Six Verdejo wines that dignify the variety (and do not smell of tropical fruits)

–”Waiter, a greenie!”.

In no time, when the mercury starts its climb, we will hear this ditty in many terraces inland and on the Spanish coast. The branding work behind this variety is prodigious: I can’t imagine anyone asking for a climba tintilla de rota or a hondarribi zerratia. This ordering of wines by their main variety, quite common in the New World, does not happen in Spain. Verdejo is one of the few grapes – along with Albariño and perhaps Tempranillo or Garnacha – that we know by name. And yet we know nothing of it.

When we order a Verdejo we expect to be served a white wine with aromas reminiscent of ripe tropical fruits such as mango, passion fruit or banana. But the Verdejo is not like that. “Verdejo is a fairly sparse grape at an aromatic level,” explains Esmeralda García, an artisan viticulturist who works only with this variety in Santiuste de San Juan Bautista (Segovia), “you can do whatever you want to it.” The vines cultivated by Esmeralda, whose production does not reach 20,000 bottles, survived phylloxera. They are more than century-old plants, some are over two hundred years old and produce wines that have nothing to do with the “verdejito” from terraces.

And why is a Verdejito so far from what Verdejo really is? Well, there are several reasons. One of them is that the Rueda Denomination of Origin, whose geographical scope covers the south of Valladolid, the west of Segovia and the north of Ávila, allows wines labeled ‘Rueda Verdejo’ to contain up to 15% of other varieties and the labeled as ‘Rueda’, synonymous with Verdejo for many people, up to 50%. While the Verdejo is, by far, the vitis most planted in the DO -87% of the grapes harvested in 2020-, the sauvignon-blanc it is in second place (7.56% of the grapes harvested in 2020). The latter, known for its overwhelming aromatic expressiveness, is partially responsible for the tropical aromas that we attribute to Verdejito.

But most of the responsibility falls on tiny beings, responsible for transforming the must into wine: the yeasts. Not just any yeasts nor those naturally present in the grape, but the industrial yeasts that volume wineries buy and use in the production of their wines (here it applies, since they are liquids made with several ingredients). These yeasts that, we could say, have been manufactured by the chemical industry, have been designed to trigger certain aromas during the fermentation of the must, those aromas of Asian and Caribbean fruits, so typical of the Castilian-León plateau.

But, well, I won’t get involved anymore, you’ve come to me to recommend bottles to give to the pirraque: the ones that follow are Verdejos that taste like Verdejo; They may not be what you expect, but they are surely better.

Bardos Verdejo 2019

Most of the wines that I recommend in this article are from small producers and are outside the DO (it makes one think) but this is not the case. Bodegas Bardos belongs to a winery group, Vintae, which works 300 hectares distributed among 14 appellations of origin; like La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro, Navarra or Rueda: the fact is that they work a lot of volume but they work it very well. This Verdejo made with grapes from Rueda and La Seca (Valladolid) has its citric, mineral, fruity touch… It is a perfect wine to start changing the chip.

Price: €6.80

Cuckoo

We are in La Seca, a town in Valladolid considered one of the birthplaces of Verdejo. Climate with large temperature variations and little rainfall, greedy soils, a dry land as its name suggests. Here he works the vines of the Barco del Corneta, a winery that presents Cucú sang the frog (it is the full name) as its most affordable wine (the most expensive ones do not exceed 30 euros). But, to the subject: it is expressive, fruity and floral, very fresh. It has a very light aging in the barrel on its lees that gives it a certain unctuousness and, well, that little bit of everything that it has makes it a great option considering the value for money.

Price: €9.75.

Cantayano

We did not leave La Seca. Isaac Cantalapiedra and his son Manuel also work there. Compared to Cucú, Cantayano is aromatically more discreet. And yet, the first time I drank it, I literally felt fireworks on my palate. He has an acidity that is fantasy and that expresses itself in little bursts; like a peta-zeta, something like that. It is a very fun wine. As for the aroma, well, here you are not going to find fruit salad. To me it smells like dry grass and fennel, that is, what is in the fields of La Seca. delicious

Price: €10.45.

Sands of Santyuste

We move to Santiuste de San Juan Bautista (Segovia), where Esmeralda García works. The highest areas are still a dry land but in the low ones there are streams and pine forests. Around Santiuste there are very diverse landscapes and Esmeralda works vineyards in several of them that she bottles separately or, as in this case, by mixing them. Arenas de Santyuste is the wine in which Esmeralda combines grapes from different altitudes and soils to fully express her surroundings. It reminds me again of fennel and dried herbs but it has a more rounded acidity than Cantayano, perhaps because it is aged with 100% of its lees and that generates a certain unctuousness. A wine.

Price: €13.90.

Evolution

We are still in Segovia but we are going to Nieva. That’s where Ismael Gozalo, one of the most versatile winemakers in the area and founder of Microbio Wines, does his things. Sparkling wines, still wines of all colors and, also, biologically aged wines (sherry) like this one. And it is because the Verdejo, due to its acidity and aromatic shyness, is as multifaceted as Ismael and also produces organic and oxidative wines (golden, oxidative wines are traditional in several areas of Rueda). Unlike the vast majority of Sherry wines, this one is not fortified -with added alcohol- and is fluid and refreshing. Suitable even for non sherry lovers.

Price: 20 euros.

Baron de Chirel Centennial Vineyards

I am aware that the price of this wine is somewhat prohibitive but I did not want to say goodbye without stopping recommending a bottle of classic cut, with its wood, with its lifelong elaboration. This comes from Aldeanueva del Codonal and Aldehuela (Segovia) and, again, with pre-phylloxera strains. It turns out that the sandy soils of the area prevented the phylloxera worms from prospering and there they have a vegetable heritage of the vine (pun intended). The pity is that a lot was gouged out in pursuit of Europe-funded sugar beets (too bad, Europe). In short, this is a very noble Verdejo that passes through foudres and maintains a fantastic acidity. Demonstration that the classic is not at odds with the good and that making a Verdejo outside the mainstream it’s not a thing of hipster.

Price: €42.50

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