The Magic of Rueda Wines
The first time I sipped a white wine a Rueda wine, I was like “Wow, how can this be?”
My wine - a verdejo, which is Rueda’s native white grape - was vibrant with acidity, citrus and tumbling stone fruits.
It wasn’t at all what I expected.
Look at a map, and Denominación de Origin (DO) Rueda appears to be a hostile environment for white grape growing. There are hot, hot, hot summers in the Castilla y León region, in Spain’s north west.
Ah, but some magic happens and I like that magic. It is this: Within Rueda’s hot climate the grapes grow at altitude rising to as much as 2,800 feet.
Sommelier Ferran Centelles has said verdejo is “adapted to suffer and survive in a tough, austere environment”. And by golly, verdejo has been surviving here for a very long time, since the 11th century.
It would be rude not to mention that verdejo is joined in its DO Rueda white wine crusade by other varieties, including viura, viognier and chardonnay.
Its main soulmate is sauvignon blanc which has been permitted in the wines of Rueda since the ‘70s. Both grapes can be single varietal wines or team up in a blend.
Let’s head back to the magic I mentioned, and those high-altitude vineyards.
Grapes bask in the warming sun; but at night the temperature drops steeply.
Time for a rest, say the grapes, let's preserve our acidity and flavours before the sun appears again tomorrow!
Grapes can’t really talk, let’s be clear about that. But I can, and I’ve talked alot about the wines Rueda since I discovered them.
Rueda Wines: One Region, Many Styles
In Spain, Rueda’s whites are second only to Rioja’s wines in popularity.
I visited Rueda and met several producers in the chill but pin-bright sunshine of a winter week. I was shown clusters of old bush vines cradled in sandy soils. Their grapes, concentrated with flavours, are used to craft the most delicious wines.
Many of them are barrel-fermented, or barrel-aged, or both. This adds a glorious creamy character with highlights of tropical fruits, beeswax and toast.
They can be labelled Gran Vino de Rueda (if made from grapes from vineyards over 30 years old).
I was a pushover for Rueda whites as it was. When I discovered these styles, I was lost to the cause.
Now I’ll rewind to the beginning of my words.
I shared my “How can this be?” moment with friends and a bottle of Beronia Rueda Verdejo. I didn't anticipate my tastebuds would be excited by rivers of acidity; and that white peach, prickly pear, lemon and herbal notes (think fennel) would be tapping on my senses.
Rueda wines are made for summer. They’re made for crisp cool days too. Christmas, Easter, weekdays and weekends. Any day with the word “day” in it will do for a glass of Rueda white.
Jane Clare (aka One Foot in the Grapes) is a journalist and wine educator. Jane was a DO Rueda UK Wine Ambassador 2022.