Wine for Normal People

Wine for Normal People

United States

A podcast for people who like wine but not the attitude that goes with it. We talk about wine in a fun, straightforward, normal way to get you excited about it and help you drink better, more interesting stuff. Back catalog available at http://winefornormalpeople.libsyn.com.

Episodes

Ep 179: Thomas Jefferson -- America's First Wine Nerd  

You know I'm a sucker for history, and this was a fascinating one to research. Through Thomas Jefferson's detailed records, we're able to learn so much about wine during the late 1700s and early 1800s in France, Spain, and northern Italy. Turns out, as much as we think things have changed, much of it has stayed the same. We need to thank the folks at Monticello in Virginia for making such awesome records available! Here are some notes:

 

Pre-Revolution wine was made up of Madeira, light red Claret, Sherry, and Port. The British dictated tastes and discouraged trade in French wine so Portugal and Spain dominated

 

Jefferson began his love of wine while at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia and developed more of an interest when he interacted with German prisoners during and after the Revolution

 

in 1784, Jefferson was newly widowed and moved to France to serve as an ambassador alongside John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. 

 

Adams loved Bordeaux and helped school Jefferson in wine, but Jefferson took his passion further, combining "public service with private gratification" on a number of long trips through Burgundy, Rhône, Piedmont, Loire, and Bordeaux. He toured Rheingau, Mosel, and Champagne later on. Burgundy was his passion.

 

Jefferson didn't want to leave Paris in 1789 but left and became Washington's Secretary of State, and he never returned to the continent. He became an advocate for French and Italian wines in America. 

 

While  president, he drank sherry Hermitage blanc, what appears to be Bandol, and a Roussillon wine that seems like a modern day vin doux natural and racked up personal wine debts that would be several million dollars in today's world.

 

Throughout his life, Jefferson kept immaculate records of his drinking, coming up with a tasting lexicon and a method for getting people more interested in trying these fine wines. We know that the best wines of the world remain so -- terroir is terroir -- and that the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same in many regards. No amount of technology can make a better wine than a Montrachet from Burgundy or a first growth from Bordeaux. 

 

Hope you enjoy this bit of international wine history! Thanks to Monticello, Jane Anson and John Hallman's Thomas Jefferson On Wine for so much great info on which to draw! 

Ep 178: Slovenia  

 

Slovenia is small but it's up and coming! It's a fascinating place with a long winemaking tradition that should pique your interest.

________________________________________________________

Before you read on, a great thanks to our sponsor: The Great Courses Plus!

The Great Courses Plus has over 8,000 lectures on a ton of subjects, taught by experts. Well done and escapism that's addictive! You'll lear so much! 

Go to www.thegreatcoursesplus.com/wine to get a free trial (the special URL lets them know you heard about it here!). As I mentioned, The Everyday Gourmet: Rediscovering the Lost Art of Cooking is mandatory for you wine education!!! Watch and get back to me!!

_____________________________________________________________

Slovenia's Wine Stats:

Population of two million people, who drink a LOT: 5th highest wine consumption per capita in the world About 75% of the country's production is white wine
55K Planted acres makes it the size of Sonoma County, in California Small portion of the wine is exported 70% of the wine is premium, most is made in the clean modern style  Some using ancient techniques (clay amphorae) to give the texture a tannic rasp and the wine a rosy, sometimes amber, hue (orange wines)

Slovenia's Wine History

Of Celts, Romans, Christians, and Napoleon By the end of the WWII, co-ops controlled nearly all of the region's wine production: Sucky bulk wine production with a few small private wineries in the Drava Valley region In 1967, the government established the PSVVS (Business Association for Viticulture and Wine Production) In 1991, Slovenia was the first to declare independence from Yugoslavia Dictatorship/Socialism/Communism separated countries from centuries of winemaking traditions but they are catching up now

Geography 

At crossroad of eastern and central Europe bordered by Hungary, Italy, Croatia, and Austria  Important Rivers: Drava and Sava connect to the Danube Dynamic regions on borders

