Verdejo just may be the Cinderella grape of the wine world. Long made into a sherrylike wine, verdejo got a new lease on life beginning in the 1970s when Spanish winemakers in the Rueda region began making fresh, lively white wines out of it.
Today, verdejo (vehr-DAY-yoh) is one of those crisp whites we all crave, not only in summer but year-round, for its body and rich flavor.
Verdejo is the indigenous white grape variety in Rueda, a region in northwestern Spain along the Duero River. The region's official wine Web site, Denominacion de Origen Rueda (dorueda.com/en),traces the grape's presence in Rueda back to the 11th century and, before that, to North Africa.
Like its Spanish sisters, albarino from the Rias Baixas region and macabeo (known as viura in the Rioja region), verdejo makes a terrific food wine. Its citrusy notes and aroma — very similar to sauvignon blanc — play particularly well with the composed salads and simple grilled foods of summer.
A refreshing four verdejos to try
Verdejo is as easy on the wallet as it is on the tongue. As with so many wines from Spain, one can expect high levels of quality at relatively low prices. Consider these four 2009 verdejos: all quite good, refreshing and aromatic.
2009 Palacio de Bornos: This lemon-yellow wine has a lemony nose touched with honey and white flowers. The flavor evokes green apple, black pepper and mineral flavors. A slight toastiness gives the wine a light, creamy quality. Serve with Thai green curry, paella, salade nicoise. $10
2009 Protos: The aroma is fragrant, tart, lemony, green apples. Look for a distinct mineral quality on the tongue ("rocks," one taster wrote) with a pleasant lemon-lime underlay. Serve with grilled shrimp, fried haddock, fried chicken. $14
2009 Emina: Lemony nose with a whiff of white flowers. The wine is refreshing, with notes of green apples, cantaloupe and black pepper. Serve with Waldorf salad, barbecued chicken, deviled ham salad. $13
2009 Cuatro Rayas: This wine has sharp, chalky nose. The flavors are restrained: white pear, green apple, black pepper, a spritz of lime. There's a nice touch of creaminess, too. Serve with sashimi, garlic-baked chicken, tuna or chicken salad. $14
Wine ratings: Excellent; Very good; Good; Fair; None: Poor
You want that wine. But your store or area distributor may not carry it. What to do? Ask your wine retailer for a wine similar in flavor, style and price. Remember, too, prices vary.
What foods go with verdejo?
Pasta, especially with pesto
Vegetables, especially roasted
White fish, especially grilled
Ceviche, crab cakes, Indian food, baked sea bass, spicy dishes
Source: "What to Drink With What You Eat" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
On the label
Look on the back of wine bottles from Spain's Rueda wine region and you'll see a pretty but official-looking sticker glued to the glass. It's required under the wine regulations promulgated for the area, known as a denominacion de origen (DO). The stickers are seen as a way to help consumers identify Rueda's various wines and thwart any attempts to make counterfeit Rueda wine. Here is what the sticker says and what it means, according to the region's official wine Web site: dorueda.com/en
Rueda verdejo: Normally made with 100 percent verdejo grape but can contain as little as 85 percent of the grape variety. "Great aromatic potential and very elegant scent. Fruity aromas with anisette-like and fennel hues. Strong body and good palate, with great fruitiness and the bitter touch characteristic of this variety. Dry wines, with a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent."
Rueda: Made with at least 50 percent verdejo grapes. "The properties of the Verdejo are more diluted, due to the presence of other varieties. Fresh, smooth and floral, with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent."
Rueda sauvignon: The wine is at least 85 percent sauvignon blanc. "Great aromatic intensity and reminiscences of tropical fruits are the main features of this variety. Agreeable on the palate, it has a long aftertaste with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent."
Rueda espumoso: Sparkling wine made with the traditional secondary fermentation and again in the bottle. "The verdejo develops great fruitiness and smoothness." Dry or semi-dry sparklers are at least 50 percent verdejo. Brut or brut nature must be fashioned out of a minimum 85 percent verdejo grapes. Minimum alcohol content: 11.5 percent.
Rueda dorado: A sherrylike wine. "Golden colour, with slightly toasted aroma and flavor due to the long oxidation in oak barrels. Alcohol content of no less than 15 percent."