The wine buff: Vibrant Verdejo is worth checking out
If you were asked to name a Spanish white wine, Albariño is likely to be the first wine that comes to mind. It's fresh and summery, and if you're a fan, take a look at today's Grapevine section. But there is another Spanish white grape, Verdejo, which is worth checking out. It is, in fact, the most commonly grown white grape in Spain, brought to what is now its spiritual home, Rueda, from North Africa 1,000 years ago.
Rueda is in the state of Castilla y León, about an hour's drive northwest of Madrid. Valladolid, the city where Christopher Columbus died and is buried, is considered the capital of the region, and it dates back to pre-Roman times. In the 15th century, during the reign of Isabel I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, it was the capital of the Kingdom of Castile, and later became the capital of a united Spain. It's an interesting city with historic buildings and great restaurants and tapas bars. About 100km south is Segovia, the other main city associated with the region, which has a spectacular 2,000-year-old aqueduct. It's well worth a visit and is just 30 minutes from Madrid on the high-speed train. Take a trip up to the top of the hill to visit the Royal Palace and enjoy lunch with a beautifully chilled glass of Rueda Verdejo in one of the many great tapas bars on the Plaza Mayor.
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Rueda has the largest planting of the Verdejo grape in the world, with the appellation extending to 16,000 hectares. Most of the vineyards are located around three villages - Rueda, La Seca and Serrada - known as the golden triangle. The soil is stony and altitudes range from 700 to 900 metres above sea level, something you don't realise when you're there, as it's a large, flat plateau. The fact that it's inland and at altitude means that there is a huge variation between day and night temperatures in the summer. This is good news for growing white grapes, as it preserves their aromatics and freshness.
Verdejo is a perfect summer wine. It has stone fruit and citrus flavours with herbaceous notes of fennel and bay leaf. It is sometimes blended with Sauvignon Blanc, but to be 'Rueda Verdejo', wines must contain at least 85pc Verdejo. They are all good, but I particularly like the 100pc Verdejo wines, so check the back label and make sure it says 'Rueda' on the front.
Verdejo was little known until the '70s, when well-known Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal went in search of a white variety that could match the appeal of their reds. Their vineyards are organic and include ancient pre-phylloxera bush vines. You'll find their Verdejo Rueda in leading independents, including O'Briens, Donnybrook Fair and JJ O'Driscoll's.
Other well-known brands include Ramón Bilbao and Gran Feudo, which are widely available; Molloy's has Canto Real for €10.95, SuperValu has Albali for €8, and you'll find the very lovely Belondrade at Honest2Goodness market in Glasnevin.
I'm looking forward to presenting a top selection of Rías Baixas white wines to match the four-course Summer Seafood Soirée menu in the walled garden at Ballyvolane House in Co Cork. The menu will include oysters and smoked and cured fish canapés, followed by local crab, lobsters and turbot on the bone, and a summer pudding with a selection of Irish cheeses; 7.30pm, Saturday August 10, €67.50, ballyvolanehouse.ie or call 025 36349.
Monasterio de Palazuelos Verdejo 2018
€13.95, 13.5pc, from O'Briens and obrienswine.ie
Made in a stunning underground winery, where everything is gravity-fed, this has aromas of white peach blossom and is clean and crisp on the palate, with fresh grapefruit and a touch of fennel, dried mint and anise on the finish.
José Pariente Verdejo 2015
€17.40, 13pc, from Wines Direct at Arnotts, Dublin, Mullingar, and winesdirect.ie
A top-quality winery with old vineyards and some experimental wine made using concrete eggs. This wine has a silky quality with a fresh citrus core and a rich savoury complexity of braised fennel.
Menade 'Nosso' Verdejo 2018
€22.95, 12.6pc, Green Man Wines, Baggot Street Wines, Blackrock Cellar, Fallon & Byrne, Dublin; Avoca, Rathcoole; World Wide Wines, Waterford; Le Caveau, Kilkenny
Fans of natural wine will love this organic 100pc Verdejo. Fermented with wild yeast with no added sulphur, it is then aged on its skins for 4-5 months.