We’re going to think a little outside the box this month. We’re well into summer now; it’s hot and sticky, stormy, and just plain gross. Plus we’re in the heart of bikini season, which means salads are the dish of choice for most sunbathers. So what grape is light and refreshing, works great with salads, but is fun, interesting, and widely available? Several grapes fit the bill but this one is at the top of my list.
Verdejo has become one of Spain’s signature white varietals. Together with albariño it has opened people’s eyes (and tongues) to wines apart from the great reds from Rioja. And it is absolutely perfect for this season. Verdejo (ver-day-ho) is a light to medium white wine, with the lively acidity of June’s sauvignon blanc and, potentially, the complexity of May’s elegant viognier. Historically producers in Rueda turned these grapes into oxidized wines reminiscent of sherry. But over the last decade it seems winemakers have discovered a much better use for this varietal. And we’re quite lucky they did. Often verdejo is blended with Rioja’s white viura (macabeo) and sometimes sauvignon blanc. I simply love these wines, not just situationally, but for almost any season and any circumstance. And, perhaps best of all, most wines made with this grape are very affordable.
Sight: You’ll see a bright goldenish hay color with a very very slight greenish tint. A clear rim should appear on the edges and legs will probably be thin and quickly moving.
Smell: This wine usually smells like a ripe citrus grove. Orange, nectarine, grapefruit and a hint of peach fuzz really come through. On the very outside of all this is a faint hint of something slightly herbal. When blended with sauvignon blanc, more grapefruit and lemon notes come through, while viura’s influence gives it a nutty, floral flair.
Taste: Its flavors are typically driven by tangy grapefruit, peach and tangerine, with fascinating herbal and almond undertones. It can range from incredibly racy to lithe and supple. Most will be light and crisp, but slightly viscous and nicely balanced. Oak treatment is rare; but one barrel fermented verdejo I encountered was stunningly elegant, with a creamy mouthfeel and a lovely hint of nutmeg and vanilla. These wines are a marvelous match for salads and light pasta dishes, especially anything with oregano or tarragon. But it is also a unique and vivacious summer white for sitting out on the deck. Or for me, sitting in the recycled but comfortable air conditioned living room.
Pairing: Scallops with tarragon buerre blanc. Spinach salad with mandarin oranges. 6-12 month aged manchego.
- $10-15: Paso a Paso, Alta Plata, Ipsum, Shaya
- $15 + up: Shaya Habis, Naia Des