Rueda’s Revival - Special Feature

By Sara d’Amato

This feature was commissioned by D.O. Rueda.

A wine for just those in the know no longer, the wines of the Spanish region Rueda, are now turning heads internationally. Rueda is Spain’s top selling white wine region (39% of the marketshare) and second best-selling wine only to Rioja as the top-selling red wine; it is no wonder it is one of the country’s best kept secrets. The wines are now widely available in Canada and in Ontario’s LCBO and consignment. The wines of Rueda can also be found in a special edition, limited time offer Passport to Rueda Mixed Case curated by our team of critics at WineAlign. Worthy of celebration the appellation has 74 wineries with over 1,500 vine-growers, and is known for the Verdejo grape, which is a 1000-year-old indigenous grape special to this region. A third of the wineries in Rueda are led by women and four out of the six wineries in our mixed case feature female winemakers. If you have visited Spain before, you have probably had one (or more) wines from this region, and what makes this varietal so special is the unique palette of aromas and flavours that are so distinctive – think pinot grigio but with attitude.

Rueda is located 170 km northwest of Madrid and its wine production is on the high plateaus that flank the banks of the Duero River; The most highly prized vineyards are often closest to the Duero’s limestone rich soils. The Rueda appellation is found within a hollow, carved out by the Duero River, lying on a high plateau rising 2,850 feet (aprox. 870 meters) above sea level and the region has 2,600 hours of annual sunlight and is exposed to Atlantic winds.  Landlocked and without maritime influence, the region’s hot, dry summers are juxtaposed by cool nights and relatively severe winters. As is the case in the world’s most sought-after wine regions, vineyards here compete for scarce resources on the well-drained, low-vigor soils and high elevations.

Known for its history, Rueda’s wine production dates back to the 16th century when King Alfonso VI offered land to monasteries.  As the region became increasingly populated and the number of bodegas expanded, the wines of the region grew in reputation. Fast forward to the late 19th century when the widespread European recovery from phylloxera shifted Rueda’s focus to bulk styles of wine, largely from the higher yielding Palomino grape used for a fortified and oxidative Sherry-style wine. A shift back to quality table wines came in the 1970s and is largely attributed to Marques de Riscal in the 1970s who believed that the quality potential for white wine should be revisited. Riscal was the first to plant sauvignon blanc in the Rueda and led a revival of verdejo that helped drive the creation of the D.O. in 1980. Marques de Riscal verdejo can be found on the general list of the LCBO.

Venerable Verdejo

Rueda has been growing verdejo for over 1,000 years. Verdejo’s origins lie in North Africa, brought to Spain in the 11th century, and thanks to the renaissance of the variety in the 1970s, it now accounts for close to 90% of the region’s production. Verdejo was traditionally made into an oxidized style of fortified wine, think Sherry, known as Dorado, that is still traditionally produced today by Bodegas de Alberto, a winery that is 350 years old. Yet its popularity began to fade in the early 20th century causing a decrease in the planting of verdejo.

It may be an exaggeration to say that phylloxera, wine’s deadliest foe at the turn of the 20th century, did little to stop Rueda verdejo but due to the region’s stony, sandy soils, there are still significant planting of ungrafted, pre-phylloxera vineyards in Rueda. A rarity in Europe. Pre-phylloxera planted or not, verdejo, which takes its name from the Spanish “verde” meaning “green” and when young has a slight greenish hue. Light, vibrant and youthful versions are like a racier and more exotic pinot grigio with distinct notes of fennel, green melon, grapefruit and citrus. Yet, some verdejo can gain complexity with bottle age, developing rich, honeyed notes with increased viscosity.

Verdejo’s ancestral and spiritual home is Rueda but it is also grown to a lesser extent in other parts of Castilla y Léon, in Castilla La Mancha and with small plantings elsewhere in Spain. If you want to be sure you are purchasing a Rueda Verdejo you can best identify it by checking the back label. In Canada, look for the colour green with the Rueda stamp as well as a vintage date (except for fortified and sparkling wines, where the back label colour is either yellow or or grey).

