Rueda Verdejo White Wine
White Wine Rueda Verdejo
Clean and refreshing, white wines from Rueda go well with food but can also serve as an evening aperitif in their own right. So, what exactly do you need to know about Rueda Verdejo?
Verdejo is native to Rueda but was probably brought to the region from Africa during the Moorish occupation. Traditionally it was made into an oxidized, sherry-like wine, but in the 1970s, French oenologist Emile Peignot helped the Marquis de Riscal of Rioja develop a fresher, non-oxidized style fermented in stainless steel, which immediately gained popularity with consumers, leading to a dramatic increase in plantings and harvests. More facts about Rueda Verdejo white wine are further in the article.
Verdejo is a white grape variety that has been common in Spain, particularly in the Rueda region, for more than 1,000 years. This grape variety originated in North Africa and came to the south of Spain, from where it spread to the north during the reign of King Alfonso VI in the 11th century.
The Verdejo grape produces soft, fruity white wines with an intense aroma. Despite its history of making oxidized wines, such as strong, nutty wines like Jerez, today’s Rueda Verdejo wines have bright citrus and melon characteristics, with highly balanced acidity and tons of freshness.
The Verdejo bunch is not very large. The berry is of medium size. The variety gets its name from the incredibly bright green colour it retains during the growing season. Typically, grapes change colour from bright green to their native colour during the growing season. Verdejos’ colour hardly ever changes.
D.O. Rueda: the region where Verdejo white wine is produced
D.O. Rueda is located in Castilla y León in northern Spain and consists of 72 municipalities located in the south of the province of Valladolid, west of Segovia and north of Avila. The region, situated on a high plateau, has a continental climate with cold winters and hot summers. Small family farms have been practising sustainable agriculture here for centuries, although Rueda officially received Denominacion de Origen (D.O.) status relatively recently, in 1980.
The D.O. is the control body that enforces the rules established to guarantee the wines’ origin, style, and quality. According to the regulations, wines labelled “Rueda” must contain at least 50% Verdejo, and wines labelled “Rueda Verdejo” must contain at least 85%. However, most wines are generally made entirely from the Verdejo variety.
Rueda has 12,853 hectares (32,500 acres) of vineyards, 95% of which are white varieties, of which 28,800 acres are Verdejo and the rest Sauvignon Blanc, Viura and Palomino Fino. Verdejo alone accounts for 86% of Rueda’s total grape production, a testament to its suitability for this region with its hot summers and high daily temperature variations.
There are 69 wineries in the region, and more than 1,500 farmers grow grapes. To achieve Rueda Verdejo status, wines must contain at least 85%, Verdejo. Verdejo was nearly destroyed by phylloxera in the late 19th century but was revived in the 1970s.
Rueda is located half a mile above sea level, where the climate is extreme and harsh: cold winters, late springs, and sultry summers; and although it’s harsh for humans, Verdejo thrives in these conditions, concentrating the flavour.
The best vineyards in D.O. Rueda have typical “gravelly” soils. Dark grey-brown soils, rich in calcium and magnesium, stony but easy to work, well ventilated and drained, with limestone outcrops on the hilltops. Permeable and healthy, their texture varies from sandy-loam to loamy.
Substantial temperature variations between day and night help maintain a balance between sugar and acidity in Verdejo grapes. Two thousand six hundred hours of sunlight, little rainfall and winds keep the vineyards from drying out, allowing for virtually organic viticulture. Roots are forced to dig deep into the sandy, stony soil in search of water and nutrients, which gives the wines a slight minerality.
How is Verdejo wine made?
Rocky soils rich in limestone and iron and optimal sunlight result in Verdejo vines that produce vines capable of producing full-bodied and very aromatic white wines.
Verdejo is prone to oxidation. Therefore, the timing and method of harvesting for this grape variety is critical. The grapes are harvested by machine. Machine harvesting takes the fruit off the vine quickly.
