RUEDA, 100km northwest of Madrid, was something of a sleepy backwater until the 1980s when massive Rioja house Marques de Riscal ‘discovered’ and popularised local sleeping beauty grape Verdejo, in the process propelling the region into the spotlight.
Just one appellation, Rueda theoretically comes in all styles: white, pink, red, sparkling (espumoso) and fortified (dorado). But in practice – and pretty much exclusively in export markets – Rueda is a still white wine. In fact last year’s crop was fully 98% pale-skinned varieties, the vast majority of this destined for the production of the fruity, rich whites (an ideal complement, as it happens, to the strapping reds of neighbouring Toro) that the region is now famous for.
Verdejo – a buoyant, tropical-scented variety originally from Mediterranean Africa but now found really only in this part of Spain – is easily the most important grape, accounting for 84% of the 2013 crush. One of its distinguishing features is that it is unusually high in glycerol, a type of alcohol that contributes to the wine’s viscosity and perceived sweetness – Verdejo is never thin and tart.
‘Rueda’ must by law be made from at least 50% Verdejo, with variations including ‘Rueda Verdejo’ and ‘Rueda Sauvignon Blanc’ (Rueda is Spain’s only decent area for Sauvignon), which are obliged to include a minimum of 85% of the stated variety. Viura (Macabeo) is used, too, but so emphatic is the honeyed, fennel and passionfruit-scented Verdejo that even blends that incorporate sizable dollops of stubbornly-neutral Viura still manage to taste like Verdejo.
There is a lot to like about Rueda, which tends to be reliably good, affordable, uber-fruity and suited to drinking both with food (Asian is good) or, in grand Irish fashion, on its own. Give it a bash – it’s very enjoyable stuff.