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A secret from Spain — for just $10

Grassy notes make Verdejo good Sauv Blanc alternative
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These days, Spain is turning out some of the world’s most interesting and versatile wines at highly affordable prices, and its white Verdejo is one of the best-kept secrets.

This variety -- and the excellent example I have just found — is from the Rueda region in the northwest, just south of the Duero River. My interest in the area was heightened a year ago by another wine called Basa, a fruity and delicious $8 blend of Verdejo, Viura and Sauvignon Blanc that struck a chord with many readers.

The other day, I tasted the 2001 Verdejo (pronounced vehr-DAY-yoh), from Bodegas Cerrosol, at about $10. Actually, though the label doesn’t say so, it is made from 90 percent Verdejo and 10 percent Sauvignon Blanc. It is vibrant and fresh, light yet full-bodied — a sophisticated, aromatic wine that is somewhat less fruit driven than the Basa, meaning that, while the fruit is evident (green apples and pears, a bit of orange rind), its other components, in particular herbaceous and spicy notes, show an equally strong presence.

For me, this is not a quaffing wine, although I enjoyed a glass before dinner. Its real calling is with food, which, of course, is what appreciating wine is really all about. Strongly flavored foods will be best — I enjoyed the Cerrosol with a spicy crab cake, followed by a garlicky clam sauce over pasta. I can also see it with chicken grilled with lots of fresh herbs.

My notes also point to grassy and citrus qualities, which often characterize Sauvignon Blancs, and you may want to consider Verdejo as an alternative to Sauvignon. The big difference is that it is a far less racy wine than Sauvignons from, say, New Zealand, which, for me, are often a bit too strident. The Cerrosol has a pleasing finish that lingers as the wine goes down. It is fermented in stainless steel.

Rueda is a small area where pretty much all the wines produced are white. That makes it unique in Spain, which is generally better known for its reds.

Bodegas Cerrosol is owned by the Avelino Vegas family, which also runs Bodegas Fuentespina in the nearby Ribera del Duero region, where it makes a fine, inexpensive Tempranillo, among other wines.

As for Verdejo, the variety deserves to be a lot better known among American wine drinkers and Bodegas Cerrosol’s interpretation offers a worthwhile introduction.