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Trio of women winemakers making wondrous whites

PUBLISHED: 12:54 02 June 2020 | UPDATED: 12:54 02 June 2020

Sara Banuelos with the Sauvignon blanc vines near the winery

Sara Banuelos with the Sauvignon blanc vines near the winery

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Zoom tasting sesssions with accompanying bottles reveal three female winemakers from three different regions creating memorable wines from white grape varieties

The essentials behind three fascinating recent wine experiences also, co-incidentally, came in threes.

Zoom-plus-bottles sessions featured three white grape varieties, three regions and three women winemakers. And three factors – place, vintage and winemaking – made the wines intriguing and delicious.

This has to be a whistle-stop tour, a shame as there’s so much more to say.

First off, a high, dry, windy, hot-and-cold plateau some 200 kilometres north west of Madrid. Rueda is Spain’s biggest white wine region, devoted principally to the verdejo grape, a sturdy, herbally aromatic native that relishes the harsh weather.

Sara Bañuelos makes very fine verdejos, one matured in multi-nation oak barrels that proves the grape’s ability to age.

But this highly talented winemaker, recruited by Rioja specialist Ramón Bilbao in 2014 when she was still in her 20s and entrusted with the company’s brand new flagship white wine project, focuses too on sauvignon blanc.

From very, very young vines she makes wine to rival that from the Loire or New Zealand.

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Good grapes are essential, but her secret is in the maturing and blending. Ramón Bilbao Rueda sauvignon blanc (£12, greatwesternwine.co.uk), equally mixes three components, matured for six months in stainless steel tanks, concrete “tulips” and big oak barrels.

Tasted separately, each has clearly different character. Together, the result is much more than a sum of the parts.

Carry on west-north-west from Rueda to Rías Baixas and conditions could hardly be more different. This is “green” Spain, the cool, damp Atlantic coastal region where albariño grapes flourish.

Here, at Mar de Frades, Paula Fandiño is a magician with their juice. To protect it from damaging oxidation she uses innovative carbon dioxide-based cold maceration, then the new wine spends an unusually long time on its lees, stirred to increase flavour, before bottling.

But vintage variation overrules cellar practice, and is fascinating. Mar de Frades albariño 2019 (£18.75, greatwesternwine.co.uk) is classic, complex, hinting of the nearby sea. The 2018, a warmer vintage, though very appealing, has less regionally distinctive profile.

Now for a far longer journey, to South Australia, to meet Louisa Rose, head winemaker at Yalumba. In riesling land, the Eden Valley, Yalumba has shown how viognier (star white grape of the Northern Rhône) can – once understood – flourish.

Eden Valley is home to stylish oak-aged Yalumba Virgilus; more affordable are viogniers from the flatter, warmer Riverland. Both exuberant Y Series (£8.50-£9, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s) and attractive, more restrained Yalumba Organic (£10, Tesco, Waitrose) see only stainless steel, but healthy grapes and natural yeast enhance character and flavour.

Drought-tolerant viognier, Rose says, is a variety for the future.

But she makes it so drinkable now.


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