The time has come around again to adopt this year’s summer white, a seasonal wine from a single grape or region that I take under my wing while the weather’s nice, and really get to know well. It’s a way of keeping time, since one whole season of my life is stamped by a particular wine: “Oh, yes, I met her during my summer of dry Riesling.”
I don’t usually choose the summer white so much as it chooses me, which is what happened last week. Over a bowl of pesto pasta with pea shoots, I fell in love again with Spanish Rueda. The very one I was drinking, from Bodegas y Viñas Dos Victorias, had a slightly sweet floral component like honeysuckle, and a fine mineral texture. It had peaches and grapefruit on the nose. And while light and crisp, this Rueda had a decent weight in the mouth, a feeling of substance. After two tastes, I got the feeling that said, “I think we’re going to be spending the summer together.”
Rueda is a region in the interior of Spain, northwest of Madrid. The grape that makes its wonderful wine is called Verdejo, though you don’t usually see it mentioned on the label. Verdejo has been grown in this region for a millennium, but it was originally used to make oxidized, sherrylike wines. When phylloxera struck and destroyed the vines of Europe at the end of the 19th century, this region was slow to recover, and what parts of it were replanted often went to Palomino Fino, the high-yielding grape used for sherry. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that Verdejo was revived in Rueda by the Rioja producer Marqués de Riscal.
The region of Rueda is next to Toro, the area making perhaps the biggest, reddest wines in Spain, a country now known for its big red wines. It’s surprising to see fine whites coming from an area hot enough to make Toro’s reds. But Rueda has a little more altitude (it’s about 1,800 feet above sea level), which brings the cool nights that preserve crispness and acidity. Many Rueda wines are blends of Verdejo and either Sauvignon Blanc or Viura. But to be called Rueda Superior it must be at least 85 percent Verdejo—and these are the ones you should look for.
Rueda goes incredibly well with light summer foods, such as fresh vegetables from squash to greens, grilled fish or chicken, and seafood. Rueda also scores points with me because it’s not expensive. Most bottles can be had for $10 to $20. Look for the distinctive red-and-white patterned label of Naia, which is excellent value and a mouth-watering wine. The producer Telmo Rodriguez makes a lovely one called Basa. The original, Marqués de Riscal, still makes one of the best. And the Dos Victorias (I’ve met the two Victorias who make this, and they are almost as charming as their wine), which got it all started for me, should be purchased as soon as you see it. I can already tell it’s going to be a good summer.