3 Main Regions

Primorska:  Near Italian region of Fruili Venezia Giulia, high quality whites and reds Sub regions: Vipava Valley, Goriska Brda (gore-ISH-KA BURR-DA), Koper (pr. Coper), Karst plateau district Grapes: Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio, other whites, Refosco other reds Experimentation and blending of old and new: Orange wines, clay amphora, and long, long aging Drava (Podravje)  Botrytis affected whites, Welschriesling, Furmin
Nearly 97% of the wine made in the Drava Valley region is white wine Seven sub-regions Lower Sava (Posavje)  Only Slovenian wine region that produces more red wine than white, though not by a large margin Three districts, you may see Lower Carniola on a bottle Lower Sava Valley region is dominated by bulk wine, rather than premium wine, production Use of many native grapes

Hope you enjoy this off-the-beaten trail podcast. 

 

Ep 177: Bar Food and Wine Pairings  

Ok, we've done it. We did the primary research with unhealthy, kinda nasty bar food. Our findings were pretty simplistic but we figured it out through trial and error.

Here's a hint: our MVP is a wine we don't recommend often: lightly oaked Chardonnay!

Audio blog 13: Cool Weather Whites  

When the weather is cold, I often just want to reach for a red. It’s got higher alcohol, is served at a warmer temperature, and it’s great with hearty food.

 

But I’m here to tell you that there’s this underbelly of whites that few know about that you need to get on right away. They are usually a great price, often as satisfying as a red, and can pair perfectly with rich food (especially spicy food). The common theme is that they feel fuller and softer in your mouth and have good flavor. If you put them in a black glass and you’d swear they were red wines!

 

In the summer and with summer foods, we all want sippers that are refreshing and bright: Wines that are best colder and have high acidity are best (Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay/Chablis, Albariño or Verdejo from Spain). But as the temps go down, you need a bone-warming white. The three keys to finding one:

 

Lower acidity and softer, rounder textures, which mean these wines are from warmer, sunnier climates where the grapes get fully ripe and aren't as tart. 13.5% alcohol is probably the minimum you’d want for the right body.

 

Wines that are better served at 50˚F+ -- not ice cold. You'll need to leave these out of the fridge to warm up. 

 

Fuller flavored wines that have enough umph to stand up to richer foods -- soups and stews, poultry with herbs, pastas with richer sauces.

 

For me, the genre of grapes and blends that fit the bill are those from Alsace, , the Rhône Valley, and Southern Italy, and places that have similar climates to those areas. 

 

Alsace Whites: Take your pick! Any of the great grapes of Alsace are full, soft, rich, and great for warmer weather. 

The Riesling is opulent and almost oily in texture but still dry with peach, apple, pear, and mineral (think of being near a waterfall) notes. The wine has acidity but it's fuller in body than many dry German versions. The Pinot Gris is not so aromatic, but it's spicy -- like coriander or mild ginger -- with smoke, orange, apricot, pear notes and a rich texture. Good stuff and affordable.  I’ve actually had some awesome Pinot Blanc of late. Although it can be insipid and thin, the right producer in the right year makes it fat, round, and pear-like in flavor. Great versions can be had from $18 on up to hundreds of dollars.

 

Rhône Whites:

For Southern Rhône, Costieres di Nîmes Blanc, Côtes de Rhône Blanc, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape blanc are my favorites. The main grapes for these wines vary -- some are Grenache Blanc, some Marsanne, some Viognier, some Roussanne or Picpoul, but good versions share the same character: soft, luxurious textures that roll around in your mouth with enough acidity to keep them from feeling heavy or imbalanced. The flavors will range from peachy to honeyed to herbal, but the textures are consistent so they fit the criteria above. Outstanding versions of Costieres de Nîmes and Côtes de Rhône Blanc can be had for US$15 to $20. I’ve even had some great Picpoul for around $15 that has this same quality.

 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape will set you back at least $US40, but it’s well worth it, especially with halibut in butter herb sauce (the best pairing I’ve probably ever had!). You'll find similar wines from great producers in Priorat just south of Barcelona, Spain. These wines are often a better value than CdP and have a Grenache Blanc lead (and they are awesome with Spanish tapas!). You can get a great one for around $US25.

