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The hunt for a crisp, breezy white wine very often ends in sauvignon blanc. But what if it didn’t? What if your gleaming, empty wine glass was happy to receive a cold stream of something else? I’d like to propose a bottle of verdejo (the grape is Spanish, so that ‘j’ is pronounced as a breathy ‘h’).
It’s citrussy, with a smooth mouthfeel, and is often hailed as Iberia’s answer to sauvignon blanc – but it has a bit more going for it than that. Where sauvignon can be screechy and attention-seeking, verdejo is calm and unruffled – just the thing you need at the end of the day.
Verdejo tastes a bit of lemon, green melons, citrus blossom, almonds, herbs, grapefruit and unripe peaches, but it’s grass that I most often think of when I sip it – broad, veined blades of fresh, green and even dried grass.
But where to find it? Verdejo is Spain’s fifthmost planted white grape, and its stronghold is the appellation of Rueda, which lies inland in the northern half of Spain, to the west of Ribera del Duero. Sales of Rueda wines recently rose by almost 42% year-on-year, and if you haven’t tasted one yet, perhaps you haven’t been eating much tapas.
Verdejo – or rueda – is a stalwart on many Spanish restaurant lists, including the smart ones. For ages, verdejo was my go-to glass at Casa Brindisa, and it’s also at Salt Yard.
You want one to try? Verdejo is often blended with sauvignon blanc, and Waitrose has a great new wine called Tierra Sagrada Organic White 2018 that is 80% verdejo and 20% sauvignon blanc. It tastes very green, citrussy and leafy, and at 11.5% is pretty light in alcohol.
For a step up, a modern classic – and longstanding favourite of mine – is Telmo Rodriguez Basa Blanco 2018. This one is made by one of Spain’s best-known winemaking talents, and is 90% verdejo with a dollop of viura – it’s beautifully sleek and elegant. It costs around £11-13, and you’ll need to go to an independent merchant to get it. Stockists online include Frazier’s Wine Merchants and The Pip Stop, but it’s also worth searching online to find a local vendor near you.
Finally, what should you eat with verdejo? The grape is one of the world’s most versatile varieties. Thanks to its refreshing qualities, it makes a great aperitif wine but is also good with food – it pairs as well with chicken fajitas and a squeeze of lime as it does with patatas bravas and garlic prawns.
But you could also enjoy it alongside feta and tomato salad, fish pie, mashed avocado, asparagus with a lemon and melted butter sauce, barbecued fish or courgette fritters.
This month I’m drinking
Longflint Drinks Sparkling Rhubarb and Vodka (250ml can, £2.25, Sainsbury’s)
Portable and quick to cool, canned alcoholic drinks are everywhere this summer. I love the rhubarb freshness of this, which is made using vodka from The Oxford Artisan Distillery.
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2018 Australia (£7, Sainsbury’s)
This refreshing viognier has floral notes that pair well with aromatic dishes, like this griddled squid, lentil, roast pepper & preserved lemon with tahini.
Read more articles by Victoria…
Swap your bottle for wine in a can
Why you should be drinking French malbec
Why rosé wine is the perfect drink for summer
My pick of the best bank holiday wines
Treat your mum to sauvignon blanc
How to choose wine
Unusual wines to try in 2019
Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her most recent book is the The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta).
All prices correct as of July 2019.