Spain actually suffered through a sixty year period of devastation between phylloxera, mildew, civil war, depression, and two world wars. Rebuilding post-World War II also was a lag time for the wine (and cheese) industry so 1960 could be seen as the beginning of the modern wine industry in Spain, so make it a seventy five year low for the industry. This issue deals with the white table wine grape of Rioja which actually has twenty five names across Spain but is best known to us as Macabeo or Viura.
Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca were the primary white grapes of Rioja at the turn of the last century. The grafting of vinifera vines onto American rootstocks was not automatic with all vines. Some just didn't work and changes were necessary. This is where the industry shows its mettle. Garnacha Blanca was deemed to be unworkable on American rootstocks and oxidized too easily anyway so it was replaced by Macabeo, a grape with a proven history elsewhere across Spain. Malvasia was then reduced to a supporting role in the white Rioja blend.
Here is where the acumen of the industry leaders of one hundred years ago is in clear evidence. Oxidation was recognized as a problem then and as if they were prescient enough to know the evolution of modern wine making, they chose a grape that would make a lovely light, crisp and floral seafood compliment and when blended, the Malvasia, often barrel fermented for richness, would make the wine suitable for poultry and other Spanish dishes. For inveterate white wine lovers, white Rija fits the summer season like a glove.
Here are two incidental notes on Macabeo outside of Rioja. Macabeo is one of the white grapes sometimes blended in small amounts into certain reds, a practice sometimes employed in wine production regions around the world to make a lighter wine. Macabeo is also part of the Spanish Cava (sparkling wine) blend along with Xarel-lo and Paralleda.
Cite the blog and get your discount on Spanish white wine in the store this month.