 

Northern Rhône wines are similar but they are more refined and much more expensive! Viognier from Condrieu is soft, and like a bouquet of flowers or bowl of peaches or apricots, and dry but decadent in texture. The white versions of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are made with Marsanne and Roussanne grapes and may be the fullest whites you'll find -- like eating a honey comb, but not sweet, with lots of earthy, waterfall/stream smells and flavors.

 

Before I go move from the Rhône to Southern Italy, I should point out that California does some great whites with Rhône grapes too. I’ve had some Viognier from Santa Barbara that’s full of fruit flavor but with a touch of acid -- great with food and delicious on its own. Our friends at Tablas Creek in Paso Robles make a few outstanding white Rhône blends in the Rhône style. And one of the tastiest Rhône wines I've had out of Lodi was a Picpoul by Acquiesce Winery -- full, rich, soft, but with enough acidity to keep it from sitting heavy in your mouth. All of these will run you more than $20, not a great value but tasty nonetheless!

 

And to complete our tour of cold weather whites, on to Southern Italy...

The two amazing grapes of Southern Italy -- Fiano and Greco -- make rich, full, soft whites. Another warm, Mediterranean climate, these wines share a lot in common from a texture standpoint with the wines of the southern Rhône, especial
Ep 176: The Many Sides of Australian Shiraz with Simone Madden-Grey  

Simone Madden-Grey, our Down Under co-host, talks about the flavors of Shiraz & how it can't be pigeon-holed into one profile or type of wine. A refreshing look at Australia from an inside view, you'll want to run out to producers she mentions!

Ep 175: Tuscany Overview with Filippo Bartolotta  

We welcome our new Italy co-host, Filippo Bartolotta, a native Florentine, wine expert, writer, and travel company owner. This fabulous normal wine guy tells us about himself, about Italian wine culture, and about how to get the best out of Tuscan wine!

 

Show notes with links to producers we mention to come...

Ep 174: Last minute gifts, holiday, and New Year's Eve wines  

An end of year podcast to help you figure out stuff like: What wine to gift if you're on a budget, or not, what defines a "special" occasion, how to get the host to open the wine you bring, plus quick Christmas pairings & options for New Year's bubbles! 

 

Show notes:

Wine is an ideal last-minute gift -- don't get gadgets unless the person specifies they want them! 
Ways to figure out what someone may want Budget and non-budget options

 

How to figure out how to make sure the wine you bring to a gathering gets opened and some other etiquette suggestions

 

Saving for a “special” occasion – notes on when an occasion is “special” enough 

 

Sparkling wines for NYE -- different options and ideas on drinking order

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year! Thanks for your support in 2016! Here's to an even better 2017!

 

 

Audio blog 12: Bandol -- RED Wine from Provence  

Sometimes I need a hearty, fruit filled, bone-warming wine to sip on. And when the weather is cool, that’s often all I’ll grab. But after I’ve downed big reds from warm places around the (mostly NEW) world with higher alcohol that will make me feel warm, I’m left wanting a little something with more complexity. Something that’s less fruity. A wine that seems hearty but has an element of surprise – maybe that hit of terroir or something that keeps on giving me something new with each sip. And that’s when I grab a Bandol (BAHN-dol), a Mourvèdre based red wine from Provence in Southern France.

 

Amidst the lavender, olives, soaps, and beautifully patterned fabrics oh, and rosé, there’s this small, high quality region.

 

If you know anything about wine in Provence than you probably associate it with rosé. And rightfully so: 80% of wine produced here is pink. The market demands it and Provence delivers, in spades. But there’s more than just those lovely salmon colored beauties here: 15% of the wine from Provence is red and it isn’t the refreshing, light partner of rosé. This is big, balls-out stuff mainly from three red wine areas: Cassis, Bellet, and Bandol, with the latter being the only one I’ve been able to find often in a wine shop in the US.

 

Bandol’s wines are mainly made from the very powerful, luscious Mourvèdre (moo-VED-rrr) grape. It’s a plummy, herbal, licorice-flavored, woodsy grape that’s rarely bottled alone because it is so powerful. Mourvèdre is so strong that it can’t be without oak aging to tame its tannins and in the bottle, wines made of it can age for 15 years and may still not be ready!

