If you are after crisp alternative to Sauvignon Blanc then Spain might just have the answer, writes Christine Austin

So what do you drink if you are tired of Sauvignon Blanc?  Admittedly there is enough good Sauvignon Blanc on the shelves at affordable prices to keep most drinkers happy for years, but occasionally the tastebuds cry out for a fresh taste, and that taste could be Rueda.

Pronounced Roo-aid-a, this is one of Spain’s top white wines.  It comes from central Spain, around 100 km north of Madrid from the Castilla y Leon region, and while this is a long established wine-growing region, the style of wine made there has changed dramatically in the last few decades.

For centuries this region produced a look-alike sherry from the Verdejo grape (pronounce it to rhyme with gecko).  In my early days in the wine trade I tasted one of these wines from a dusty old barrel, while the owner proudly told me how he was preserving the old traditions.  It was good, but not half as good as the wines being made now.

It took vision and a big wallet to change a whole region, but Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal needed a white wine to partner his red Rioja and so invested in scientific analysis to establish what would grow and how the wine should be made.

They eventually came up with a very simple idea.  Keep the old vines, the Verdejo grapes and make the wine in a fresh, bright style. Since then the whole region has changed, new wineries have been built, and there is a new approach to quality winemaking.  This is an old, established wine region, revitalised and now making excellent wines.

Rueda is not an easy place to grow grapes.  Located at 800 metres above sea level, on well-drained sandy, pebbly soil, there is a constant breeze blowing across the region.  Winters are cold and summers are warm, but not too warm because at night the temperature drops dramatically, preserving those fresh, clean flavours in the grapes.

Many Verdejo vines are grown as bushes, which require a great deal of manual labour, but this shape protects the grapes from the wind and from excess sunshine.  Verdejo vines generally produce small, flavour-filled bunches of grapes, and because daytime temperatures can be hot, much of the region is harvested at night so that grapes can arrive at the winery with all their fresh flavours.

So what does it taste like? Bright, crisp and citrussy, with herbal notes and even a peachy note with, if you are lucky, a slight bite of bitterness on the finish.  If you are handed a glass blind, then you might mistake it for Sauvignon Blanc, but it is less dominant than Sauvignon with fennel and meadow-grass tones rather than pea-pod and pineapple.  It is terrifically food friendly, and will accompany grilled fish, shellfish and even a range of tapas where flavours change with each mouthful.  It is the perfect wine for summer drinking.

As with all wine regions, there is tremendous discussion about clones, soils and whether the wine should be made in stainless steel or if the new shape concrete eggs give better results.  All of these variations add dimension to the region, providing arrange of style and flavours.  Here are some of my favourites.

Diez Siglos

This is one of the few wineries I have visited where I have had to dress up in a white coat and hairnet before being allowed in, but since they supply many of the UK supermarkets they have to be ultra careful that nothing apart from grapes gets into the wine.

This is a co-operative of 65 growers who control over 380 hectares of vines and from the appearance of their spotless winery, I am sure that all 380 hectares are well cared for. The wines reflect the modern winemaking, with bright fresh flavours and a touch of herby complexity.

Morrisons The Best Rueda 2017, £7.75

Crisp, lemony and rounded. Try this if you are new to Rueda.

Javier Sanz

Run by fourth generation of the Sanz family, this is one producer that has managed to bridge the gap between old-style Rueda and the bright, breezy flavours of today.

Javier Sanz Verdejo Rueda 2017, Corking Wines (01904 373043) £13.26

Zippy fresh flavours with pink grapefruit, fennel, anise and white floral notes.

Gotica

Gotica – Church or winery?

There are parts of this winery that look like they should be part of a cathedral, but collecting architectural heritage from various buildings is just one of the hobbies of the Diez family who own this winery.  And while the decorations may be looking backwards in time, the wines are definitely facing forwards.  With 120 hectares of vines and more being planted, this winery is mid-sized and makes quality wines with individuality and style.

Bodega Gotica Badajo Rueda 2018, Verdejo, Martinez Wines £9.75

Fresh, crisp, citrus-charged with hints of white flowers and a clean, balanced finish.

 

Trascampanas Verdejo 2016, Ake and Humphris £14.99

Lower temperature fermentation and aging in tank gives this wine depth of character and that elusive streak of bitter that makes Rueda such a good wine with food.

Belondrade

Owned by French winemaker Didier Belondrade, who is determined to prove that Rueda is Spain’s top white wine region, and possibly one of the world’s top wine regions. Each step in the winemaking process is meticulously planned.  They have 36 hectares of vines close to the winery, all farmed organically and all with slightly different soil characteristics.  Verdejo grapes are harvested by hand, and each plot is vinified separately using natural yeast and an array of French oak barrels. The wines are monitored and tasted, then blended to create precise, elegant wines that have a broad, complex style with a delicious, mouth-filling texture, quite unlike Rueda wines from lower down the price scale.  These are dinner party wines.

Quinta Apolonia 2015, Concept Fine Wine (01423 701418) £15.25

Fresh white floral aromas with lemon and orange peel flavours, a chalky, minerally character and long finish.

Belondrade y Lurton 2016, Hic!  Ledston (01977 550047) £30

This shows just how good Verdejo and Rueda can be.  Preserved lemon and hints of thyme on the nose, followed by a waxy textured palate, of citrus, toast and almonds edged with a gentle bitterness that holds the whole profile together.

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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