Click to follow
The Independent Culture
RUEDA is one of the few really promising white wine regions of Spain - a gently undulating plain smothered in oats and barley, its few vines tucked away around the River Duero (which becomes the great port- producing river, the Douro, just over the border in northern Portu-gal). The region's basic wines are made with the boring Viura grape; the best, Rueda Superior, from an interesting local exclusivity, the Verdejo grape, or from the inter-national Sauvignon Blanc.

These wines can be good, but the buyers from Thresher, scouring the Rueda wineries in the spring of 1994, could find nothing fruity enough or sufficiently intensely flavoured. The only really good ones had been made especially for Sainsbury's by French flying winemakers, the brothers Lurton. Thresher's answer was the usual one: call in the Australian wine doctors. After Hugh Ryman and one of his Australian team had worked the 1994 vintage with the resident Spaniards at the Marques de Riscal winery, the Spanish assistant winemaker claimed to have "learnt more in one vintage than in a lifetime of winemaking". Ryman stuck to Sauvignon, snaffling most of the 1994 grapes that the Lurtons had their sights set on; Spanish growers preferred to sell to Ryman's Spanish partners than to Frenchmen. The result is wonderful value. 1994 Vina Calera, Sauvignon Rueda, Ryman/Riscal (pounds 4.49 Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Thresher) is a deliciously perfumed, gooseberry and tropical fruity white. Though Ryman didn't touch the Verdejo or Viura grapes, the Spanish cellarmen put Australian principles to work on their own wines, too. Majestic stocks their bright, gently herby 1994 Marques de Riscal Rueda (pounds 3.99 on introductory offer until 1 August, then pounds 4.79).

IT WAS the Marques de Riscal company that first took the Sauvignon Blanc grape to Rueda 20 years ago. Marques de Riscal is known first for its red wines - it is one of the oldest wine companies in Rioja, a quite separate region way over towards the Pyrenees. Their current winemaker, Paco Hurtado de Amexaga, a great-grandson of the Marques de Riscal who founded the winery, returned from studying in Bordeaux, keen to improve the family's white Riojas. He called in his renowned Bordeaux professor, Emile Peynaud, as consultant. Forget boring white Rioja, was the advice, and plant in Rueda; and take some Sauvignon Blanc (one of the main white Bordeaux grapes).

Paco has now transformed the Rioja reds, too. The bargain 1989 Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva (pounds 5.99 Majestic until 1 August, then pounds 6.79) was one of the first reds under his control. It is more substantial than most Rioja, with lovely, intense, wild strawberry fruit. It is delicious now, but will keep and evolve for a few more years. Other good red Rioja buys at the moment are the very attractive, soft, savoury, blackberry-fruity 1991 Cosme Palacio y Hermanos Rioja (pounds 4.59 Waitrose) and a deliciously complex, mature, figgy 1987 Martinez Bujanda Garnacha Rioja (pounds 9.99 Bottoms Up).

LIGHT, easy reds are what go down well with a barbecue, even chilled if the weather is hot and the wines are light enough. Currently being served on my patio are an excellent value, soft, raspberry fruity 1994 Altamosa Red, Estremadura (pounds 2.99 Victoria Wine) from Portugal; a light and lively, grassy and cherry-fruity Sainsbury's Merlot Corvina, Vino da Tavola del Veneto (pounds 2.99) from around Venice; another Portuguese red, Alandra, Herdade de Esporao (pounds 3.39 Wine Rack, Thresher and Bottoms Up); a gentle, raspberry-fruity 1994 Cotes du Ventoux, Les Oliviers (pounds 3.15 Wait-rose); the attractive, plummy 1994 Montepul-ciano d'Abruzzo, Girelli (pounds 3.29 Marks & Spencer) and the light, fresh 1994 Valpolicella, Cantina Sociale di Soave (pounds 2.67 Kwik Save)

For a slightly more substantial red - not light enough to chill, but still a good soft, summer drink - try Sainsbury's Teroldego Rotaliano, Geoff Merrill (pounds 3.99, selected stores), good, meaty, but juicy-fruity; the brilliant value Ladema Falls Cinsault-Cabernet Sauvignon (pounds 2.69 Kwik Save), dark but soft, rich and curranty; or the attractive, smoky, raisiny 1993 Macedonian Merlot, Steve Clarke (pounds 2.69 Kwik Save); the latter two are way under the price they could command. Sainsbury's Mendoza Cabernet Sauvignon/ Malbec (pounds 3.49), from Argentina, is slightly tarry, fragrant and fruity.