Verdejo: The Spanish Sauvignon Blanc Alternative

Do you ever crave a light, refreshing white to go with fish or salads, but are wary of Sauvignon Blanc? While I love Sauvignon Blanc when done right (think French versions like Sancerre or Pouilley Fume), California versions seem to be hit or miss for me. They are either brightly fruity with notes of white peach, guava, and an underlying “green” quality, or distinctly pungent full of fresh cut grass and cat pee.

Yes. Cat pee is an actual tasting note. It comes from thiols, organic compounds mixed with sulpher, and is especially common in Sauvignon Blanc. For this reason, many people stray from it. But it gives me another opportunity to dive into a rarer variety.

Meet Verdejo. This white grape grows almost exclusively in Spain’s Rueda DO (within the region of Castilla y Leon), though it’s originally from North Africa. Its citrus, grapefruit, melon, fennel, and almond characteristics often earn it the description of Sauvignon Blanc crossed with Pinot Grigio. One major difference is that Verdejo can be drunk both young (joven) or aged, where it can develop body and flavors of rich Marcona almonds. In other words, Verdejo is just as comfortable at a casual picnic as in a Michelin star restaurant (which is, in fact, where I first tasted this delightful grape). And for those wary of Sauvy B, Verdejo never gives the dreaded note of cat pee.

For this pairing, I bought a 2018 Sapientia Verdejo from Rueda, Spain. It’s definitely a youthful style. Very fresh with notes of Meyer lemon, melon, and tropical fruits of pineapple and guava. The wine has a crisp, stony minerality that screams for food. It has mouthwatering acidity and just a touch of almond on the finish. I knew I wanted to pair it with seafood and herbs to bring out the wine’s slight fennel, herbaceous quality.

My pick was Dover sole pan seared with thyme and sage. The light, buttery fish would go perfectly with the white wine and the herbs would pull all the flavors together. I threw in some grilled aspargus and quinoa for texture. The result? Light, summery goodness. Which is perfect after all the heavy food I eat around the holidays!

The other great thing about Verdejo is that it won’t break the bank! The average wine goes for anything from $15-$35 depending on style. It’s definitely a great quality value. And while you might have to venture just a little off the beaten path (wink, wink) to find it, most high end or artisinal wine and liquor stores carry at least one. Verdejo is also available on wine.com and vivino. Happy hunting and pairing!

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