 

Growing in tight little bushes that can stand up to the heavy, ferocious gusts of cold wind that come from northern continental Europe (the Mistral) this tough, muscly grape produces a small amount of potent wine. And because of its power, the grape is mainly used in blends to add a kick to wines that otherwise may lack tannins and brawn (Mourvèdre is a big component in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for example, and many Côtes du Rhône).

 

But when it’s the star of the show, it needs to be tempered so in Bandol, where wines contain a minimum of 50% Mourvèdre, but can be up to 100%, the grape is usually blended with Grenache and Cinsault, which soften up the bold, tannic, and kind of meaty flavors of the lead grape. Syrah can be used to add depth of flavor (black pepper and other types of herbal notes) and Carignan adds fruit and juiciness and softens the toughness of the Mourvèdre, which in addition to its strong flavor can be tannic and unforgiving. As an aside, if it’s listed, the percentage of Mourvèdre can be a tip off as to how long to hold it before you drink it – more Mourvèdre = more aging.

 

History

But let’s get off the grapes and onto the region, which I think needs a dork out moment of its own, since we HAVE TO give props to one of the oldest winemaking regions in France.

 

Winemaking started here about 2,600 years ago, most likely when the Phoenicians sailed from modern-day Lebanon and took over the area we now know as Provence. They saw great potential for one of their cash crops here (wine) and likely brought Monastrell from Spain (which is Mourvedre’s name in the Iberian Peninsula), where their Phoenician brethren had already been making wine for several centuries in a similar climate. 

 

When they arrived in the Gulf of Bandol, we can only guess that they were thrilled. They found the ideal place for vineyards: an area with a natural amphitheater created by mountains on three sides and easy access from the vineyards right out to the Gulf. Cha-ching! They could easily export their wine to far flung places and make cash without much transportation overhead (inland locales like Champagne or Burgundy required a trip down a river or over land— why waste the time when Bordeaux and Bandol were basically on the ocean?)

 

The Romans agreed with the Phoenician’s assessment of the wine quality and worked on painstakingly building stone terraces into the mountainside (which are called restanques and are still used today) and they further built the reputation of this small enclave.

 

Things trucked along for Bandol, with Louis XV being a famous fan, until the late 1800s when phylloxera hit and nearly all of the vineyards were destroyed.

 

But growers in this region weren’t giving up after that vine murderer came to town. The winegrowing areas were too good for that. They’d been extolled for millennia, not just for their warm coastal climates, elevation, and sun exposure but for the outstanding, diverse soils that yielded flavorful, bold but still nuanced wines. They used the phylloxera epidemic as a chance to reshape the vineyards and when they applied for their appellation in 1941, Bandol included an elite set of 8 communes that lie exclusively on

Ep 173: Pfalz -- The German Region for Dry Wine Lovers  

Pfalz is the region for you if you have the question: How do I get into German wine If I hate sweet stuff?

Overview:

Pfalz is an important region in terms of quantity and quality. It's one of the most promising German wine regions for Riesling and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) In Western Germany, Between Rhine and lower lying Haardt mountains – continuation of Vosges, just south is Alsace Warmer climate Summers are dry, not too hot, winters mild. almost Mediterranean in some sections (almonds grow here) Excellent viticultural conditions

History:

Pfalz is from the Latin for for palace and it's named for Palatine Counts of the Holy Roman Empire, who held court in the nearby city of Heidelberg from the 13th to the 18th century. Traces of winemaking from 550 BC. The region languished for a while after Romans left, viticulture was not a priority for a long time. German wine route created in 1935 and is an easy path for tourists, great for Pfalz wine (Deutsche Weinstrasse) -- has helped with revival in modern times

Today:

Pfalz is one of the most innovative regions in Germany – young winemakers, less expensive land

Grapes

60% white, 40% red Riesling 25% Dornfelder 14% Muller-Thurgau 10% Blauer Portugieser 9% Spatburgunder 7% Mittelhaardt – top Rieslings, South – increasing plantings of Riesling but also Spatburgunder, Portugieser, Dornfelder Different from many German regions – Dry wines, not sweet Fuller bodied Reds – can reach 13% alcohol (rare in Germany)

Pfalz is the place dry wine lovers should try first in Germany! So go explore! 

