Wine Ink: Verdejo — Spanish for value
In wine, as in any financial endeavor, value lies in the eyes of the beholder.
If you are a collector of wine as a commodity, saving a few thousands dollars at an auction house on a lot of fine Burgundy, previously held and stored by a retired Swedish doctor, can count as a great score. Even if the lot cost you six figures. For those who peruse online specialty wine sites for their summer drinking pleasure, a 40% discount on a case of Sonoma chardonnay on a Friday flash sale may be the cha-ching moment. Then there is the display in your local wine shop noting a $2 discount on your favorite rosé. I’ll take two bottles, please.
Yes, it is all relative. But I like to define a wine bargain as a wine purchase where pleasure exceeded price. Where the bottle of wine was delicious and took me someplace or told me a story or introduced me to a winemaker, while not making me consider the investment I had made.
Not long ago at a luncheon with folks from the Spanish winery Marqués de Cáceres, and their U.S. importer, I experienced a wine that worked the opposite way. That is to say, I tasted and really enjoyed a wine that felt substantial, supple and complex while still being young and summer-fresh. And mostly, it was delicious. It was after I drank the wine that I was told it sold for $12.99 a bottle, a price that seemed shockingly low for wine that brought such pleasure. In other words, a bargain.
The wine was a Marqués de Cáceres Verdejo 2018 and it came from the Rueda region of Spain. A place, and a grape, with a story.
Located maybe a two-hour drive northwest of Madrid, Rueda has a Denominación de Origen designation in the Spanish wine classifications. It is not a place that many visit, like, say, the more well-known Spanish wine destinations of Priorat in Catalonia or La Rioja in the northeast. But that may be one reason why such value can be found. While Rueda has winemaking traditions that date back to the 11th century, there has been a resurgence in quality and consistency in recent years with a plethora of new wineries emerging in just the last decade or so. The majority of the wines produced are white and the majority of white wines produced are made from the Verdejo grape.
Now, I’m sure that somewhere along the way I have tasted Verdejo wines. But if you had asked me before the luncheon what the grape was like I likely would have stumbled for words thinking it was green like the Portuguese vino verde wines or perhaps light and citrusy like an albariño. In other words, I would have reached for Iberian Peninsula stereotypes.
But this wine was different. There was a weight, a structure that made it seem, I’ll use that word again, substantial. “Verdejo has it all: great fruit, great acidity, great freshness and it pairs exceptionally well with food,” said Greg Doody, president and CEO of Vineyard Brands, the U.S. importer. “It’s a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Verdejo also has a great story. They’ve been growing Verdejo for over 1,000 years. In fact, they were growing Verdejo in Rueda when Columbus set out to discover America.”
Schooled. A fine wine, a new region and a story, all for $15 with change back.
Even though I well know the value factor that can be found when drinking wines from Spain this was a lesson in a wine and a grape that was new to me. Luis Burgueño, the export manager for Bodegas Marqués de Cáceres (who lives in Rueda), took it a step further when asked about Spanish bargains. “I think Americans should look up at the shelf and try Spanish high-end wines; that is where they can find a greater value; a $30.00 Spanish wine delivers like a $60.00 wine.”
To illustrate, he poured me a Marqués de Cáceres Gran Riserva Rioja 2011 that hailed from the Rioja region that is home to the winery. This tempranillo-based wine was lush, dark and almost foreboding. Tannic and structured, it was a wine birthed from vines that had labored for six decades to master complexity. It had been aged for over two years in-barrel, with another four years in-bottle before its release last October. The Gran Riserva is only made in vintages designated as appropriate. This is a very expensive way to make a wine and yet, it sells for around $40 in the U.S.
I call that a bargain.
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