Rueda wines made news this summer when’s wine expert, Edward Deitch, recommended a 2006 Rueda Verdejo made by Marqués de Riscal, calling it “top-value”, “easy-to-drink” and “satisfying.” 

Rueda, a DO since 1980, is located in northwestern Spain, in the Castilla y León region. The Duero River flows through Rueda’s northwestern corner. Several tributaries branch off from this important river, providing, through their flooding, soils that are excellent for growing wine grapes.

The soil is high in magnesium and calcium, and, over time, has transformed from downright rocky to “stony but easy to farm,” according to DO Rueda’s website. Most of Rueda’s wineries are clustered around the cities of Rueda and La Seca, although some are found farther southeast, near Santiuste de San Juan Bautista and Nieva.

Rueda’s climate plays an important role in the cultivation and quality of its wine grapes. Winters are usually cold, similar to a Continental climate. Summers are more Mediterranean and are typically hot and dry. Selectively-applied irrigation, which is controlled under the region’s DO regulations, has helped Rueda expand its wine production zones. Without modern drip-irrigation systems, Rueda’s wine growers would not be able to produce quality grapes at the record levels they’ve recently enjoyed.

Rueda is mainly known for its white wines, although recent (2001) changes to the region’s wine regulations now allow for production of red wines.

About 84% of Rueda’s vineyards are planted with white grape varieties. Of these, verdejo is the predominant variety, comprising about 90% of the region’s white wine grape production. Viura, sauvignon blanc and palomino grapes are also grown in Rueda. Popular red varieties include tempranillo (88% of red wine grape production), cabernet sauvignon, merlot and garnacha.

Rueda white wines, in particular, are known for their consistently good quality. In spite of the vagaries of hot summers and low rainfall, the overarching quality of the verdejo grape shines through.

Although the region’s wine production history dates back to the 11th century, Rueda is now best known for white wines made using modern equipment and production methods. In many vineyards, harvesting takes place during the nighttime hours to prevent oxidation. Stainless steel tanks are typically used for fermentation, although some wineries do ferment in the barrel. Several wineries still produce traditional generoso and rancio wines, made in wooden barrels, which are similar to sherry wines. In addition, espumoso, or sparkling, wines are produced here; they are comparable to the famous Cava wines.

This year, Rueda’s grape harvest is up almost 25% over 2006, according to Wines From Spain. A similar increase was recorded in 2006. As Rueda wines become more popular, wineries are expanding plantings and production, which helps to explain the recent increases in harvest totals.

When you look at a Spanish wine guide, such as the Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine 2007, one of Rueda’s most interesting features leaps out almost immediately. Many of Rueda’s wineries are 20th- and 21st-century establishments. In fact, quite a few wineries were established after 2000. Some wineries are so new that they haven’t even established functional, accessible websites, which is unusual for Spanish wineries. This new expansion helps to explain why Rueda is considered to be on the cutting edge of Spanish wine production. New wineries require new equipment, and Rueda’s winemakers can choose how they’d like to cultivate grapes and age their wines. The addition of red wines to Rueda’s repertoire will also continue to influence expansion of the Rueda DO.

If you plan to visit Rueda, it’s easy to book a wine tour by contacting the winery in advance. Many wineries charge for their tours; if this is the case, the tour usually includes a wine tasting.

In recent news, Spain’s Agricultural Ministry has just launched a Spanish Wine Routes promotion. Similar in concept to the wine routes of France and Germany, the Spanish Wine Routes are intended to connect with other European wine roads so that interested travelers can explore and investigate the wine regions of Spain and its neighbors.