This is one of the oldest winemaking varieties, and traditionally the most cultivated in Spain. It covers the largest area of Spanish vineyards, a third of the total, or 450,000 hectares, which makes it one of the most planted varieties in the world.
It is the predominant grape for white Manchego wines and produces the largest amount of monovarietal wine globally. It is grown mainly in all of La Mancha and Valdepeñas, especially in the provinces of Cuidad Real and Toledo, and rather less in Albacete and Cuenca. In the past mass production of this grape gave rise to rather boring wines, but today it is elaborated with care and offers pale whites with fruity aromas. The taste is smooth and agreeable but without any outstanding characteristics.
Airen is a rustic, fertile variety with late sprouting and ripening. It is very resistant to drought, so it has acclimatized well to the arid conditions of La Mancha. The vine is vigorous, healthy and quite resistant to diseases, and for this reason was planted widely in the peninsula after the Philoxera plague. The wines are characterized by a yellow colour, and some are quite pale, with a greenish hue. The aromas are moderately fruity, with tones of ripe bananas, grapefruits and fresh vegetables. The body is tasty and digestible, without excessive complexity.
This variety is cultivated mainly in Asturias, in Cangas de Narcea. It is characterized by a flavour between sweet and grassy. This last feature can be more exaggerated if the output is high. In the last two years it has been planted more extensively in the area of León, with surprising results. Owing to its short ripening cycle, even though it is grown in a high, sunny area, it can easily reach 14% of alcohol content, while retaining a fresh acidity with reminiscences of aromatic herbs and white fruits.
From this grape one of the most luxurious and personable Spanish white wines is made. Today it is considered the best white variety in Galicia and one of the most promising in the country.
The greatest concentration is found in the DO Rías Baixas, in the districts of Condado, Rosal y Salnés.
It is a vigorous vine with early sprouting and average ripening. It grows in slightly acid, sandy soils with good drainage, but it can also adapt to more solid soils if they are cool and relatively dry.
Greenish-yellow, incredibly aromatic wines are elaborated from Albariño, with a good balance and magnificent palate. The aromatic range is its best feature: these wines are intensely floral, fresh and fruity when they are young, and more complex, with tinges of ripe apple, banana and even caramel, when they mature. They are cool in the mouth, with a slightly oily texture, but maintain enough acidity to keep them lively and tasty.
It is grown mainly on the Atlantic coast of Galicia. This is a high-quality grape which probably originated in central Europe, and is typical of damp areas with less sunshine. The wine is fruity and flowery and recognizable for its oily texture.
This variety is neutral, with low acidity and a tendency to oxidize. It produces smooth, glyceric wines without striking features. In the past it was the table grape for all of Castilla, and considered the best variety to elaborate dessert wines, owing to its early ripening and high levels of alcohol content, like the generous old wines of San Martin de Valdeiglesias, called ‘blancos pardillos”. In the DO Madrid it is the main variety in the subzone of San Martín de Valdeiglesias, and dispersed in the higher altitudes of La Palma island in the Canaries and in the Ribera del Duero.
It is grown in Extremadura, mainly in Tierra de Barros. It adapts easily to clay soils and warm climates, and produces a light, highly alcoholic wine with curious, pleasing tones of mountain herbs without any wild tinge. It possesses a pleasant coolness, but this is quickly lost the second year after harvesting.
Chardonnay is the most beloved white variety in the little group of classic vines. All over the world growers have tried to recreate, at least in part, the success that this vine enjoyed in its native Bourgogne.
These attempts have shown that it is a very adaptable variety, which can produce varied wines in a wide range of different places. It is easy to grow and endures all kinds of climates from the frosts of Champagne to the heat of Australia.