Ep 172: The One Wine Thanksgiving Solution  

Thanksgiving is a meal with so much complexity that you may just want to think about streamlining your wine choices. We offer a "one wine" solution -- versatile choices that go with everything -- so you don't have to stress! Here's the shortlist that we mention:

 

Whites:

Off-dry Vouvray and off-dry Riesling

Premier Cru Chablis

Alsace whites -- especially Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc or Priorat Blanc

Italian whites

Bubbles! American Sparkling or Prosecco are fruitier and may be best

 

 

Rosé

 

Especially New World rosé that can stand up to the multitude of flavors

Bubbly rosé is a great pick too

 

 

Reds

Caveat Emptor, since red is less versatile for Thanksgiving. Pick something low in alcohol, low in tannin, and moderate in acidity

Top picks: Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc

 

 

We also welcome our first sponsor -- HelloFresh! HelloFresh is a meal kit delivery service that makes cooking fun and easy. Each week they create awesome recipes with step-by-step instructions that take about 30 minutes to cook. They give you all the ingredients in an awesome package with exact quantities you need. All the food is nutritionally balanced and it is darn tasty, as we will attest in the podcast.

 

If you want to try this amazing, easy service, you get $35 off when you enter the promo code WINE! Trust us, you won't regret it! We are hooked after trying some of their tasty meals that got us out of our cooking rut. 

Audio blog 11: Beaujolais Cru  

Every year on the third Thursday in November at midnight, Beaujolais Nouveau hits store shelves, cafés, and restaurants around the world and (a declining number) of people rush out to get this invention of marketing genius.

 

The celebration of this hastily made wine, for which grapes are picked and then processed in a scant few weeks before you drink it (as opposed to quality wine which is made over several months, if not years) is the creation of producer/negociant Georges Duboeuf. This guy took the Old World idea of festivals that celebrated new/young wine —  wine made from grapes fresh off the vines — and put a marketing machine behind it to get the world to support Beaujolais Nouveau.

 

The problem: young wine is best when it’s fresh and sipped at the winery. When it travels overseas and is stored for a month the wine is terrible. But even then, I bet if we tasted it fresh, Beaujolais Nouveau tastes like bananas, bubble gum, and pear candy, with little acid or tannin. Apart from color, it has more in common with a white than a red. It’s fun, but it doesn’t taste that great and as we’ve become more sophisticated in our wine drinking, Beaujolais Nouveau has become less exciting to most people. 

 

Sadly this increasing sophistication has had terrible repercussions in the region of Beaujolais — forcing some growers out of business and creating tensions among those who depended on this product for their livelihoods. So the question for Beaujolais is: Now that Beaujolais Nouveau is on the rocks, what else is there?

 

Enter higher quality Beaujolais. This is the stuff wine people go nuts over but that few others know about: the 10 Beaujolais Crus that make distinctive, floral, fresh wine from the Gamay grape. Just south of Burgundy and north of Rhône, on a swath of granite, which is Gamay’s preferred soil, are scattered areas that make outstanding wine. From north to south these are: Saint-Amour, Juliénas, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Régnié, Côte de Brouilly, and Brouilly.

 

The wines produced in these Cru run the gamut — from floral and fruity to rich, earthy, and complex. Here’s a quick grouping of each type: 

 

Lighter bodied, more floral, less age worthy: Chiroubles  Medium bodied, fruity with mineral notes:Brouilly, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Régnié, Saint-Amour Fuller bodied, spicy, earthy: Chénas, Juliénas Even fuller and more age-worthy, spicy, and like a cross between Pinot Noir and more floral Gamay: Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent

 

Most of these wines are incredibly well priced for what they are — around US $20 or less — and they taste like nothing else you’ve ever tried. I don’t know of other wines that can boast flavors of iris flowers, violets, or lily of the valley and also have raspberry, earth, and spice notes. The combination of freshness and structure — most Cru have excellent acidity but also a round, soft texture — make these wines like nothing else you’ve ever had. 

