The D.O. Rueda is a denomination spanning across Castilla y León, along the River Duero and its tributaries. It is mainly white wines that are produced in this D.O., and Verdejo grapes are by far the most popular variety. With hints of flowers, fruit, scrub herbs and very fine aromas, these grapes give the wine a very strong personality.
The D.O. Rueda is located in Castilla y León, and encompasses about 12,000 hectares, covering various municipalities, mainly in the province of Valladolid but also in Segovia and Ávila. The main variety produced here is the Verdejo, a white grape known for adding touches of scrub herbs and fruity notes. Although there are no written records, this variety is believed to have originated in the 11th century at the times of King Alfonso VI, when the Duero basin was settled by Mozarabs as well as settlers from Cantabria and the Basque Country. The former are the most widely believed to have introduced the Verdejo variety to the Duero region.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the cultivated area was larger than today, and the only variety produced was the Verdejo. Local clay was used to fine the wine, rendering it very clean and durable. These characteristics helped make this wine commercially successful.
The phylloxera plague hit at the turn of the 21st century, and by 1922 it had destroyed two thirds of all the region’s vines. When the vines were eventually replanted, resilient vines with high yields were preferred to those that produced high-quality grapes. Additionally, Palomino grapes were planted for the production of young wines to be sold wholesale. In 1935, talks began to establish a D.O. that would increase the area’s exposure. In 1972, the La Rioja Marqués de Riscal winery was established for the production of Verdejo wines. Many areas were cultivated, and a new impetus by local producers finally resulted in the establishment of the D.O. Rueda on 12 January, 1980.
Character: grapes, soil and weather
The D.O. Rueda is located in the depression of the River Duero. Vineyards are planted at an average of 750 metres above sea level, reaching 850 metres in parts of Segovia. The latter vineyards owe their elevation to being planted in the heart of the plateau of Castille. The D.O. Rueda is marked by the crossing of the river Duero and its tributaries: the Trabancos, Zapardiel and Adaja, with their broad fluvial terraces, gentle inclines and Atlantic winds.
The soil is dark brown. It is rich in calcium and magnesium and is very rocky with good drainage. These lands may not be the most fertile or productive, but they make up for it with great quality grapes. Due to their high elevation, the vines are able to bear very long winters, short springs and late frosts, as well very hot and dry summers with occasional thunderstorms. The vines are exposed to plenty of sunshine, which translates into perfect ripening for the grapes and a very aromatic skin. The wild temperature fluctuations throughout the day are the reason for the perfect balance of Rueda wines. The grapes are high in sugar due to the sun and warm temperatures, but they retain their acidity due to the region’s cold nights. This is a very arid area, with only 300-500 annual litres of rainfall. Such dry conditions force the vines to grow very deep roots in order to find water. Measures used to be taken to maximize the plants’ water retention during droughts, but this is no longer necessary thanks to techniques such as drip irrigation. The most popular grape variety in the Rueda is the Verdejo, although other white grape varieties such as Sauvgnon Blanc, Viura and Palomino Fino are also produced. Three types of young white wine exist. Rueda Superior, with a minimum Verdejo content of 75 percent; single varietal Sauvignon Blanc wines; and lastly, Rueda Blanco, with a minimum Verdejo and Sauvignon content of 40 percent. These white wines are produced using cold maceration, a light pressing that is carried out with extreme care, and lastly, by mixing the flower must with the wine that has already been pressed.
To a lesser extent, red varieties such as Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha are also produced. These red wines are 50 percent Tempranillo and 50 percent from other varieties.
Main wineries in the D.O. Rueda
Several wineries produce Verdejo white wines in the D.O. Rueda. Marqués de Riscal, one of the most prestigious of the Rioja, produces its white wines in this denomination. José Pariente, Bodegas Shaya and Bodega Naia also all produce traditional Verdejo wine in the D.O. Rueda. Finally, Belondrade & Lurtón produces Verdejo white wines according to methods used in the Burgundy region of France, such as longer ageing for white wines.