I FIRST visited the small Spanish town of Rueda almost 40 years ago. Lying astride the main A6 road from Madrid to Coruña, its broad main street resembled something out of a Wild West film. As far as wines were concerned, it was perhaps best known for its vinos generosos: fortified wines that had been left to oxidise in glass carboys.
But things were changing; just a few years before, one of the greatest of Rioja companies, Marqués de Riscal, had established itself in the town, creating a base for the production of white wines. It seems that there were two primary reasons for this: first, the local Verdejo grape was better suited to creating crisp wines in the modern style than viura, the white grape of Rioja; second, it appeared that there were also some tax advantages to be gained in producing wines in the province of Castile and León, as opposed to La Rioja. I imagine that an additional incentive may have been that grapes and vineyard land were cheap.
With increasing demand for dry white, not just from Spain but also from worldwide markets, other companies, such as Ramón Bilbao, Beronia, and Marqués de Cáceres from Rioja, Protos, from Ribera del Duero, established their own production cellars, and many others created their own brands from wines bought from local growers. Among them all remains the historic winery of Vinos Sanz, founded as long ago as 1870.
While Rueda might now have been supplanted as the fashionable white wine of Spain by Rías Baixas, the Verdejo wines are well worth seeking out as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. While the two are available here, it is the Verdejo, which tends to be harvested later, which has more concentrated mineral flavours. My favourite is the Duquesa de Valladolid 2016 Verdejo — interestingly, part of the empire of Portuguese wine-giant Sogrape, which is available from Fine Wines Direct of Cardiff (£8.99). Tanners of Shrewsbury has two Verdejos crafted by the itinerant Spanish-wine guru Telmo Rodriguez: Basa Blanco 2017 (£10.60); and the subtly oaked El Transistor (£17.80). The Wine Society currently has Finca Lallana 2018, a bargain at £8.75. Rueda is less easy to find on the high street, although Waitrose has the Beronia 2017 (£8.99), and Sainsbury’s has a non-Rueda, Castilla-sourced Wine Lovers’ Verdejo (£5.99).
While I do not wish in any way to belittle the Sauvignon Blancs from Rueda, and I regularly enjoy those of Marques de Caceres (Cloud Wines, Southampton, £10.99), there is a multiplicity of Sauvignon Blancs from around the world from which to make your choice, while Verdejo represents the true soul of this part of Spain.
Sadly, on the day I write this, I should be sitting in a bodega in Rueda, tasting wine, but circumstances forced me to abandon that plan. Sadly, also, I am sitting in the morass that is the Brexit negotiations; so the prices that I have mentioned may well have changed by the time you come to read this. Oh, that I was in Spain, and that there was a clear view to a post-Brexit horizon!