal wines.
With the abundant sunshine, Sauvignon Blanc shakes off the herbaceous note typically found in its cooler homeland in the Loire. Rueda Sauvignon Blancs are aromatic and with cheerful tropical fruit notes. Verdejo, on the other hand, shows refreshing citrus and green fruit characters and lovely herbal notes of fresh fennels and laurel.
Even though Verdejo is native to Rueda, its full potential was only recognised by Bodegas Marqués de Riscal of Rioja in the 1970s, who subsequently introduced Sauvignon Blancs to the region. The potential of Rueda’s dry white wines has since been noticed by the world.
Rueda makes nearly 98% of white wine in the DO, mostly from Verdejo, but they are definitely not all one-dimensional! Apart from the easy-drinking, refreshing style, Verdejo can be equally more complex and serious by going through barrel fermentation, making fuller-bodied wines with delightful almond-like nutty characters.
And in 2019, a new category called “Gran Vino de Rueda” has been created. The first vintage was 2020 and the wine has only been released to the market and recently showcased in London. For wines to be labelled as Gran Vino de Rueda, they must be grown in vineyards that are more than 30 years old, with yields less than 6,500 kg/Ha and unlike the rest of the D.O. Rueda where the press rate (grape to juice) is 72%, for “Gran Vino de Rueda” the maximum permitted ration is 65%.
Currently, 14 out of the DO’s 74 producers are making Gran Vino de Rueda. These top-tier wines are expected to have longer cellaring potential than standard Rueda DO wines. Though it’s too early to judge, the effort to create a point of difference and higher quality wines and at the same time to recognise the value of older vines are worth encouraging.
Apart from still wines, there are a few other wines produced in Rueda. Rueda Espumoso (sparkling wine) is made from at least 75% of Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc mostly using the traditional method. If the wines are labelled as Rueda Dorado or Rueda Pálido, they are sherry-style fortified wines made from the Palomino Fino and/or Verdejo.
I tasted some great Rueda 100% Verdejo at the recent wine tasting in London and was particularly impressed with the older vintage (2018) barrel-fermented Verdejos. This goes to show that Verdejo can age and it takes oak very well. The newly released Gran Vino de Rueda wines are no doubt well made, young, crisp and dry but do have some depth and structure.
The wines that I tasted in March 2022
Robert Vedel Cepas Viejas Verdejo 2019 (H2Vin)
Crisp and refreshing. Lime, green apples, with a herby finish.
Alvarez y Diez Silga Verdejo 2020 (Alliance)
Citrus, pear, apple, and a green-tea-like finish.
Protos Verdejo 2021 (Bibendum)
Very citrusy. A bit floral. Delicious and satisfying.
Vinas Familia Gil, Shaya Verdejo, 2021 (E&C)
Citrus, peach and dry bay leaves.
Barrel Fermented Verdejos
Vinas Familia Gil, Shaya Habis 2018 (E&C)
From very old vines. Eight months on lees in new French oak barrels. Impressively creamy and full on the palate. Big and round yet scrumptious.
Bodegas Verderrubi, Pita Finca La Cantera Verdejo Fermetado En Barrica 2018 (Raymond Reynolds)
Toasty, peach, creamy. Intense. I really enjoyed this one. VG.
Finca Montepedroso, Enoteca Verdejo, Rueda, 2019
Mineral, zesty with a touch of honey and smoke.
Gran Vino De Rueda
Cuatro Rayas Longverdejo Gran Vino De Rueda 2020 (Bibendum)
Citrus, fennel, mineral. Youthful.
Martinsancho Gran Vino De Rueda 2020 (Les Caves de Pyrene)
Peach, quince, mineral, refreshing.
Diez Siglos verdejo Fermentado en Barrica Gran Vino de Rueda 2020 (Boutinot)
Zippy, zesty on the nose but with a round and creamy texture. Very good!
To learn more about Rueda wines: dorueda.com