– Robin Williams
When the sun comes out after a long winter, a fire within us burns bright. We are motivated by the unstoppable desire to break out, gather friends, and head outside. With this exit, we leave behind our thick sweaters and the warming wines of winter, and in their place, chill down the wines of the new season. Spring is in the air, the higher sun beckons, the last dusting of winter is swept off the deck, and the outdoor playlists are made. We’ve emerged from our hibernation with a collective chant, “Let’s get this party started!”
Leading the pack in our glasses will be the lioness herself – the white wine of all white wines. “She” is Verdejo, and her Rueda homeland within Castilla y León in Spain is the land of castles and yes, lions. This sought-after white wine is Spain’s number-one-selling white wine all year, not just in summer. Its taste, versatility, and winemaking styles ensure that.
A wine for all seasons
Unlike many white wines, Rueda Verdejo has depth and complexity that winemakers finesse into three main styles. That translates to this singular grape becoming everything from a summer sipper to a winter white, a youthful wine to an aged one. Like the seasons themselves, Verdejo transitions seamlessly and beautifully from an inside table to an outside one and back again.
In early spring when our enthusiasm about gathering outside may be slightly outpaced by winter’s lingering chill, a winter white answers the call. The depth and breadth of this more full-bodied style of Verdejo – one that has spent time on the spent yeast cells called lees as well as in oak – is warming despite its below-cellar temperature. It is rich yet bracing, fruit-forward yet balanced, and it loves warm food as much as it does cold.
We may start by sipping this style of Verdejo outside with some creamy cheeses spread on warm, toasty bread. But when the cold is about to have the last word, we retreat indoors. Lucky for us, the full-bodied style of Verdejo makes the seamless transition to the indoor table where seasonal “swing” foods like asparagus or spring pea soup may be on the menu along with all-year dishes like seafood pasta, roasted lemon chicken, and fish or chickpea stews.
Also on the table might be rosado – a Spanish rosé and a wine that is made in Rueda’s neighboring region of Ribera del Duero, the land of castles. The grape is Tempranillo, known as Tinto Fino in these parts, and in English, dubbed the king of grapes. Nothing heralds the coming of warmer weather more than rosado.
Warmer weather, lighter wines
As the warming sun invites patio parties to linger longer, the Verdejo that meets the moment is the so-called Joven style. Joven translates to “young” in Spanish, and this wine does too. It is not aged and instead is bottled with all its juicy, crisp, citrusy acidity. Oysters, citrus salads, goat cheeses, olives, tinned fish, and in Castilla y León, torreznos – pork cracklings – will elevate Joven Verdejo to the next-level white wine.
In between Joven and oak-aged is the medium-bodied Verdejo, one that spends time on the yeast cells and in turn, develops a creamy mouthfeel. Think of it as the “shoulder season” wine – the one that toggles between indoor and outdoor gatherings, cold and warm. Pass it around any table, though, and it will get raves owing to its orchard fruit and citrus flavors and a backbone of crisp acidity. The richness on the palate is like a warm blanket itself – cozy and comforting – and because of that, the table spread can be too. Think mac & cheese, scallops in cream sauce, or maybe best of all, pizza with plenty of cheese (don’t forget the rosado here too).
When you look at a slice of the history of Castilla y León, it stands to reason that Verdejo drinks so well indoors and out. The area’s bodegas – caves that were cut into the hillsides to use for cold storage including wine – were also used as retreats from the unrelenting summer sun. The local white wine was an integral part of the party.
Although no longer needed for storage, today many bodegas remain a gathering place for friends and family. Solar energy helps light them while some are equipped with wood-fired ovens for cooking. A gathering in the heart of wine country naturally centers on the local wine, and no matter what time of year, Verdejo always gets a seat at the table.
The Verdejo vibe
Lucky for us, we don’t need to go to Spain to enjoy Verdejo. Even though most of us don’t have bodegas in our backyards, we can still create the ambiance. Before the first bottle is uncorked, hand out a few blankets. Nothing encourages camaraderie or extends the outdoor adventure more than a warming blanket. Light a few candles to set the mood and just like in the bodegas, fire up the grill. Most importantly, uncork the wine and pass the glasses. Like good friends, Verdejo is a wine for all seasons. Friends and Verdejo on a patio together? There’s no better pairing in the world.
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