Confusion Corner: Verdelho and Verdejo
February 10, 2017 7 Comments
I have recently started a new series called “Confusion Corner.” In these posts, I am going to try to unravel some of the more (to me) perplexing corners of the wine knowledge universe. For my first post, I tackled “Rully and Reuilly,” and due to the baffling nature of the wine world, I predict I will keep this series going for a long time.
This week I will attempt to un-muddy the waters surrounding Verdelho and Verdejo. But first, I must admit that for the longest time I believed that these two white grape varieties were one and the same—you know, just one of those language things—but thankfully, now we know better.
First of all, let’s discuss what Verdelho and Verdejo have in common. The names sound almost identical (thus their inclusion in confusion corner). Both are white grape varieties, early-ripening, and low-yielding with small, compact bunches. They are both capable of producing richly-flavored, medium-to-full bodied white wines and are used in both dry wines and sweet wines, as well as fortified and un-fortified styles. Both are medium-to-high in acidity. A lot of the references I consulted also described both grapes as being prone to oxidation, but it seems that modern winemaking has this issue mostly solved.
As for their differences, we can generalize them in this way: They are two different grapes, despite their same-sounding names. Verdejo is grown mainly in Spain, while Verdelho is primarily Portugal. Verdejo is the super-star grape of the dry, unfortified wines of the Rueda DO, and Verdelho is mainly known for off-dry, fortified Madeira–a product of Portugal.
Verdejo: The Verdejo grape variety (named for verde, after the greenish color of the grape berries) is thought to be native to the Castilla y León area of north-central Spain, and may even be native to its modern-day epicenter of Rueda. Other names for Verdejo include Albillo de Nava (which is not the same grape as Albillo Mayor), Botón de Gallo Blanco, and Verdeja. Verdejo Colorado (aka Pedral), Verdejo Negro (aka Trousseau), and Verdejo Serrano (aka Rufete Blanca) are distinct varieties as opposed to mutations or clones.
Verdejo is one of the most widely planted white grape varieties in Spain (number five among white grape varieties, according to Wine Grapes) and accounts for a significant portion of the grape plantings in Castilla y León, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura. The current favor of the grape dates from the 1970s, when the winemakers at Rioja’s Marqués de Riscal began to produce dry white wines in the Rueda DO (an area previously known primarily for fortified wines). Marqués de Riscal currently produces several Verdejo-based wines using Rueda grapes, including—in addition to their Rueda DO—Marqués de Riscal Limousin (from 40-year old, goblet-trained vines), and Finca Montico (using grapes from an estate vineyard located in the El Montico area).
White wines produced under the Rueda DO must be a minimum of 50% Verdejo. They are sometimes 100% Verdejo, while other times they are blended with a portion of Sauvignon Blanc (Viura and Malvasia are also allowed). The Rueda DO also allows for varietally-labeled Verdejo and Sauvignon Blanc (with the requisite minimum 85% proportion).
Verdejo is also allowed in seven out of the nine white-wine producing DOs located in Castilla y León, as well as close to ten other DOs located throughout Spain. Dry white wines produced using the Verdejo grape tend to highly aromatic with aromas of citrus, melon, fresh herbs, and fennel. These wines typically have medium to high levels of acidity, a high level of extract, and a touch of bitterness of the finish often described as “bitter almond.”
Verdelho: Verdelho is a thought to be native to the island of Madeira, and may have spread from the island to the Portuguese mainland—or it may have occurred the other way around.Either way, most of the Verdelho currently grown in Portugal is on the island of Madeira or the Azores Islands.
In a true twist to the confusion corner, in Spain’s Galicia region and Portugal’s Dão, the Godello grape is sometimes known as Verdelho or Verdelho do Dão—but it is not the same grape. This grape, which I will call Godello-not-Verdelho, is also known as Gouveio.
Verdelho is undoubtedly best-known for its role in the fortified wines of Madeira. Madeira labeled with the term Verdelho is typically medium-dry. Verdelho is also used to produce (unfortified) dry white table wine on the island of Madeira under the Madeirense DOC; it is one of over a dozen white varieties allowed in the DOC’s white (branco) version. In addition, it is an authorized variety in the three DOCs of the Azores Islands (Pico, Graciosa, and Biscoitos) and allowed in a smattering of other Portuguese DOCs including Setúbal, Bairrada, Dão, and Palmela.
Small amounts of Verdelho are grown in other pockets of the world, including France, California, Australia (where it is sometimes use to produce a Verdelho-Semillon blend, and sometimes even Chardonnay-Verdelho-Semillon), and New Zealand. Unfortified wines produced using the Verdelho grape variety tend to be aromatic with scents of citrus, tropical fruit, fresh herbs, green grass, apricot and peaches; these wines tend to have medium-plus body and crisp, zesty acidity. There does seem to be a bit of a divide between the Verdelho-wine styles of the old world (more subtle, herbal, and grape-like) and new world (more tropical fruit, stone fruit, and fuller-bodied).
So, what do you think? Can we move move Verdejo/Verdelho out of the confusion corner?
References/for more information:
- Robinson, Jancis, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz: Wine Grapes. New York, 2012: Harper Collins Publishers
The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… firstname.lastname@example.org