Macabeo, or Viura as you’ll see it referred to in Rioja, is Spain’s fifth most widely-planted grape. You’ll find it used in lots of Spain’s wine-growing regions (with the exception of Galicia), as well as a little further afield in Rousillon in southern France where it tends to be used in blends. In Catalunya it is one of the three main grapes commonly used in Cava (blended with Xarel.lo and Parellada).
Within Rioja, Viura is pretty popular. In fact, it was one of the historic varieties which was first permitted when the DO was set up back in the 1920s. Winegrowers liked it because it was quite productive, and it still represents a little over 60% of all white varieties planted in Rioja, and is an important part of the region’s exciting experimentation with new white wines.
Macabeo's main characteristics
Macabeo is a fairly adaptable grape variety, though it tends not to work so well in overly damp or dry climates. From a winemaker’s perspective, historically Viura, or Macabeo, has suffered from a bit of an image problem, being considered sometimes as a rather drab, non-aromatic grape. True it can have some nice orchard fruit flavours, but it has often been blended with other varieties to help perk it up a bit.
That said, for others the grape’s neutrality can be a bonus. So for example, cava producers like it because it does well absorbing secondary flavours from lees contact while the wine is being made in the winery. And because in places like Rioja it’s been around for many decades, there are some lovely lower-yield, old vines which produce more complex flavours and work well with oak ageing.
What does Macabeo taste like?
When you’re tasting Macabeo, expect to find aromas of white fruit coupled with floral and sometimes aniseed notes. Macabeo wines tend to be fresh with good acidity, and combine well with seafood, vegetable dishes or cheeses.
Where can I try some Macabeo?
For the curious, there are some lovely examples of Viura to explore in Rioja, often blended with a touch of Tempranillo Blanco or even white Garnacha and sometimes with a touch of oak. Try white wines from Contino (part of the CUVNE empire) or Gomez Cruzado, two historic Rioja wineries based in the Barrio de la Estación district in the town of Haro.
For fizz fans, start your Macabeo journey with a bottle of Cava. We like the Grimau Brut Cava from the Grimau winery in Penedés (Catalunya). Made using the methode traditionelle with secondary fermentation in the bottle, the wine spends a minimum of 15 months ageing in the bottle before release. Bright and clear with delicate steady bubbles, Grimau is a very aromatic cava, with a strong fruit presence. Smooth and tasty on the palate, it has well-balanced acidity and a delicious sweetness.