In the last couple of years, I may have had wines made from the white wine grape Verdejo, but I didn’t give them much thought until recently when I had a glass at an area restaurant.
It didn’t hurt that my first remarkable Verdejo was a hand-picked, estate-grown, small batch wine full of crisp citrus and mineral flavors.
But, alas, the Verdejo I had is not widely distributed, and I had a hard time finding it at wine stores. As I saw it, if I wanted to keep drinking Verdejo, I needed to find an alternative or just keep ordering it at the restaurant, not a great option considering that $8 a glass is a bit beyond my budget for an everyday wine. A local wine merchant came to the rescue, suggesting a Verdejo produced by the ubiquitous Spanish producer Marques de Caceres, a company noted for well-made, inexpensive wines as well as some higher end lines.
I’m familiar with the company’s red and white wines from the Rioja region, the Bordeaux of Spain and the country’s best-known wine region, where the Tempranillo grape is king. The Verdejo wine comes from a different region, Rueda, on a high plateau not far from Madrid, where the grape occupies about 90 percent of the area’s 32,000 acres of vineyards. It’s also about the only place in Europe where Verdejo is grown.
Grapes grown in Rueda are forced to work hard to survive in dry, rocky soils that are low in nutrients. The limestone and iron in the soil influence the taste of the wine. The grapes also are influenced by the region’s dry, hot summer days, which are followed by crisp, cool nights. In winter, temperatures drop below freezing, adding further challenges for the vines.
Verdejo is often blended with two white wine grapes grown in Rueda, Viura and sauvignon blanc. But by regulation the wine can be called Verdejo only if it consists of at least 85 percent Verdejo. However, the best of them are 100 percent Verdejo, and the Marques de Caceres fits the description.
The origins of the varietal are a little murky, although there is some evidence that the grapes may have been brought to Spain from North Africa in the 11th century, cultivated in the south and then brought north to Rueda, according to the official Rueda website.
The grape dropped out of sight for a few hundred years and was rediscovered during the 1980s when Spanish winemakers began to redevelop the industry, which had been laid low by the Civil War and the Franco era and weighed down by archaic technology.
One of the leaders in the renaissance of Spanish winemaking was Enrique Forner, who founded Marques de Caceres in 1970 after his return to Rioja from exile in Bordeaux, where the winemaking family had fled during the Civil War. In Rioja, he created an alliance among the growers in the region. He had been making excellent wine in France, and with the help of his friend Prof. Emile Peynaud, a revolutionary wine expert in Bordeaux, Forner began to bring modern technology and production methods to his new home. His first wine went on the market in 1975, and by 1980 Marques de Caceres was in every market in Spain. Today, the wines are in 130 countries, the company’s website says.
Marques de Caceres, which is named for a Spanish peer who was a friend of Enrique Forner and an early investor in the winery, is run by Cristina Forner, Enrique’s daughter and the fifth generation of family members to be in the wine business.
Marques de Caceres’ Verdejo is produced by winemakers Carmen Blanco and Fernando Gomez from grapes harvested from company-owned vineyards. Grape yields are kept to a moderate level to ensure intense flavors. The grapes are picked at night when the acidity is higher than it is during the blazing hot days, the winemakers say on the website, describing the wine as the color of straw with bright greenish highlights, having a fragrant bouquet of citrus and minerals and with intense flavors of grapefruit and green apples.
This is a wine for all seasons. It’s bright and crisp enough for a hot summer day or the cold winter nights when you’re just dreaming of fairer weather. The wine should be served at about 45 degrees. It is excellent with seafood, grilled fish or rice and pasta dishes, or just for sipping with appetizers. It’s designed to drink young, although Verdejo can stand up to aging.
Marques de Caceres’ Verdejo is widely available in the Pioneer Valley.•
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range that are available in the Pioneer Valley are always welcome. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.