By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 19 November 2016
Zippy zesty dry whites are not the kind of wines you would expect to find next door to the famous red wine regions of Ribera del Duero and Toro. Yet Rueda, the neighbouring wine region just south of Valladolid, is fast becoming one of Spain’s top white wine areas.
To find this region you need to head northwest of Madrid. As you drive north, the road climbs up and up until it reaches a giant flat limestone plateau – and on this huge high altitude plain at 600-800 metres above sea level, just south of the Duero river valley, is the Rueda outpost.
You feel a distinct temperature difference here up in La Seca and Rueda towns of Castile y Leon, away from the stifling heat of the city – here the climate is continental with hot summer days and bitterly cold winters – but the air is crisp, bright and clear.
It is here that the native wild vine Verdejo has been growing for centuries. Initially the land was cleared by the Moors, who scorched everything in sight, but as the local vegetation began to grow again, so did the local Verdejo. So when King Alfonso VI established monasteries here in C11th, Verdejo was the chosen local grape most suited to its role of supplying the popular sherry-style whites with its tendency to oxidise.
Rueda flourished in the C17 and C18, the wines were considered so good that half was earmarked for the royal court, until phylloxera hit the region in 1890’s. But when the farmers began to replant in the 1920’s, they unfortunately chose the easier-to-grow Palomino Fino grape, rather than tricky Verdejo.
Fast forward to 1972, when Rioja producer Marques de Riscal was looking for a suitable place in Spain to make fruity fresh dry whites. He chose the abandoned Verdejo grape from Rueda – and using modern technology of stainless steel vats and cool fermentation under inert gas he transformed this awkward grape into an attractive crisp dry white – a far cry from the old sherry-style of old.
Riscal also pioneered Sauvignon Blanc here, now one of the accepted grapes of Rueda DO, currently planted in a small part of Rueda’s 13,000 hectares of vineyards today (90% of plantings are Verdejo). Rueda DO actually stretches far and wide to the south, it officially can be made in 72 different municipalities across Castile y Leon – with 53 in Valladolid, 17 near Segovia to the south and 2 near Avila – but the heart of Rueda is Medina del Campo just south of Valladolid.
Today what Rueda can offer the modern wine lover is a very elegant crisp, fresh and lusciously fruity dry white – but it is available in different styles.
You have ‘standard’ Rueda Blanco, made using 50% Verdejo – or Rueda Verdejo and Rueda Sauvignon Blanc which must have 85% of the named variety. Personally I prefer the Rueda Verdejo when made from 100% Verdejo, as I love the greengage and apricot fruits, weighty luscious texture and spicy kick to the finish of a good Verdejo. Locally in Spain you can also buy Rueda Espumoso, a traditional-method based fizz, but it is not available in the UK.
The majority of Rueda dry white wines on our shelves in the UK are cool fermented crisp vibrant whites which work well as aperitifs – they would suit anyone who normally enjoys quaffing Pinot Grigio or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
Some Rueda winemakers like the French-owned Belondrade experiment with blending in a proportion of barrel fermented to add complexity – and these richer weightier whites are more suited to serving with veal or spicy paella.
RUEDA TASTE TEST
VERDEJO 2015 DOMINIO DE VERDERRUBI ***STAR BUY***
(£10.95 Drinkmonger, Bruntsfield Road, Edinburgh; St Andrews Wine Company, St Andrews)
This Verdejo got the vote from our tasters as the best all-rounder – with crispness, zestiness and luscious ripe fruits. Winemaker Emilio Pita studied in Bordeaux and worked in New Zealand and USA before returning home to his family’s vineyards in Castile & Leon: Alc: 13%
JOSE PARIENTA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2013
(£7.99 Majestic Wine Scotland)
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
From a modern winery run by two ladies – mother and daughter – who use unusual techniques such as fermenting in giant concrete eggs to enhance complexity. Tasters enjoyed its rich ripe floral notes, mango and green apple fruits and good length: Alc: 13%
VINA ALBALI RUEDA SAUVIGNON BLANC 2015
(£6.99 Majestic Wine Scotland)
Grape: Sauvignon Blanc
From newcomer Pagos del Rey, this is a typical Rueda Sauvignon Blanc with green fruits, slightly grassy notes with herbal undertones – a little neutral in comparison to others in our tasting – but tasters found it delicate and refreshing: Alc: 13%
RUEDA BLANCO 2015 MARQUES DE RISCAL
(£6.99 / £8.99 Majestic Wine)
Grapes: Verdejo & Viura
For those who like their Rueda fresh and uncomplicated. This Verdejo and Viura blend comes from the famous Riscal winery in Rioja – who were instrumental in putting Rueda region back on the world wine map: Alc: 12.5%
BERONIA RUEDA VERDEJO 2015
This is Gonzalez Byass’ outpost in Rueda. Their winemakers Beatriz Paniagua, who comes from the local region, with Riojan Matias Calleja have tried to build complexity into this Verdejo by blending early picked warm fermented fruit to enhance explosive fruit aromas with later picked cooler fermented fruit to retain freshness. The result is zippy, ripe and well balanced: Alc: 13%
EL QUINTANAL BLANCO 2015 CILLAR DE SILOS
(£11.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
Popular with tasters for its floral ripe apricot aromas and zippy zesty fresh vibrant palate. Cillar de Silos is a well-known producer of affordable Ribera del Duero, the Aragon family have now expanded their range to include this Rueda from south of Valladolid: Alc: 13%
QUINTA APOLONIA 2012 BELONDRADE ***STAR BUY***
(£14.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
This shows a different side to Rueda, with part barrel fermented Verdejo has a greengage aroma, weighty creamy palate but still with balancing good natural acidity: Alc: 13.5%
Join Rose’s Classic Wine Dinner at Rhubarb, Prestonfield House Hotel on Thursday 8 December www.rosemurraybrown.com