Carol Brown goes on a trip to warmer climates as she uncovers the wines of Spain.
Head to the heart of Castilla-Leon and you find yourself in the predominantly white wine producing region of Rueda. Given its inland position to the north west of Madrid, Rueda is at first glance not an obvious go-to zone for great white wines.
The latitude might be Mediterranean but the climate is continental with very cold winters and hot summer days.
This is balanced out as Rueda sits on a high plateau at 700-870 metres above sea level and there’s also a significant difference between day and night time temperatures which helps retain a freshness of acidity in the grapes.
Rueda was the subject of a great recent masterclass hosted by Master of Wine, Sarah Jane Evans complete with those handy little samples that were delivered to my door.
The driving force of Rueda wines is the native Verdejo grape which accounts for around 98% of plantings. It’s distinctive – think herbal with fennel notes – an intensity to the fruit and an almost bitter (and I mean that in a pleasant way) finish.
Those characters do mean it’s an ideal candidate for stainless steel fermentation and aging and some producers are also using lees aging and barrel fermentation with excellent results.
The following three wines show just how versatile Verdejo can be:
Bodegas Beronia Verdejo 2019, DO Rueda
Aromas of lemon peel, fennel, herb and white pepper lead on to a dry, tangy textured white with refreshing acidity with notes of grapefruit and herb. Ocado and Waitrose £8.99.
Bodegas Ramon Bilbao ‘Sobre Lias’ 2018, DO Rueda
Fermented in tulip shaped concrete vats, this spends 8 months in French and Hungarian oak cask, lees stirring takes place adding to the creamy texture. There are scents of zesty citrus and a hint of vanilla. It’s complex and dry with the tang of pink grapefruit, white peach and fennel. The oak is so subtle giving the wine an extra dimension. Priced £17.75 from greatwine.co.uk
Jose Pariente Barrel Fermented Verdejo 2019, DO Rueda
Fermented in 500 litre and 228 litre French oak, this Verdejo spends 10 months on the lees. Vanilla and spice, fleshy peach and fragrant herbs are in the scent profile. It’s another wine with a lovely texture, medium bodied and well balanced, it’s dry with a zing of acidity, citrus and spice. Priced £19.89 from bascofinefoods.com
Sauvignon Blanc has settled in Rueda, the long sunshine hours bring a floral and tropical side to the wines. Castelo de Medina Sauvignon Blanc 2019, DO Rueda is very fragrant with ripe notes of tropical mango and pink grapefruit. It’s dry and vibrant with a minerality, juicy peach and lime fruit and a long, lingering finish. Priced £17.75 greatwine.co.uk
If either Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc appear as the only grape on the label, there must be a minimum of 85% of the named grape, many will be 100%. Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc also work really well together as a blend, a label stating DO (Denominacion of Origin) Rueda will be at least 50% Verdejo.
I don’t want to leave the red wine drinkers out, so this is a good chance to tell you about another Spanish masterclass which was delivered to my door. Rather than focusing on a region, this focus was on a grape-Garnacha (Grenache) from different regions in Spain. The tasting showed just how good and how diverse the styles of Garnacha can be.
Leading the enlightening presentation was Norrel Robertson MW. Born and raised in Scotland and a graduate of Aberdeen University, Norrel has worked in the wine industry for around 30 years and in 2003 moved to Spain where he now produces award winning wines in high altitude vineyards in Calatayud, Aragon.
I’ll begin with a wine made by Norrel, El Escoces Volante ‘La Muta’ Old Vine Garnacha 2018, DO Calatayud with its scents of dark berries, plum and spice. There’s a lift to the acidity with soft tannins and an intensity to the plum and cherry flavours. RRP £10 Cork and Cask, Edinburgh and Juniper Wine Café, Dunfermline.
CVNE Contino Garnacha 2018, DOCa Rioja
Perfumed with layers of bramble, raspberry, clove and spice, this single estate wine is full bodied, the tannins are well integrated and there are spice notes of liquorice and cinnamon too. £22-£24 from drinkfinder.co.uk or dbyrne-finewines.co.uk
Domaine Lupier, ‘El Terroir’ 2017, DO Navarra
Vibrant red berry coulis scents mingle with grape typical white pepper notes with hints of clove and a mineral edge. Tannins are structured, the acidity fresh and there is a delicious purity to the red berry flavours. Priced £22.99 from bbr.com
Bodegas Bernabeleva, Navaherreros Garnacha de Bernabeleva 2018, DO Madrid
From 40-80 year old vines grown on decomposed granite (which gives a paler colour) the aromas are floral with cherry, raspberry and spice. Tannins are soft, this is a glassful of crunchy red berries and cherries. Available from Main Street Trading company, Melrose RRP £21.99.