Rueda Verdejo: Spain’s exceptional white

RuedaMy abiding memory of my first trip to Rueda is of its stony plains stretching far to the bright horizon, the light giving a clear impression of the altitude. There were other details: the freshness of the best Verdejos, the confusingly high number of winemakers with the surname Sanz (though not all related), the traces of winemaking dating back to the Romans.

Some ten or more years after that visit, Rueda’s refreshing whites (only 1% of production is red) are enjoying their time in the sun. In Spain, Rueda accounts for 41% of domestic white wine sales. Exports to the UK, in the 12 months to the end of 2017, grew by no less than 42%, to more than a million bottles. The fastest growth market is the on-trade accounting for around 60% of sales.

So what explains this recent success? After all, Rueda isn’t new – the DO was created in 1980, the first in Castilla y León, while the first mention of Rueda’s verdejo grape dates back to the 16th century, and the inhabitants of the worth-a-detour Roman villa clearly enjoyed wine. In today’s market Verdejo has been key: fresh, citrussy, with a distinctive note of bitterness on the finish. In a world in love with Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a definite place for its near neighbour Verdejo.  Rueda has its own Sauvignon Blancs, a little more exotic, a little riper than its French counterpart.

Verdejo has earned a deserved reputation for consistency and real charm. The downside of this very reliability was the lack of diversity. Young wines, machine harvested,  made in stainless steel with commercial yeasts taste remarkably similar. Great for a wine by the glass, but nothing to hold the drinker. Things are changing – as my tasting at the 2019 Wines from Spain Annual Tasting will show.

It’s a brief, focused snapshot of Rueda, highlighting the best of the trends.  It brings together two significant producers whom I met on that first trip and who have continued to show leadership: Belondrade and Victoria Pariente (of José Pariente). There’s a Sauvignon Blanc, to show the stylistic appeal of that variety in these soils. A new project from Ramón Bilbao bringing their expertise with lees from Rías Baixas’ Albariño to a Limited Edition in Rueda. And to finish there’s a sample from the revival of the classic style of Rueda, Dorado.  It’s a dry, oxidative style that makes a fine by the glass food match. Come along and find out more.

‘Rueda Verdejo – Spain’s Exceptional White Wine’ tutorials with Sarah Jane Evans MW will take place from 12pm-12.30pm and 3pm-3.30pm on Thursday 7 March at the 2019 Wines from Spain Annual Tasting.

To book your place, please email celine@bouteiller.co.uk.