July 22, 2016 – Believe it or not, it’s a grape you have probably never heard of!
According to the University of Adelaide’s list of the 10 most widely planted grapes, No. 1 is Cabernet Sauvignon, #2 is Merlot and # 3 is Airén. Huh? What on earth is Airén?
A vitis vinifera grape, which means it is used for winemaking, not eating, it is a native of Spain where it is widely planted and represents about 30 percent of all grapes planted.
According to Jancis Robinson’s web site, it is “(T)he grape of the vast La Mancha region in central Spain and therefore one of the world’s most planted wine grapes. It produces crisp, fairly neutral wine, much of it being distilled into brandy.”
It is drought resistant and low maintenance with high yields and it is also used to make inexpensive white table wine for locals or is blended with red wines in other parts of the country. According to Wikipedia, it has a number of other names, depending on the region. One we like is Burro Blanca meaning “white donkey” in the Canary Islands.
Airén dates back to the 15th century when it grew around Cordoba where it was called Lairén. In the intervening centuries, plenty of commentators have made unpleasant remarks about its wine, often without having tasted any. To this day, it is likely to receive unflattering press.
Getting back to the Top Ten List, #4 is Tempranillo, #5 Chardonnay, #6 Syrah, #7 Grenache, #8 Sauvignon Blanc, #9 Trebbiano Toscano and #10 Pinot Noir. We got most of them wrong. Actually, the only one we got right was Cabernet Sauvignon as #1.