A Deeper Dive

The verdejo grape variety has been synonymous with Rueda for centuries, but it is a region that is shaking things up dramatically with the introduction of new wine classifications, a new style of wine, vintage-dated sparkling wine and a brand-new category celebrating old vines, all within the last two years. Despite this momentous change, the region still charges forth with a distinct cultural identity that plays to the strengths of its terroir. Rueda isn’t just verdejo and is certainly changing with the times to be more inclusive of other grape varieties. In a consumer-friendly capacity, it is also simplifying some labelling terms as well as adding others. As of 2020, new regulations necessitate a closer look at this evolving region.
Rueda, Rueda Verdejo and Rueda Sauvignon = D.O. Rueda
For the sake of simplicity, each of these categories will now be included within the D.O. Rueda classification. Varietal labelling still requires 85% of the grape variety and non-varietal labelling requires 50% of either verdejo or sauvignon blanc. Sauvignon blanc in the region tends to veer more towards the mineral and herbal spectrum but tropical notes do make an appearance in some wines due to the typically hot growing season.

New! Rueda Palido
What’s old is new again; this traditional, biologically aged wine (think Fino or Amontillado Sherry, yet distinctively Rueda) almost fell to obscurity but now with its distinctive label, perseveres. The labelling signifies a wine that has been aged at least 3 years in barrel protected from oxidation from a layer of naturally developed yeast barrier known as flor.

Vino de Pueblo Sub-regional labelling
I hope to see more distinctive character come of this new labelling reference which conditionally permits the listing of sub-regions on D.O. Rueda wines. If 85% of the grapes come from one specific named town or municipality, then the name can now be listed on the label.
Recognizing Old Vines – Gran Vino Rueda
It is quite rare in Europe to find pre-phylloxera vineyards, so Rueda is certainly showcasing their abundance of heritage vines by introducing Gran Vino Rueda labelling. To be clear, this can be used for all vineyards that are a minimum of 30 years old. Vines made from ungrafted vines, some of which are centenarian, can use the term “Pie Franco”.
Gran Anada, the Finest Fizz
Traditional method sparkling wines that have been aged longer than 36 months can now be labelled Gran Anada. Wines labelled as such must include their vintage (harvest) date. This is a big step in encouraging the production of world class sparkling wine bringing the minimum aging requirement up to the same as that of vintage Champagne.
Unchanged labelling terms include the Rueda Espumoso, a sparkling wine that must come from at least 75% of Rueda’s top varieties, verdejo or sauvignon blanc. Most are made using the traditional method and must remain on their lees for at least nine months. Those old-timey fortified and more oxidative Sherry-style wines are also deserving of recognition, and as such are labelled as Dorado wines.

The Details: Techniques and Taste

As one might expect from a region with a hot and dry climate with little disease pressure, sustainable and organic production is on the rise in Rueda. A movement spearheaded and encouraged by the likes of such wineries as Marques de Riscal, Bodega Pita, José Pariente, Cuatro Rayas, El Lagar de Moha and others, the tradition of sustainable farming in Rueda is being increasingly populated by growers that have undertaken organic certification. In growing numbers, many of these sustainably run wineries feature women in top oenology or top management positions; like Carmen San Martin Gutiérrez, the President of the regulatory body of D.O. Rueda (Consejo Regulador DO Rueda), winemakers Victoria Pariente and Martina Pariente at José Pariente, Beatriz Gonzáles Peláez of Bodega De Alberto, Marilena Bonilla of Bodega Protos, Sandra Martin of Diez Siglos, and Sara Román of Castelo de Medina, the region is becoming a beacon for diverse talents.

Back to more organoleptic concerns, the dry, unfortified table wines from D.O. Rueda can be divided into to two broad stylistic categories: fresh & youthful, and oak fermented & ageworthy. The former styles are generally made in stainless steel enhancing aromatic character and zesty acidity. Often very competitively priced, with some notable exceptions, these wines are best enjoyed soon after bottling to benefit from their youthful exuberance. Techniques such as lees aging and barrel maturation lead to expectedly richer texture, creamy flavour and more oxidative complexity on the palate. We’ve attempted to offer you a bit of both as well as both verdejo and sauvignon blanc in this mixed curated case assembled by Michael Godel, David Lawrason, John Szabo and me. (If you’d like to explore some more DO Rueda wines available for consignment orders in Ontario you can check them out here.) Join John Szabo and me (and a few of the featured wineries) for a live zoom tasting (Happy Hour) of these wines on Thursday, October 14 at 6pm. Register now

Rueda Passport Case Curated Selections (Order your case here)

(See reviews of all the Rueda wines tasted here.)

