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I Love Verdejo: Enticing Spanish White Varieties

Editor’s Note: Quentin Sadler, a prolific wine writer with a penchant for Spanish wine, has kindly agreed to contribute some vinous thoughts from England. We’d like to to warmly thank Quentin for sharing his experiences with us, and trust you’ll enjoy his passion and prose.

In summer, my thoughts turn to wines that I can enjoy outside with light meals, this can mean a rosé, but usually points towards a white wine.

Spain is most famous as a red wine country in the UK, especially reds from Rioja and I can partly understand that. Rioja can be great, but I have been getting more and more excited by Spain’s ability to turn out delicious white wines.

In the past people didn’t notice Spain’s whites because the traditional workhorse white grapes of Spain are relatively dull:

Airén – is the most planted grape variety in the world, covering great swathes of central and southern Spain. It is bland and neutral and makes wines which are at best ok. However, the vine is hardy and able to withstand the heat extremely well.

Viura – the white grape of Rioja and grown right across the north – as Macabeo it is used in Cava and, as Macabeu, in France’s Roussillon region. Again this grape can be pretty neutral, but with care fine wine can be produced from it.

I often used to wonder why Spain ended up concentrating on these white oddities, one dull and the other needing expert hands to achieve good results – well, I now know the answer.

Many of the traditional grapes were tricky to use in the past – for instance the Verdejo is a native grape of Castilla y León that with modern techniques, like cold fermentation and harvesting at night, makes lovely, fresh white wines.

However, if you were a winemaker 100 years or so ago you would have found, with the wine making options available to you, that these grapes would have oxidised really easily.

As far as I can see this would have left you with four options:

  1. Make terrible white wine with no freshness.
  2. Make an oxidised style – like Sherry.
  3. Grub up those varieties and plant something less fine, but easier to manage – like Airén.
  4. Give up on white wines and make rosés instead.

All four solutions were pretty widespread before technology began to bite over the last twenty years or so.

So, Verdejo has had to sit out the last few hundred years on the sidelines, waiting for modern technology to treat it properly. We are so lucky that we can now enjoy fresh, lively wines from this wonderful grape.

If you are not familiar with Verdejo, do dedicate a little more of your summer drinking to it, there are some splendid examples around and they all give great value for money. Stylistically Verdejo leans towards Sauvignon Blanc, so should appeal to the great majority of wine drinkers.

My two favourites remain:

Palacio de Bornos Verdejo 2009 D.O. Rueda
Fresh and zesty with a slight herbal tint – a really fine dry white that is full of flavour and very elegant.

Analivia Verdejo 2009 D.O. Rueda
A terrific wine with lovely weight of succulent fruit on the palate and a good, crisp finish – one of the weightier Rueda wines.

This wine is widely available in Spain as Blume Verdejo.

Here are a few more that I would be very happy to be offered:

Vega de la Reina Verdejo 2008 Marques de la Concordia D.O. Rueda
Another zesty Rueda that has 10% Sauvignon Blanc to give it grassy and gooseberry hints.

Centellito Verdejo 2009 D.O. Rueda
A much richer style, very modern and quite exotic with ripe tropical fruit tones. Very enjoyable if not quite as fine as the others. This was vinified by Alvarez y Diez, who made solera aged sherry-like wines until 20 years ago and are now major producers of modern style Rueda.

I would also always recommend the white Rueda wines from Con Class.

Verdejo is a quality grape that makes good wines elsewhere in Castilla y León too, I’ve even enjoyed one from Virginia. They might be a little less distinguished and less concentrated, but some of the Vino de la Tierra de Castilla y León Verdejos are very enjoyable, even when there is a little Sauvignon Blanc or Viura blended in.

In Spain you may also be able to lay your hands on Valleoscuro Verdejo from Bodegas Otero in the Valles de Benavente region of Castilla y León – it is a beautifully made, fresh, light and honest dry white wine that would be my everyday drinking if I lived anywhere near.

Of course its not only Verdejo, Spain uses many other wonderful white grapes to make modern, fresh white wines too – I am also very fond of Malvasia which makes delicious wines in Castilla y León and the Canary Islands.

To the north in the Basque country some really exciting white wines are made in the tiny Txacolí regions from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape.

On Spain’s Atlantic coast, Galicia grows around twelve different white grapes, some of which – Godello, Albariño, Loureiro and Treixadura – make some of Spain’s finest white wines and I will tell you about some of these soon.


Quentin Sadler

To read more from Quentin Sadler, please visit his website at: http://quentinsadler.wordpress.com/

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