Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo with gumbo and salad.
Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo with gumbo and salad.

Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo 2012, Spain

Cost: $19-21

What: Verdejo is one of those wines you have never heard of. It will never be as popular as Chardonnay, but if you like crisp, dry whites, this is a wine you need to try.

The Martinsancho has sharp, crisp flavors of citrus, pears and nuts, with a pleasant minerality. The more you sip the more you fall in love with the wine. As more wine drinkers discover the joy of Verdejo, it will quickly grow in popularity.

For me this wasn’t a particularly pleasant wine to sip by itself, but when you have it with a meal, the result is magical. There is plenty of fruit, but the balancing acidity keeps it structured and sharp. Each different kind of food I tried it with brought out new flavors. It has a medium finish, with a very nice aftertaste.

Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo.
Martinsancho Rueda Verdejo.

The grapes are hand picked and after destemming and maceration, free run juice is collected for fermentation under controlled temperatures to preserve the fruity aroma.

The Verdejo grape is indigenous to Rueda, dating back to the 11th Century. But it wasn’t until the 1970s when some pioneering winemakers started fermenting in stainless steel tanks that Rueda became the most important white wine region in Spain. The wines typically are crisp, filled with tropical and stone fruit, and versatile. They pair with a wide variety of food.

The Rueda Denomination of Origin, the first recognized in the larger region of Castilla y León, was founded in 1980. It is about 100 miles northwest of Madrid. Cold winters, scorching summers and gravelly soils combine to produce perfect conditions for Verdejo.

As the grape has grown in popularity it is spreading across the region. About 95 percent of wine produced in Rueda is Verdejo, with a sprinkling of Sauvignon Blanc, Viura and Palomino Fino.

This is a good wine to keep on hand for the holidays. I think it would be a nice surprise with the Thanksgiving turkey or with ham at a holiday party. Serve it well chilled and let it warm up just a bit before serving. It also has excellent aging potential.

One of the best things about Verdejo is its price. At $20, the Martinsancho is near the high end, but it is worth the extra few dollars you might spend.

Winery: The Martinsancho vineyard has been producing wine since the 17th Century. Angel Rodriguez is one of the growers who helped re-establish Verdejo’s prominence in Rueda.

Verdejo was in danger of becoming extinct because other grape varieties were more prolific and growers could make money with grapes for sherry. But Rodriguez persistently preserved the low-yielding, thick-skinned Verdejo.

Though Martinsancho itself is less than an acre in size, Rodriguez took cuttings from his prephylloxera vines to graft onto rootstock planted in deep gravel soil in 1976 to establish a 25-acre vineyard planted in the traditional head farmed fashion and dry farmed. The soil is gravel 30 feet deep. Natural resistance to pests and bacteria allow for organic growing.

Spain’s King Juan Carlos awarded Rodriguez the Cross of the Civil Order of Agricultura for his contribution to Spanish viticulture, and for his work in re-establishing Verdejo as the top grape of the region.

Verdejo often is called Spain’s answer to Sauvignon Blanc. I think it is more complex and in the right hands can produce a spectacular wine.

This Verdejo is perfect with gumbo.
This Verdejo is perfect with gumbo.

Goes with: My wife Teri and I had this wine with gumbo, which took all day to cook, but was worth the effort. I start with Pat Conroy’s recipe, which is a great recipe, and add a few things like okra and more seasonings. It starts with a roux and then file powder and chicken, shrimp, crab and chorizo, along with all the vegetables.

Gumbo is one of my favorite dishes and we wanted a special wine to match it. The wine paired perfectly, with the spicy gumbo needing some sharp wine to cool it off.

This is a difficult wine to describe, because while it is clean and sharp it also has some creaminess that nicely complemented the gumbo.

The wine also should pair well with all kinds of seafood, salads, poultry, pork and pastas. I might try it with our turkey for Thanksgiving.

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