Rueda whites offer tasty counterpoint to sauvignon blanc

For the cost of a Rueda wine

Who could have imagined there would ever be such a thing as a poor man’s sauvignon blanc? While there have always been expensive versions of this grape made in France’s Bordeaux region, there was a time when the Loire Valley, New Zealand and California offered a lot more value.

Value, of course, means a wine has more quality than the asking price. I don’t think many of the wines coming from, say, Sancerre in France are overpriced, but they are no longer deals.

If you love sauvignon blanc but want to stay in the $15-or-less price range, what are your options without compromising quality? I have one word for you: Rueda.

Rueda is an appellation in the Castilla Y Leon region of Spain. Not exactly one of the more scenic parts of the country, it is on a high plain with the Duero River being its most interesting geographic feature. Nonetheless, winemaking has been important to the area for a millennium.

The main grape is verdejo, which was brought over from North Africa. Verdejo resembles sauvignon blanc in that it often has marked citrus, peach and gooseberry fruit. Viura (aka macabeo), sauvignon blanc and palomino also are allowed in the Rueda D.O. (denominación de origen), which was created in 1983. Rueda Superiore must be at least 85 percent verdejo.

Rueda rarely has the vegetal or herbal characteristics that are sometimes found in sauvignon blanc, though I have yet to try one that has hit the heights of great white Bordeaux or Sancerre. That said, for the money, Rueda wines are a great alternative. Here are three to check out:

Compañia de Vinos Telmo Rodriguez Basa, 2011:
Telmo Rodriguez started with his family property in Rioja, Remelluri, and has since gone off on his own, making some of the dearest offerings in the country and at the same time producing well-priced wines such as Basa in Rueda. Composed of 85 percent verdejo, 12 percent viura and 3 percent sauvignon blanc, this is a delicious fruit cocktail with peaches, pink grapefruit, passion fruit and gooseberries.
Suggested retail: $12

Javier Sanz Rueda, Rey Santo Verdejo, 2011:
“Sanz” is a popular name in Rueda and Javier is probably the best-known. The winery started kicking a century ago and is now in the hands of the fourth generation. Made from 15-year-old verdejo vines, this is a refreshing wine that oozes pineapple and other tropical fruits.
Suggested retail: $13

Vevi Rueda, 2011:
Vevi is a joint project between Antonio Sanz and importer Jose Pastor. Sanz has become a legend in Rueda, having been instrumental in the creation of the D.O. seven years after he started his own winery, Palacios de Bomos. Made from 80 percent verdejo and 20 percent viura, it is floral and fresh with hints of guava, pineapple, peach and citrus.
Suggested retail: $14

These wines can be found through Arlequin Wine Merchant, The Spanish Table, Wine.com, 26th & Guerrero Market, Falletti Foods, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, Paul Marcus Wines, Plump Jack Noe Valley and Zain’s Liquor and Deli.

Pamela Busch is a wine writer and educator who has owned several wine bars in San Francisco, including Hayes and Vine and CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen.

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