 

So clearly, I love the stuff. Go get yourself one from an area I just mentioned that sounds best to you and report back on the blog: winefornormalpeople.com/blog and we’ll compare notes.

Ep 171: Ian Renwick, Indie Wine Shop Owner  

Ian returns as a co-host, talking about his latest venture -- starting an independent wine shop. We discuss the work that goes into this process, what you should look for in a indie shop, & economics of bottle pricing. Fascinating behind the scenes look!

 

Visit his site jadedpalates.com to see his selection and, if you're in the UK, to get the free shipping he's offering to WFNP listeners!! 

Bonus: An Ode to Halloween Candy Pairing  

A poem...because Halloween is our favorite holiday!

 

An Ode To Halloween Candy Pairing…

 

Halloween was fun, now it’s day of the dead

So don’t make a mistake that will mess with your head

Although some have an empty bowl where once there were sweets

Most of us have tons of left over treats

 

Whether you’re stealing from your kids or eating from the work trough

We’re here to make sure your wine doesn’t taste off

 

Because although some wine people recommend Cab

Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Syrah in their gab

We’ll remind you once more as we did in a podcast

That you should reconsider before you reach for a glass

Dry wine is nasty with Halloween candy

Regardless of your palate, it just doesn’t taste dandy

Bitter and gross with a hollow taste,

With delicious candy, it’s such a waste

 

Better for you is wine that is sweet:

Port, Muscat, Late Harvest anything you really can’t beat

Ruby Port with Snickers? Late Harvest Zin with Kit Kat?

We’ve told you a hundred times, this pairing is where it’s at

Sweet Sherry or sweet Vin Santo is nice

For Starburst and Skittles don’t think twice

Although I’d save the Sauternes and Tokay

With the sweetness of the candy, you could give it a try!

 

We know that sweet wine may not be in your cellar

But a wine sweeter than the dessert transforms things like Cinderella

So grab a sweet wine, invite some friends by

Choose some of these pairings, just give it a try

 

‘Cause Halloween comes just once a year

And this volume of candy will soon disappear

Don’t mess it up with a crappy pairing

That will leave you drunk and have you swearing.

Trust us on this one, we’re not trying to be beat

For candy, Post-Halloween, you better go sweet!

 

 HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Ep 170: Isabelle Legeron, Leader of the Natural Wine Movement  

What is natural wine, exactly? Isabelle Legeron, Master of Wine and leader of the natural wine  movement & founder of the RAW Wine Natural Wine Festival explains it in great detail & talks about why it's so important for us to consider drinking natural.

Audio blog 10: Organic and Biodynamic Wine  

There is a lot of buzz about organic and biodynamic farming but what is it? Why does it matter? Does it make sense? You judge after hearing this explanation of both practices. 

 

For the transcript and details, go to http://winefornormalpeople.com/blog

Ep 169: Priorat, Spain  

A small production area of Spain, Priorat is one of only two DOCa (highest quality) regions of the country. These wines are expensive, but for good reason - they're in short supply & are outstanding.

We tell you how to get the best of the best of Priorat!

 

Go to winefornormalpeople.com/blog for more detailed show notes.

Audioblog 9: Garnacha Tinta/Red Grenache  

Garnacha, or Grenache is known by many but appreciated on its own by few. This time I talk about the grape and where to get the best of it. For the transcript and more detail please go to winefornormalpeople.com/blog

Ep 168: Campania, Italy  

In the shin of Italy's boot, Campania is the province south of Rome. The area encompasses Capri, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and some of the most unique, tastiest wines in the world. Want to know what regions and grapes are up and coming? Look no further.

Audio blog 8: In Defense of the French AOC System  

The EU classification of wine, based on the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system, is a complex system that designates and controls names of wine, and I think it's great, despite what others would say...