In addition, most of the harvesting takes place at night, without sunlight, which can oxidize the grapes. When temperatures are lower, which also prevents oxidation and helps preserve the acidity and freshness of the grapes. Fermentation in stainless steel or concrete emphasizes the bright, fruity characteristics of the wine.
A short maceration is followed by a long, slow fermentation in steel tanks. The grapes enter the cellars at 50-60°F, while daytime temperatures in September are 75-85°F. Cold fermentation takes place at about 50°F in stainless steel tanks. Ageing is fast and also at the same temperature in stainless steel. After three months, the wine takes on a slightly yellowish colour with a greenish hue and a fresh, fruity aroma and flavour.
Most D.O. Rueda are made in temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats, where they are stored before being bottled. Sometimes, however, Verdejo is aged in barrels to produce a very different style of wine. Oxygen from the ageing process reduces acidity and allows the fruit to open up. In most cases, neutral barrels (old barrels that do not impart oak flavours to the wine) are used. This wine does not undergo secondary, malolactic fermentation. This process would mask the gorgeous fruit and nutty finish it is known for.
The pioneering spirit of the D.O. Rueda has prompted winemakers to experiment with natural yeasts, egg-shaped cement fermenters and even use Verdejo grapes to create sweet and sparkling wines, applying winemaking techniques used to create the best white wines from Champagne and Burgundy. In doing so, they produce not only sensational sparkling Verdejos but also decent classic fine wines.
Simply, winemakers use leaching ageing to add complexity and texture to the wine. Verdejo also ages well in oak, so some winemakers use barrels and large wooden vats – foudres – to produce their wines. To develop aroma and flavour, some winemakers also use concrete eggs for ageing. As a result, these wines can age for years.
All that said, Rueda Verdejo is slowly but surely evolving into a world-class wine with a reputation for being rich, herbal, complex, mineral and with 5-10 years of ageing potential. Similar to the world’s best white wines produced in places like the Loire, Sancerre, Chablis and Bordeaux, the well-constructed Verdejo from Rueda is on its way to being on par with these renowned regions.
Taste of Rueda Verdejo white wine
Verdejo is a young Verdejo wine that fully emerges in Rueda, famous for its pale greenish-yellow hue and aromatic, almost grassy scent. Its taste matches it with fennel herbaceous and citrus notes and hints of stone fruit such as white peach. Its herbaceous-citrus character has much in common with Sauvignon Blanc, and sometimes the two varieties are blended to produce aromatic, full-bodied white wines.
Verdejo can be described as a cross between a Sauvignon Blanc and a Pinot Grigio. It has a unique flavour with a touch of herbs, fruity notes, and an excellent level of acidity. It has liveliness, light spice, excellent acidity, and pairs well with food. The young or “Joven” style Verdejo is an excellent wine for everyday consumption, which is why it is so popular among Spaniards.
Keep in mind that Verdejo can be quite unpleasant if not served chilled enough, sometimes too alcoholic, and petrol-like. But when appropriately chilled, it becomes delicious.
How and with what to drink Rueda Verdejo white wine?
Versatility is a crucial virtue of Rueda Verdejo wines.
The wine pairs perfectly with various dishes, especially shellfish, fresh cheeses, vegetables, savoury dishes, and various salads. Rueda Verdejo pairs well without food, whether it’s a hot summer day on the terrace or a cold winter evening by the fireplace.
Verdejo is sold mostly young when its herbaceous notes are most prominent. However, oak-aged versions age favourably in the bottle, as the high acidity provides good structure and rich nutty flavours as it ages.
One of the best ways to consume Verdejo is with food. The wine’s high acidity and subtle bitterness make it a great palate cleanser.
When pairing, keep in mind that the lime and citrus flavours of Verdejo should offset the taste of the dish. As a rule of thumb, if you add lime to a dish, it is likely to pair well with Verdejo.
That said, a Verdejo wine with noticeable oak ageing will pair better with dishes that have more cream or coconut-based sauces.