Confusion Corner: Verdelho and Verdejo

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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. Despite the similarity in their names, Verdelho and Verdejo are two distinct grape varieties. They do have a few attributes in common—both are early-ripening, white grape varieties capable of producing richly-flavored, medium-to-full bodied white wines.

As for their differences, we can generalize them in this way: Verdejo is grown mainly in Spain (where it is famous as being the primary grape in the Rueda DO), while Verdelho is cultivated primarily in Portugal (where it is used in Madeira).

Let’s take a closer look:

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Rueda by Agne27, via Wikimedia Commons

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.

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 Verdejo grapes grown in the Rueda area, 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).

Verdejo is (by far) the most widely grown white grape in the Rueda DO, and will comprise a majority of most of the white wines produced there. White wines of the Rueda DO are sometimes 100% Verdejo, while other times they are blended with a portion of Sauvignon Blanc, Viura, Viognier, Chardonnay, Palomino Fino, and/or Malvasia. 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 in Portugal

Verdelho in Portugal

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:

The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas… missjane@prodigy.net

About bubblyprof
Wine Writer and Educator...a 20-year journey from Bristol Hotels to Le Cordon Bleu Schools and the Society of Wine Educators

2 Responses to Confusion Corner: Verdelho and Verdejo

  1. Pingback: Confusion Corner: Catalunya and Calatayud | The Bubbly Professor

  2. Pingback: Confusion Corner: Lirac and Listrac | The Bubbly Professor

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