Ask most US wine drinkers to name a Spanish white wine and their most likely answer would be Albariño – a refreshing, citric wine that has become increasingly popular here over the past ten years. However, any Albariño lover should be aware of another lovely Spanish white wine that is much less known on these shores: Verdejo.
Verdejo is rare outside of its home region of Rueda. In California, this grape variety is so sparse that the U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t even publish a record of how much of it is planted. But there are at least a few real Verdejo believers in this state: Lodis Markus and Liz Bokisch, who have been producing Verdejo since 2013.
Bokisch vineyards focuses entirely on Spain – the winery’s goal has always been to have the most comprehensive collection of Spanish grape varieties in America, says Markus Bokisch. That said, they make classic Spanish red wines like Tempranillo and Garnacha, as well as white wines like Garnacha Blanca, Albariño, and Verdejo. In fact, more than half of Bokisch’s production is white wine, an unusual characteristic in red wine-heavy Lodi.
Although the Bokish had been interested in verdejo from the start, they couldn’t get their hands on plant material until 2011. They planted some on one of their wineries, the Clay Station Vineyard at Lodis Borden Ranch AVA. Markus Bokisch says it took them a couple of years to understand how to do it. During a research trip to Rueda in 2016, he and Liz discovered that Verdejo may require a significantly different winemaking technique than their other white wines.
In particular, they learned that many Rueda manufacturers had skin contact on verdejo for two days so that the grape juice could soak with the grape skins before fermentation began to take in additional color and texture. Bokisch was particularly fond of the verdejos from a winery called Jose Pariente.
After this excursion, Bokisch tried to make his Verdejo with a few hours of skin contact. He liked it so he added a few more hours over the next year. That worked well too. Finally, in 2019, he had worked his way through skin contact for up to 10 hours and was satisfied with the results: the wine was by no means orange, but it had a little more oomph and felt a little more tactile.
Mason Trinca / Special on The Chronicle 2018
However, the 2020 vintage forced Bokisch to change its protocol. Around harvest time, smoke from forest fires penetrated the Clay Station vineyard. The next devastating fire was 85 miles away, however Smoke can be harmful in its effects on grapes. As the smoke compounds get stuck in wine bowls, one way to minimize potential smoke pollution is to Quickly separate the juice from the skinsso that the juice can be exposed to the smoky peels for as little time as possible. Skin contact with Verdejo was out of the question.
“Stylistically, the 2020 Verdejo is much more similar to our first years with the grape,” says Bokisch, before they traveled to Rueda and started their skin contact method.
Wine critic Esther Mobley
Nonetheless, it is a beautiful wine that testifies to Verdejo’s natural structural complexity. The year 2020 seems to unfold in layers, with a line of pervasive acid framing a full, juicy core. Just smelling it – with flavors reminiscent of lime peel and poached pear – made my mouth water. It tastes like biting into a ripe, juicy peach, and there is a subtle hearty aspect that is reminiscent of fennel.
Anyone who loves the crisp, light and sour nature of a Sauvignon Blanc – or, of course, Albariño – would enjoy the Bokisch Verdejo 2020. While the other vintages of this wine that are more sensitive to skin contact go ideally with seafood (preferably with lots of lemon), the lighter, more straightforward 2020 is a wine that can be drunk on its own before dinner.
Bokisch Vineyards Verdejo Clay Station Vineyard Borden Ranch Lodi 2020 ($ 22, 12.1%)
Esther Mobley is the wine critic for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: email@example.com Twitter: @Esther_mobley