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Spain's Unheralded White Wine

Spain’s Unheralded White Wine

SUMMERTIME PERFECTION

 

Looking for something different to drink this summer?  Do yourself (and your palate) a favor and check out two wines from the Spanish estate Javier Sanz – their Verdejo and Verdejo/Viura blend.

Javier Sanz among his vines.

The estate was founded slightly over 100 years ago by Javier’s great-grandfather, Agustín Nanclares.  Once just growers, their goal today is to produce high quality wine from their sustainably farmed vineyards, most of which were planted over 50 years ago.

 

A majority of these older vines are Verdejo with Viura, Sauvignon Blanc and Tempranillo making up the rest of the estate’s 250 acres.

 

Vines are planted at 2,300 feet in stone and sand soils with clay and limestone layered underneath, a combination that contributes the minerally thread running through the wine.

 

In terms of flavor, the Rey Santo Rueda, a blend of Verdejo and Viura, had strong woody aromas, crisp mineral notes on the palate and sharp fruit flavors.  There was a hint of cedar at the finish.

 

The Rey Santo Verdejo has similar aromas but with a bit less intensity.  There is also a bit of saltiness to the nose.  The wine is lean on the palate, with the same crisp feel, tart fruit flavors, and a slight hint of white flowers.  It was very refreshing.

 

Price wise, these wines are on the higher end of the spectrum (roughly $12 for the blend, $15 for the Verdejo), though the quality of what’s in the glass makes it worth the slight uptick.

 

Enjoy either wine on its own or serve it with lighter fare such as grilled shrimp, fish topped with mango salsa, or sushi.

 

Viura grapes.

ABOUT THE GRAPES

 

Odds are good you’ve never heard of these grapes – but it’s never too late to learn!

 

Verdejo has grown in Rueda since it was brought to Spain from North Africa in the 11th century.  Historically, it was used to craft an oxidized, Sherry-like wine.  Since the grapes are particularly susceptible to oxidation (excess exposure to oxygen, starting when the grapes are crushed), they are typically harvested at night. This gets them to a winery at a cooler temperature, a technique that minimizes browning.

 

The resulting wine has a crisp, herbaceous quality reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc – with which it is often blended – though it gains nutty flavor as it ages.

 

Roughly 95% of the world’s Viura grapes are planted in Spain.  (Most of the rest are planted in France, where the grape is known as Macabeo.)

 

Considered a native Spanish varietal, the grape is low in acidity with light floral notes, qualities that perhaps make it better in a blend than solo – it’s one of three key grapes in Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine.  Still wines from the grape are mildly acidic and best enjoyed young.

 

RUEDA

 

Finally, what of the Rueda region?

 

One of the things I love about so many Spanish wines is that they’re under the radar: Everyone thinks Rioja (for good reason) when they think of Spanish wines, so everything else generally offers good quality and value.

 

Interestingly, in addition to helping put Spain on the world wine map, Rioja also played a role in helping Rueda establish its own reputation as a top wine region.

 

Here’s the scoop:

 

The Verdejo grape has been planted here for hundreds of years and was used for a while to produce Sherry when the Moorish reign over Jerez significantly reduced supply of the fortified wine.

 

It wasn’t until the 1970s that Francisco Hurtado de Amezaga y Dolagaray, the director of Marques de Riscal, a renowned Rioja estate, recognized and took advantage of the region’s great potential for dry white wine.

 

The estate began selling a dry Rueda Verdejo alongside its red Rioja wines to great success.  In addition, Amezaga y Dolagaray encouraged others to begin replanting Verdejo and introduced Sauvignon Blanc to the region.

 

Rueda achieved DO status in 1980, a sign of how quickly the wines made their mark.  Today it is considered one of the country’s best areas for white wine.

 

The reason is simple:  Rueda offers excellent attributes for growing grapes.  Located in north-central Spain, the area enjoys a continental climate and gravelly soils.  Summers are hot and winters cold, but the wide day-night temperature variations create a nice balance between acidity and sugar in the grape.

 

What more could a wine ask for?

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