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. 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: 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.

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. 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% Viura, 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 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

Confusion Corner: Rully and Reuilly

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As I am sure most of my readers are well aware, there is a lot of confusion inherent to the study of wine. A lot of this has to do with the fact that it is just a huge amount of material, and that it covers so many disciplines from geography and botany to culture, chemistry, and cuisine.

But then there are those times when it just seems like the world is stacked against the serious student of wine. How, for instance, is one supposed to differentiate between Listrac and Lirac?  Ciron and Cérons? Shanxi and Shaanxi (are you kidding me)?

Today’s post will try to unravel just one tiny confusion corner of the wine world—in this case, Rully and Reuilly. For starters, Rully is in Burgundy, and Reuilly is in the Loire Valley. Let’s see what other stories these two regions have to tell.

Our Burgundian, Rully (pronounced ryoo-YEE) is one of the five villages in the Côte Chalonnaise that has AOC status (the others are Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, and Montagny). Rully AOC wines are produced in the commune of Rully as well as Chagny, its neighbor-to-the-north. The Rully AOC is located just southeast of Bouzeron and just northwest of Mercurey.

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

Château de Rully in the Côte Chalonnaise

The Rully AOC produces both red and white wines and includes 23 premier cru vineyards. White wines are permitted to be made using either Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, but in practice they are almost exclusively Chardonnay. Red wines are produced from Pinot Noir, and may contain up to 15% Chardonnay or Pinot Gris (combined). The AOC currently has 558 acres (226 ha) planted to white grapes including 173 acres [70 ha] premier cru. Red grapevines cover acres 292 acres (118 ha) including 72 acres (29 ha) premier cru.

The commune of Rully is located just below the eastern side of a low-lying limestone ridge named La Montagne de la Folie. It comforts me a bit to learn that this name translates to “Mountain of Madness,” although apparently the name is not due to mental illness (caused by wine study) but refers to a very old legend telling that the villagers in the valley would often see flickering lights coming from high in the hills. They nicknamed these lights la folia (dance of the fairies).

The Montagne de la Folie is an extension of the limestone escarpment of the Côte de Beaune. It runs from north to south, in between the communes of Rully and Bouzeron. The best vineyards of the Rully AOC (and most of the premiers crus) are located on the eastern slopes of La Montagne de la Folie.

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Did I mention that the commune of Rully is located in the département of Saône-et-Loire? Is that confusing? (I think so.) Here’s some fun information to hopefully clear things up. The département of Saône-et-Loire is located in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (formerly known as simply Bourgogne). It lies between the two rivers after which it is named—the Saône and the Loire. The two rivers flow through the area in opposite directions, as the Loire flows north from its source in the Massif Central, and the Saône flows south from its source in the Vosges Mountains, until it joins the Rhône in the city of Lyon.

Reuilly (pronounced reuh-YEE), on the other hand, is an AOC located in the Eastern (or Upper) Loire Valley. Reuilly is located (along with the Quincy AOC) near the Cher River (a Loire tributary) in an area often called the Central Vineyards—which is a bit confusing in itself, as it refers not to the Central Loire (which would apply to Anjou, Touraine, and Samur) but the center of France. A bit further to the east (closer to the Loire itself), one finds the better-known areas of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Menetou-Salon (also considered part of the Central Vineyards of France).

The Reuilly AOC produces red, white, and rosé wines but is perhaps best-known for its crisp, dry, white wines made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes. These wines are often described as having herbal, grassy, and citrus flavors and as such are inevitably often compared to the more famous wines produced in neighboring Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

The River Cher

The River Cher

The red wines of the Reuilly AOC are 100% Pinot Noir and tend to be light-bodied with aromas of cherries, raspberries, and dried flowers. Rosé wines are produced using Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris.

The Reuilly AOC is located quite a bit further inland than the majority of the other wine regions of the Loire, and as such experiences a much more continental-style climate. As a matter of fact, Reuilly is one of the driest and hottest areas in the Loire (even considering its neighbors in the Central Vineyards), so much so that this is quite often the first appellation in the Loire Valley to begin its harvest.

Hopefully, this clears up at least some of the confusion between Rully and Reuilly. However, if you happen to find yourself stuck in another wine confusion corner, let me know and I’ll try to straighten it out!

References/for further information:

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