Spain's most prestigious regionS for red and white wine

Search
Close this search box.

Celebrate All Month

World Verdejo Day

June is Verdejo Month

Article

verdejo harvest 1k

If a wine grape can tell a story, then Verdejo can write a book. 

Celebrate All Month

Article by James Beard Award-winning author Laura Werlin @cheezelady

While wine grapes are grown the world over, most of those are not singled out for celebration. World Verdejo Day, however, was created to commemorate the grape that is as meaningful as the wine made from it as it is for the history it embodies.

One version of the grape’s colorful history is that it began over a thousand years ago when Arab Mozarabs are said to have brought the grape from North Africa to the province of Valladolid in Castilla y León. Another version says that the grape is indigenous to the region and that it was cultivated by Cistercian monks who used the grape to make liqueur-style wines. [1]

What is certain is that Verdejo has been around a long time. In its history, it has been vinified as sweet, dry, and oxidized (think sherry-like); it was nearly destroyed during the phylloxera scourge of the early 20
th century, and it was perceived and sold as a simple white wine. It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that it was developed in earnest by the wine company Marqués de Riscal, which was looking to add a quality white wine to its portfolio. They looked to Rueda for that, replanting Verdejo where they saw fit and recruiting renowned French viticulturist Emile Peynaud to bring their vision to life. He did so by employing the same winemaking methods he brought to his renowned white Bordeaux wines with Verdejo and in the process, raised the quality as well as brought a new focus on what had been a rather ordinary wine.  

The creation of the Rueda Denomination of Origin in 1980 –Castilla y León’s first such designation – not only cemented the Verdejo grape as a serious white wine but also brought the attention of winemakers like Peynaud from outside the region. Despite becoming Spain’s number one-selling white wine, where it remains today, its reputation didn’t quite keep pace with its improved quality. Nevertheless, the modern winemakers in the region knew the grape had potential and with that, began employing various winemaking methods including lees- and sometimes oak-aging, bottle aging, and other methods traditionally used to make the premium white wines in Burgundy and Bordeaux among other places.

 Experimentation and sophistication 

Fast forward to today, and the fact there’s a World Verdejo Day speaks volumes about the grape’s evolution. Still, with so many white wines to choose from, the question is why pour Verdejo over the rest? The answers are many.

For one, despite its millennia of history, winemakers are constantly pushing the boundaries of this not-so-simple grape. In addition to the more established fermentation techniques like stainless steel, some winemakers are using cement eggs or ceramic amphorae for partial or full fermentation. More expanded aging techniques now include skin contact, lees contact and stirring, and oak. The wine may or may not go through fining and/or filtration. 

In a recent report, wine writer and Tim Atkin MW marveled at how well these wines age, adding that “With time, these wines acquire weight and layers of complexity, while never losing their essential structure.” [2]

Antonio Galloni’s Vinous wine writer Joaquín Hidalgo was impressed by the wines coming from the region too, though with some caveats. In his tastings for the article, The Whites of Rueda Get Serious, he noted that because of the region’s industrial winemaking history, he saw a certain sameness in the wines. However, he is clearly impressed by the way the wines are changing. “My trip to Rueda confirmed some of my preconceptions but also opened my mind to new possibilities, leaving me thirsting for more,” he wrote. He also noted the experimentation now taking place in the region. “Today, the DO is undergoing a process of transformation driven by producers who are experimenting with aging in order to produce new flavor profiles and achieve greater sophistication,” he said. [3]

One place this is likely to be found is in the DO’s newest approved category – Gran Vino de Rueda. This category is defined primarily by wines that come from vines at least 30 years old, but it really speaks to the larger movement within the DO in which winemakers are harnessing what nature has provided and transforming that into world-class wine.

A tale of two zones

While there are not yet official sub-regions or zones in Rueda (that is in the works, according to the DO), former El Bulli sommelier and writer for JancisRobinson.com, Ferran Centelles wrote about a tasting of Rueda Verdejos for his article, “V for Verdejo” [4] in which the DO divided the wines by zone. The two zones, aptly called Zone 1 and Zone 2, referred to the northwest and southeast regions of Rueda, respectively.

The northwestern portion of the region is warmer, translating to an earlier harvest and relatively speaking, lower acidity in the wines. The gravelly soils in this area have better drainage, and humidity isn’t much of a problem. For Centelles, these differences were apparent in the wines. “The profile of Zone 1 is more tropical than vegetal, although the wines have a certain citrus quality too. The texture is also generally oilier than in Zone 2,” he wrote.

The southeast region is cooler and a little rainier, the soils are sandier, and many of the vines are older – some as old as 200 years. Where most Rueda Verdejo grapes are machine harvested, these centuries-old bush vines must be hand harvested. The soil and climate differences in Zone 2 result in distinct characteristics in the wines. Centelles wrote, “In general, the wines are more delicate, some of them markedly saline, more herbal with less stone-fruit content.” In comparison with Zone 1, he noted fewer aromatics in Zone 2 wines.

Zone to table

Zones aside, the question for most of us is what to drink with what we eat. The answer is simple: Verdejo. While the versatile wine goes with pretty much every food, a backyard barbecue is a great starting point. When fish, chicken, and vegetables are on the menu, then all the more so. Make a couple of meat and cheese boards to go alongside, and for dessert, grill up some peaches, dollop them with ricotta, and sprinkle a little basil on top. Both Verdejo and your friends will love you. 

They’ll also love you if you bring out a pizza, grilled cheese, a few salads, and nibbles like olives, potato chips (white wine loves salt), and tinned fish. 

Because the region is vast; because the microclimates, soils, and vine age are so varied within it; and because winemakers are employing a variety of techniques to coax out Verdejo’s potential, the food-friendliness of the grape can’t be overstated. 

A bright future

No matter what part of Rueda the wine comes from, Verdejo’s history, evolution, and potential combine to underscore exactly why the wine world turns its collective eye on this wine one day each year. World Verdejo Day is as much a celebration as it is a movement. The ancient grape is just getting started.

[1] Lawrence, James (2024) “Verdejo’s Journey to Greatness,” CellarTours.com

[2] Atkin, Tim MW and Willard, Beth (2024) Rueda 2024 Top 100 by Tim Atkin and Beth Willard, TimAtkin.com

[3] Hidalgo, Joaquín (February 8, 2024) The Whites of Rueda Get Serious by Joaquín Hidalgo, Vinous.com

[4] Centelles, Ferran (July 28, 2022) V for Verdejo by Ferran Centelles, JancisRobinson.com

SIGN UP TO LEARN ABOUT RIBERA Y RUEDA NEWS, DEALS, AND MORE.