At just over 200,000 hectares (or 21% of total vines planted) Airén is Spain’s most widely grown white grape and second overall only to Tempranillo at 203,000 hectares. Airén is pretty drought resistant, and is most commonly found in wines from the Madrid region and Castilla La Mancha where historically is was often used for distilling.
What are Airén's main characteristics?
Airén vines are fairly vigorous and tend to give high yields which is the main reason it has been used so extensively at the cheaper end of the market. It’s pretty disease and drought resistant, ripening late or even very late which makes it a good candidate for hotter, drier latitudes. In the winery, winemakers have to handle it with some care as it’s a variety which can oxidise easily which is why it tends to be drunk early as a young wine.
What does Airén taste like?
It’s track record as a blending grape for some pretty cheap wines means some people can be quite rude about Airén, accusing it of producing rather bland, one-dimensional wines with little aroma or acidity. That’s a bit unfair, as that very neutrality is one of the things winemakers were looking for in their blends to ensure it didn’t overpower the other varieties.
These days, Airén is enjoying a bit of a revival. Skilled winemakers like Elías López Montero from Bodegas Verum, for example, argue that Airén’s very neutrality means it’s well-suited to take on the more mineral characteristics of the limestone soil in which it’s grown.