This indigenous variety is the most widely planted grape in Rueda. It is believed to be a sibling of Godello. Verdejo buds and ripens early and tends to be drought-resistant but highly susceptible to powdery mildew. The grapes have a slightly golden color, which is believed to result from the iron content of Rueda’s soils. Verdejo yields lively, herbaceous wines that are brimming with acidity. They can range from pale straw to yellow in color. Classic Verdejo is fruit-forward with grassy notes as well as citrus, stone fruit, white flowers, and fennel. A characteristic hint of bitter almond may also be present on the finish. The main styles of Rueda include:
A minimum of 50 percent Verdejo is required. This wine may be blended with Sauvignon Blanc or Viura to add a floral character and create a lighter-bodied wine than Rueda Verdejo.
A minimum of 85 percent Verdejo is required, though most are 100 percent Verdejo. This medium- to full-bodied wine tends to be elegant, aromatic, and fruity, with good potential for aging.
This sparkling wine is made by the methode traditionelle and must be aged for at least nine months on the lees in the bottle. A minimum of 50 percent Verdejo is required for seco or semi-seco, and a minimum of 85 percent Verdejo is required for Brut or Brut Nature.
This French variety has been cultivated in Rueda since its introduction by Marqués de Riscal in the 1970s. To be labeled Rueda Sauvignon, the wine must contain a minimum of 85 percent Sauvignon Blanc. This highly aromatic French grape is a midripening variety that favors cooler climates. In Rueda, it yields tropical fruit notes and exhibits good minerality. In blends, Sauvignon Blanc lends Verdejo additional fruity and floral elements.
Also known as Macabeo, this thick-skinned variety buds and ripens late. It has been cultivated in Rueda since the 1950s, but it’s indigenous to Penedès in Catalonia. Viura is northern Spain’s most widely planted white variety. When blended with Verdejo, it lightens the body of the wine and boosts acidity.
Named after one of King Alfonso X’s knights, this variety has been cultivated in Rueda since the 1930s. It has a thick skin and buds midseason but ripens late. Its acidity drops significantly as it ages. Palomino Fino was historically used in Rueda to create fortified wines; new plantings in the region are now forbidden.
Red grapes that fall within the Rueda DO include Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Garnacha. Rueda’s still and sparkling rosado, or rosé, wines must contain a minimum of 50 percent of these authorized red varieties.
What’s Happening in Rueda Today?
The modernization of viticulture with the help of European aid and state-of-the art technologies to restructure vineyards has rejuvenated the Rueda wine region. Since 2001, the vineyard plantings have steadily grown to nearly double the area (from 6,806 hectares to 13,500 hectares).
Rueda is a fairly young appellation, with a limited number of producers, but it has seen rapid growth in popularity over the past decade. A majority of large Spanish wine groups are now represented in the region, and the DO’s commercial success continues to attract new investors. Rueda accounts for approximately 40 percent of the market share of Spain’s white wine production with DO status, and it ranks third, behind Rioja and Ribera del Duero, for total DO wine production.
Decades after its 1970s renaissance, Rueda is starting to see a changing of the guard from an older generation of winemakers to a younger one. Organic viticulture and sustainable agriculture, along with an inherent desire to protect the land for the future, remain constants. The region is seeing new generations taking over from the parents who mentored them, as well as the advent of winemakers from other regions and countries.
Most of Rueda’s wines are fermented in stainless steel and remain unoaked, but contemporary winemakers continue to push the boundaries of the region’s wine styles through experimental winemaking techniques. Some are employing natural yeasts or cold-fermentation methods, while others are fermenting wines in different-sized oak barrels or using egg-shaped concrete fermenters. Verdejo is being used in sweet and sparkling wines with varying degrees of lees aging. And at least one producer is cultivating a small amount of Malcorta and making wine from this rare and delicate Verdejo clone that had almost become extinct.
While many of Rueda’s vineyards have been replanted in the last four decades, the region still possesses a number of old vine parcels, including some pre-phylloxera vines on their own rootstock that are more than 150 years old. Old vineyards like these can be found in the province of Segovia, where vines were protected from phylloxera by the area’s sandy soils. These vines, along with Rueda’s soils and unique climate, can yield naturally low crop levels of high-quality grapes. Some growers are taking genetic material from these old vines and grafting it onto new plantings.