El Coto de Rioja is the biggest wine brand in Spain and one of the more familiar names in the Rioja region, known for its Tempranillo-based reds that overdeliver on value, most notably its Rioja Crianza. While I was familiar with El Coto’s red and rosé wines, the whites were new to me, specifically its fresh and highly appealing $12 Verdejo.
Traditionally, white Rioja has meant wines based largely on the Viura grape, which are aged in oak much like the reds. But a dozen years ago, seeing the growing popularity of non-oaked Spanish whites such as Albariño from Rías Baixas and Verdejo from Rueda, Rioja expanded the number of white grapes that could be called Rioja, authorizing Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay.
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“We jumped into the idea big time,” Victor Fuentes, international general manager of Grupo Baron de Ley, which owns El Coto, told me at a recent tasting.
So it acquired a high-altitude Rioja estate, Finca Carbonera, and planted the new grapes in what Fuentes described as similar growing conditions to Burgundy, calling them “ideal conditions to obtain elegant, fresh white wines.”
That freshness and elegance are the hallmarks of El Coto’s 2018 Verdejo, which shows tropical fruit, lively citrus, and herb and mineral notes. While there’s no oak used, the wine does have a nice roundness, which is achieved in part by extended contact with the lees, the leftover yeast particles after fermentation.
This Verdejo will be a great match with fish and shellfish, sushi, and vegetarian pastas. Try it as well with simple grilled dishes, including shrimp and chicken, and as an easy-drinking summer white on its own.
It demonstrates, once again, why there are such good values to be found in Spain.