 

For the transcript and more detail please go to winefornormalpeople.com/blog

Audio blog 7: Verdejo from Rueda, Spain  

Verdejo from Rueda, Spain: An Original

 

I love wines from Spain. For many reasons. They’re often inexpensive yet high quality. When they’re good, they’re fresh, layered, and delicious. And maybe best of all, they’re originals – you don’t see every country growing Spanish grapes. These are one of a kind.

 

 

The reds are fabulous and what the country is best known for, but the whites are compelling and outstanding too. Albariño from Rias Baixas and the rare white blends of Priorat are particular standouts, but maybe the best white grape of all is Verdejo, a full, creamy, pear and herbal tasting wine with nut and honey notes and enough acid to keep it fresh and lively.  This grape -- possibly native to this area, possibly brought by predecessors of the Moors from North Africa --has settled in well and Rueda, located on a 2,300 foot high plain just northeast of Madrid, is where it shines.

 

 

In this dry, boring looking plain of north-central Spain, soils are rocky and well-drained. The vines struggle and if they weren’t so drought resistant they wouldn’t survive. Rueda’s climate is like that of any mid-western area — continental with hot summers and cold winters. The day to night temperature swings (diurnals) are extreme, and that means that the grapes can gather acidity in the cool nights to offset the ripeness they get from sitting in the hot sun all day.

 

 

Given the location, weather is erratic. Storms whipping over the Iberian peninsula smack the area and frost, wind, hail, and any number of other natural maladies can maim or kill the crops unexpectedly. And one of those maladies, the killer of all European grapevines in the late 1800s through the early 1900s, the phylloxera root bug, kicked the area in the teeth and put Verdejo at risk of falling into obscurity, if not extinction.

 

 

After ripping through the area and killing 2/3 of the vines, growers replanted on American grapevine roots (which are resistant to phylloxera, can anchor the plant, and can take a graft from a different grape species with no noticeable flavor difference). But they picked grapes that produced quantity over quality, and Verdejo, a slower grower, got bumped by Sauvignon Blanc and Viura (also used in Cava and white Rioja).  Most of the stuff produced from 1922 through the 1970s was Sherry-like wine of variable quality often sold in bulk.

 

 

Help came from an unlikely source in the 1970s: Marquis de Riscal, a Rioja producer, who decided to bring Verdejo into the spotlight and make dry whites from the grape. The Bodega’s dedication to reviving the grape transformed it. Part of the problem for Verdejo-based wines was that they did seem to oxidize (turn into that sherry-like concoction) quickly. With investment and research, Riscal and other producers found that night harvest, cooler fermentations, and a good dose of sulfur dioxide helps preserve the aromas and freshness of the wines and makes them shine.

 

My opinion: Good call!

 

Named for the green color of its berries (verde), Verdejo is the 5th most planted white grape in Spain and is popular in its mother country. And it’s clear why: The grape is unlike any other. It’s aromatic with its citrus notes and usually a distinctive earthy, underbrush/shrubby smell. It tastes like bay leaves, almonds, and has a slight bitterness and great mouth-cleansing acidity. Despite its crispness, wines of Verdejo have a full, smooth, silky texture that I love. It’s a complex, food friendly white -- great with everything from sheep’s milk cheese to pasta or fish in lemon or lemon cream sauces. The grape’s acidity makes it refreshing for warm weather but the full nature of the wine makes it a great fall and winter white too.

 

Through this praise of the grape, I’ve failed to mention one of the coolest things about Verdejo: you can get great stuff for around US $15. That said, not all Rueda or Verdejo is created equal so let me give you some tips for buying before I sign off.

 

Wines labeled “Rueda” are only required to be 50% Verdejo — the rest is normally Sauvignon Blanc and Viura, a grape usually used for blending in white Rioja and in Cava, as I already mentioned.

 

Wines labeled “Rueda Verdejo” or Rueda Superior are required to be 85% Verdejo, but many are 100% and usually indicate so on the bottle. Rueda Verdejo are the best wines, in my opinion. Look before you buy – the label will usually indicate if the wine is 100% Verdejo and that’s what you need to seek out.

 

Have you had Rueda Verdejo? What do you think? Please go to winefornormalpeople.com/blog and drop a comment and get a full transcript of this audio blog.

0:00/0:00
Video player is in betaClose