The Rueda region
Like many of Spain’s Denominaciones de Origen (DOs), Rueda (Roo-eh-dah) is a historic wine region with winemaking traditions that stretch back to the Middle Ages. The DO was created in the early 1980s, and these days Rueda is famed for its white wines made from the Verdejo grape. But until the 1970s it was another white variety, Palomino, used in the production of sherry down south in Jerez, which was the most widely planted and used to make a local fortified wine known as Vino de Medina.
Rueda’s Consejo Regulador, or Regulatory Council, has done a lot of work in recent years to promote the Rueda "brand" nationally and outside Spain, and Rueda wines have become synonymous with a fresh, unoaked style of dry white wines which are very approachable and easy to drink and combine well with a wide range of different cuisine. That said, you’ll also find more innovative producers blending Verdejo with other permitted varieties like Viura or Sauvignon Blanc, or experimenting with oak ageing to make fuller-bodied, more gastronomic wines.
The terrain of Rueda
DO Rueda is centred around the town of Rueda in Castilla y León, about 170km north-west of Madrid and just to the south-west of the city of Valladolid. Geographically, Rueda spans the three provinces of Valladolid, Segovia and Avila and sits in the depression formed by the Duero river valley in the middle of the meseta central, Spain’s high central plateau characterised by flat fields of cereal crops stretching as far as the eye can see and interspersed with vineyards. With 20,000 hectares of vineyard, Rueda is one of Spain’s larger DOs - though still a way off Rioja which has just over 50,000 Ha - and with around 75 registered wineries you can see that Rueda producers tend to be slightly larger scale (particularly compared to a wine region like Galicia, for example, where plots are much smaller).
The climate of Rueda
In the middle of Spain, 400km from the Atlantic and 500km from the Mediterranean and at an altitude of between 600 and 780 metres above sea level, Rueda’s vineyards thrive in this continental climate where winters are cold and long, late frosts are frequent and summers are hot and dry, forcing the vines to push down into the subsoil in search of water. The variation between day and night-time temperatures during the growing season is a really positive factor, as the heat helps the sugars develop in the grapes while cooler temperatures at night help to lock in acidity.
The grapes of Rueda
The delicately aromatic Verdejo is native to Castilla y León and the flagship variety in DO Rueda. With aromas of softer fruit like melon, a core of zesty lime, and often grassy aromas, you’ll often see it recommended as an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, which it is sometimes blended with, or Picpoul. Other permitted varieties include Sauvignon Blanc, Viura, Viognier and Chardonnay.
If you are a white wine drinker and you haven’t yet tried Verdejo, it’s a great introduction to the white wines of central Spain. Labelling is Rueda is usually pretty good and clear, so you’ll get a good idea of whether you’re buying a 100% Verdejo or if it’s been blended with another variety. It’s also very versatile, and you’ll find producers looking for younger styles that play up Verdejo’s tropically-scented, aromatic qualities, while still others are experimenting with wood in the search for a richer, heavier style.