Wines from Spain’s Ravishing Rueda are Perfect for Summer

The hot and muggy days of summer call for zippy refreshing wines.  While many people reach for rosés at this time of the year, I find most of them to be innocuous, lacking character.  Instead, I suggest trying Spanish whites from Rueda.  What?  White wines from Spain?  I know, when most people think of Spanish wine, they think red.  Rightly so.  Many Spanish reds are divine.  Just think of the grand wines from Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero, or Toro.  But I’m here to tell you that for summertime drinking you want to explore Rueda, a Denominación de Origen (D.O.) located on a plateau in the region of Castilla y León in northwestern Spain where the Verdejo grape reigns supreme.

Verdejo (which is not to be confused with the Portuguese grape, Verdelho) has been grown in this part of Spain for at least a millennium.  Researchers think the grape originated in North Africa, which explains its ability to thrive in the intensely sunny, dry climate of Rueda.  Verdejo typically produces crisp, edgy white wines with lightly floral aromas.  Regulations require a wine labeled Rueda to contain at least 50 percent Verdejo.  Other grapes in the blend might be Viura (a.k.a. Macabeo) or Sauvignon Blanc.  In 2019, Viognier and Chardonnay were allowed in the blend.  It remains to be seen how the inclusion of these varieties will alter the character of the wines.  Wine labeled Rueda Verdejo must contain at least 85 percent Verdejo, but in practice most producers use Verdejo entirely.  Occasionally, you might see a wine labeled Rueda Sauvignon, which means that at least 85 percent of the blend came from Sauvignon Blanc.

Consumers will start to see two new categories, Gran Vino de Rueda, and Vino de Pueblo, on labels.  Gran Vino de Rueda wines must be made from vines that are at least 30 years old whose yield is limited, which theoretically should lead to more complex and elegant wines.  In keeping with the world-wide trend of identifying origins, Vino de Pueblo on the label allows the village name to appear if 85 percent of the grapes came that village.  Presumably, certain villages are home to better terroir, which produces better grapes.

Here’s a trio of Rueda, all made entirely from Verdejo, that show the wonderful range of wines from that D.O.

Bodegas Vatan, Old Vines Verdejo, “Nisia,” 2021 ($16, Jorge Ordonez Selections):  Hints of white flowers draw you in.  Then, the electricity in this youthful wine awakens the palate and perfectly balances the stone fruit flavors.  Citrus zing in the finish just amplifies its charms.  Sip it by itself or drink it with fresh seafood or a summer salad.  92 Points

Buil & Giné, Rueda Verdejo, “Nosis” 2020 ($17, Think Global Wines):  Buil & Giné, based in the Gratallopes in Priorat and one of the top producers there, expanded their holdings to Rueda a couple of decades ago.  Their “Nosis” bottling, made from 35-year-old vines, displays lovely floral aromas and cutting, crisp citrus flavors that balance its substantial density.  Weightier than the Nisia, it is still not a heavy wine.  91

Bodegas Burdigala, “Campo Eliseo” 2016 ($49):  The French team of François Lurton and Michel and Dany Rolland shows how beautifully the wines from Rueda can develop.  Their more generous 2016 Campo Eliseo has traded youthful exuberance for a creamy and nutty complexity that comes with bottle age.  Still supported by good vibrancy, it comes across as a far more “important” wine than most Rueda releases.  93