February 24th, 2020
By Mike Pomranz, Food & Wine
With Spanish wines, the first name that typically comes to mind is Rioja and its long-aging reds. But Spain has over 100 classified wine regions, and white wine fans might be more interested in setting their sights a bit more southwest to Rueda. The area received its official Denomination of Origin status in 1980 and is best known for its native Verdejo—a versatile grape that produces dry, aromatic wines. But Rueda is far from a one-trick pony: The region is also known for its Sauvignon Blanc. And now, the D.O. is branching out even further, allowing more white grape varieties and changing their classification system to appeal to more drinkers.
The biggest change coming to the D.O. is that two popular white grape varieties are now approved for use: Viognier and Chardonnay. For the latter, D.O. Rueda points out that Chardonnay is “easy to grow in Rueda and highly adaptable to its terroir and different weather conditions.” (Though the regulatory council didn’t confirm this was a nod to climate change, they didn’t deny it either.) These grapes are already grown in smaller amounts in the region but previously weren’t allowed to carry the Rueda label. Now they are fair game, so long as the wines are still at least 50 percent Verdejo or Sauvignon Blanc. The D.O. explains that all of these rule tweaks are intended to “offer winemakers more opportunities to make unique wines that help distinguish their product in the domestic and export markets” and working with these popular grapes would seem like an easy way to achieve that goal.
Meanwhile, the other changes will be happening on the label, not in the glass. Whereas still white wines from the region previously had three classifications—“Rueda Verdejo,” “Rueda Sauvignon,” and “Rueda”—starting with the 2019 vintage, and hitting shelves this year, those will be merged into just one: “Rueda.” “The new classification system is meant to make Rueda wines simplified for consumers,” Arancha Zamácola Feijoó, head of marketing for the C.R.D.O. Rueda, told me via email.
But winemakers now have other distinctions they can use to differentiate their products. The idea of “Vino de Pueblo” will allow labels to “show the municipality from which the grapes originate, provided that the percentage of grapes from that village is equal to or greater than 85 percent.” And the new category “Gran vino de Rueda” can be used on wine “made with grapes from vineyards over 30 years old, with a yield of less than 6,500 kilograms per hectare and a 65 percent processing ratio.”
And though some classifications are being removed, an old one is returning: Rueda Palido. The D.O. explains, “A traditionally crafted wine in Rueda, it had disappeared from the D.O.’s wine classification system. Thus, the new category recovers a wine made by biological aging and stored in oak barrels for at least three years before being going to market.”
Lastly, sparkling wines may now include the words “gran añada” (translated to “excellent harvest”) for vintage wines that require at least 36 months for production.
“All these changes respond to our wineries’ desire to adapt… Now they have more possibilities to stand out in the market and more freedom in winemaking with the D.O. Rueda seal and guarantee of origin. It is also an opportunity for winegrowers to work with new varieties which, according to studies, have proven to adapt perfectly to our climate and soil,” Carmen San Martín, president of CRDO Rueda, said in the announcement. “This process is the result of the Regulatory Council’s interest in surprising the market with value-added products, always championing the origin of wines and committing to the rigorous quality controls of the D.O. Rueda.”