Javier Sanz V Malcorta 2019

Javier Sanz V Malcorta 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$33.95, Majestic Wine Cellars

Malcorta is a rare biotype of verdejo that nearly disappeared due the challenges it presents at harvest but is now a specialty of Javier Sanz that has a 150-year-old tradition of winemaking, five generations of winemakers. Deliciously salty and clean with elegant notes of mineral. Subtly complex aromas that feature acacia, honeysuckle, sea breeze, lemon zest, peach and white tea. The palate is simmering with juicy acidity, mouth-watering freshness balanced by saltiness and the sweetness of just ripe fruit. Sophisticated, progressively giving on the palate.

José Pariente Verdejo 2020

José Pariente Verdejo 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$24.95, Azureau Wines and Spirits

Female owned and run; José Pariente produces classic wines through an integrated vineyard management system promoting sustainable agriculture. This example is a more robust style that has been barrel fermented and lees stirred. Salty lime lingers on your lips after the first taste of this vibrant, expressive but also elegant verdejo sourced from 30-year-old estate vines. Flinty with notes of passion fruit and gooseberry. Nervy and with substantial length. The winemaking is a mother and daughter duo, Victoria Pariente and Martina Pariente.

Protos Verdejo 2020

Protos Verdejo 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$20.95, Spain Only 1

Bodegas Protos takes social sustainability to heart donating a significant portion of their profits to charitable organizations. The winemaking team is led by Marilena Bonilla who reduces yields manually by selective picking. This sustainably grown 100% verdejo is notably salty and fragrant offering notes of cherry blossom, sea breeze, green apple and licorice. The palate features pear and peach with a hint of melon and cut grass enhance by a dusting of yeasty flavours due to three months of lees aging. A classic representation that sure to satisfy your end-of-summer cravings.

Nékora By Diez Siglos 2020

Nékora By Diez Siglos 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$21.61, Marchands des Ameriques

A winery that was founded in 2009 by 65 local growers that produces vegan certified wines by winemaker Sandra Martin who leads a female-driven team of technicians. Refreshing and upbeat, this is a rather classic representation of verdejo (100%) from Rueda, mid-weight and nicely textured with no obvious oak character. Delicate notes of mineral and peach blossom. Easy drinking but sophisticated and thoughtfully crafted.

Sapientia Verdejo Ecologico 2020

Sapientia Verdejo Ecologico 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$25.00 Marchands des Ameriques

El Lagar de Moha’s is a leader in organic production in Rueda. Made from 100% verdejo with toasty lees that trick you into thinking it was barrel fermented. Zesty, salty and appealing with a hint of coconut, pear and lime. Vibrant and playful on the palate but balanced enough for solo sipping. Vegan friendly.

Castelo De Medina Sauvignon Blanc 2020

Castelo de Medina Sauvignon Blanc 2020, D.O. Rueda, Spain
$17.95, United Stars

Castelo de Medina has a wealth of aging vines with 180 hectares that are now more than 20 years old and a sauvignon specialist with over 40 hectares planted in the region. Under the winemaking expertise of Sara Román, this sauvignon blanc is aged on the lees for nine months. Aromatically compelling with notes of marzipan, gooseberries, apple blossom and mineral Lightly salty with zesty lemon rind and brine. A stylish Rueda, modern with a widely appealing character.


Sara d’Amato

This feature was commissioned by D.O. Rueda. As a regular feature, WineAlign tastes wines submitted by a single winery, agent or region. Our writers independently, as always, taste, review and rate the wines – good, bad and indifferent, and those reviews are posted on WineAlign. We then independently recommend wines to appear in the article. Wineries, wine agents, or regions pay for this service. Ads for some wines may appear at the same time, but the decision on which wines to put forward in our report, and its content, is entirely up to WineAlign.

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