I love wines from Spain. For many reasons. They're inexpensive yet high quality. They're fresh and delicious. And maybe best of all, no one is trying to copy their style (yet). They're originals.
The reds are fabulous, but I find that the white wines are really something special. Food friendly, acidic yet fruity -- they've got the perfect mix. Rueda, an area on a high plain that lays in northwest/central Castilla y León, has some of the best whites, made mostly of Verdejo, a grape that had dropped off the radar until recently.
The climate is like any midwestern area -- hot summers, cold winters. The only thing that spares the grapes from sunburn is the warming Atlantic breezes. Still, vintages are erratic since frost, wind, hail, and any number of other natural maladies can maim or kill the crops. And one of those maladies, the killer of all European grapevines in the late 1800s through the early 1900s, the phylloxera root bug, kicked the area in the teeth and put Verdejo at risk of falling into obscurity.
After ripping through the area and killing 2/3 of the vines, growers replanted (on American grapevine roots, which are resistant to phylloxera, can anchor the plant, and can take a graft from a different grape species with no noticeable flavor difference). But they picked grapes that produced quantity over quality, and Verdejo, a slower grower, got bumped by Sauvignon Blanc and Viura (also used in Cava and white Rioja). Most of the stuff produced from 1922 through the 1970s was nasty Sherry-like wine sold in bulk.
Help came from an unlikely source in the 1970s: Marquis de Riscal, a Rioja producer, who decided to bring Verdejo into the spotlight and make better whites from the grape.
My opinion: Good call!
The grape is unlike any other. It tastes like limes, lemon, and always has a little earthy, underbrush/shrubby smell. It has a little bitterness and great mouth-cleansing acidity but it's not sharp. It's usually really silky in your mouth and makes you want to go in for another sip.
Some things to watch before you buy wine from Rueda:
- Wines labeled "Rueda" are only required to be 50% Verdejo -- the rest is Sauvignon Blanc and Viura
- Wines labeled "Rueda Verdejo" are required to be 85% Verdejo, but many are 100% and usually indicate so on the bottle. Rueda Verdejo are the best wines, in my opinion.
Look before you buy!
And now...a new format for the blog. I'm splitting the education piece from the review. So come back in a few days for the review of Basa Verdejo -- an amazing wine that you have to know about!