There is so much good Rueda white wine on the market these days, that it is hard to remember that the region was not known for quality wine production until 1972, when the Rioja-based Marqués de Riscal, under the guidance of the ubiquitous Prof. Peynaud of Bordeaux, came into the region specifically to make white wine from the Verdejo grape, known to be vulnerable to quick oxidation. The company invested heavily in cold fermentation, and established a policy of picking in the cool early morning hours and generally doing everything possible to protect the grapes and juice from heat and oxygen.
The result of this investment, made 40 years ago, has given new life to the Verdejo grape and its traditional companion Viura (and foreign interloper Sauvignon Blanc, which was planted as part of the Riscal effort).
A modern crusader for quality white wine from Rueda is Hannibal Paunero Asensio, director of Bodega La Soterraña, established in 2006 in the town of Olmedo (better known for its Moorish castles and cathedrals than for wine production). Working with winemaker José Lorenzo, he produces several wines, under a variety of names, including Eresma, V&R, SieteSiete, and Olmedal. He has about 330 acres of vineyards, most of it sandstone and clay, with some limestone and clay along the banks of the Eresma River, which runs through the town.
Olmeda Verdejo Rueda 2011: The nose is Sauvignon-like, with lots of herbal character and notes of grapefruit rind. On the palate, crisp citrus flavors and a faint, pleasing nutty character oddly reminiscent of chardonnay. There is some mineralic character. I've tasted a few Ruedas (Shaya comes to mind) that bore strong resemblance to Sauvignon Blancs from the Loire; this is not one of them. Which is not a complaint; at our house, we're in favor of wines that taste like the place they come from. This is brought in by Wine Without Borders in Durham; we got it at the Asheville Wine Market for $9.99, which is a good indicator that we'll be back for more. [A note of caution: As mentioned above, winemakers have made great strides in preventing Verdejo from premature oxidation. Even so, this wine fell off noticeably after spending a day in the refrigerator with only its original cork as a closure. If you want it to last for more than a day, I'd invest in a Vacu-Vin pump.]
And it looks like there will be more. Current economic crises notwithstanding, Bodega La Soterraña plans to expand, with a 400,000-euro investment in winery capacity and automation that will bring capacity to 6 million bottles a year, up from the present 4 million.