Get out of your comfort zone

The other day, en route to a wine tasting, I was walking up Grafton Street. The sun was shining the buskers were out in force. Halfway up the street a couple of girls were knocking out old Beatles’ hits. They were pretty damn woeful. Both played guitars and, between them, could just about scrape up the obligatory four chords. They sang, if that’s the word, in screechy unison. Yet the crowd gathered around them didn’t seem to mind, singing along and willingly chucking coins into the hat.

Further up the street stood two young flamenco guitarists. They played bravura duets, striking sparks off each other, fluent on their instruments. Yet they played to an audience of an old man, his dog and one of those silver-statue mime artists.

I hurried on. The tasting was an exposition of the wines of Rueda, a Spanish Denomination of Origin that makes exquisite white wines. Located in the northern province of Castilla y Leon, Rueda was only granted D.O. status in 1980 after centuries of experience with the native grape, verdejo (you can pronounce it, approximately ‘vair-deck-o’). Years ago, Rueda wines were rich and heavily oaked, sometimes aged to the point of oxidation. Tastes change, however and modern winemaking techniques now ensure that Rueda’s wines are crisp, fruity and aromatic. Wine writers often liken verdejo to sauvignon blanc but I think that’s a tad simplistic; I don’t find any of the aggression or the overwhelming gooseberry grab on the palate. I always get more of a tropical vibe, star fruit and lychees, held in check by lively but not harsh balancing acidity.

Whatever the flavour profile, Rueda’s wines are perfect partners to fish, particularly the like of hake, mullet and John Dory; also shellfish. They work well with asparagus, now in season, something not many wines do. And they are especially good as a quaffer in the garden or as an aperitif.

Of course, we like what we know. Having suffered chardonnay overload we are now clinging to sauvignon blanc, although pinot grigio (thanks to Sex and The City?) is winking at us. Few, though, have ventured as far as vermentino, albarino, pinot blanc, chenin blanc, semillon, all of which can make excellent white wine. As does the aforesaid verdejo.

Unfortunately, like the ‘singalongas’ on Grafton Street we are stuck in our comfort zone. So I’m encouraging you to break out, give sauvignon a week off and try a verdejo. Most wine merchants and supermarkets will stock one. Go on, you can do it. You could set a trend. One day soon, mark my words, this region and this grape will be sooo sexy.

There were no bad wines in the tasting and most were excellent. Many exhibitors were seeking Irish representation. Of those already here, Wines Direct (1850 579579) bring in Jose Parientes, while Approach Trade, who have done sterling work in introducing us to Spanish regionals have the vibrant Mantel Blanco. Around €14 from Curious Wines, Bandon; Mortons, Firhouse; 64 Wines; The Kingdom, Tralee; World Wide Wines, Waterford and others. O’Brien’s also have a cracker for around €10.

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