The classic wines associated with Chardonnay are those of Cóte d’Or, Çhablis, Máconnais and Champagne. In Bourgogne, it is used alone. In Champagne, on the other hand, it is frequently mixed with the red grapes of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The white wine fuses the flavours of Chardonnay and oak, an excellent combination that is always found wherever this grape is grown. In general, oak barrels are used both for the fermentation of the wine and its ageing. Chardonnay has powerful aromas: in the warmer countries it recalls bakery, fresh butter, hazelnuts, giving way to the sharper smells of pineapple and exotic fruits. The best Chardonnay wines age well. Others, especially those that have not been aged in wood, are made to be drunk quickly. In the case of this grape, everything depends on the strategy of the winemaker.
Chenin is a variety with an average but constant quality. In the Loire it can produce wines worth keeping, in which a young acidity matures into a smooth, voluptuous complexity.
In South Africa, California and other regions, it produces semi-dry wines with neither vices nor virtues. It is a versatile variety.
Age also plays an important role. Few white wines have a longevity comparable to that of these smooth Chenin wines, when they are made from a good vintage.
This variety is recommended for wines made from late harvests, whose grapes suffer the onslaught of Bortrytis. The heart of this variety is to be found in the valley of Lyon, in Anjou and in the zone of Vouvray.
It is grown mainly in the DO Monterrei, in Orense. In El Bierzo, it is also called Moza Fresca and Valenciana, and some experts also identify it as the Merseguera that is so typical in Levante. It is known for its pleasant herbal tones and acidity, which combines very well with Godello.
This is the predominant grape in La Gomera, sharing the territory with Listán (both white and red) and Negramoll, a typical Canary grape. It reached its current position on the list of varieties of interest owing to the conversion of the old system of wines of the land into denominations of origin. Especially interesting features are the intense, lemon-yellow colour, the ripe white-fruit aroma and its acidity, and these features strengthen the young values of its best wines.
This can be considered the white Mediterranean grape par excellence. It is common in Cataluña, in Empordá, Prioral and particularly Terra Alta. It is characterized by pleasant herbal tones, hay and undergrowth, and the consistency and level of alcohol in the mouth. It tends to go rancid in the barrel, and behaves better when fermented in oak with stirring of the lees.
This is a variety of Tráminer, with a spicy flavour. It is traditional in Alsace and Germany. It is grown a little in Somontano and Penedés, but its wines are not as famous as those elaborated in the North. In Spain the musky tones outweigh the spicy ones.
This is another white Galician grape of great quality, which is grown in Valdeorras and Monterrey, in the province of Orense, and also in El Bierzo. It has a high level of glycerol that, with a powerful acidity, gives a pleasant sweet and sour taste, together with a greater alcoholic content.
This is a variety used in the production of Txakolí in Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa. It is perfectly adapted to a cool, humid environment, and makes fresh, fruity wines with pleasant tones of green apple, green grass, with a refreshing tartness.
This variety is grown in various parts of Andalucía. One ancient strain was mentioned by Alonso de Herrera in 1513. Another expert from the 18th century, García de la Leña, mentions two varieties of Jaén, the white and the golden. He describes the latter with these words: "These grapes have a golden colour from which their name derives. Their skin is a little harder than the white ones, and they ripen later."
The features that reveal themselves in the wines made with this grape are wild, with a greater mineral transmission. We have yet to learn how they will perform with selected native yeasts.
This variety is found in the DO Ribeiro. It is both rare and subtle. In this zone white wines often contain variable proportions of high-quality grapes, with the aim of making complex wines full of nuances. Lado is used to give a lightness to wines, as well as a certain aromatic power and a distinct acidity. Abroad, it is the main ingredient of the best-known white wines in Argentina.
This is cultivated in the Canaries, and offers a flavour with curious tones, between ripe grape and wild herbs. The undertone is balsamic, especially if it comes from vineyards situated in difficult, dry terrains, such as the valley of Güimar. In wetter zones, such as Tacoronte-Acentejo, Valle de la Orotava or, to a lesser extent, Acoden-Daute-Isora, this variety shows herbal tones, but retains a certain sweetness.
This is another Galician variety that is characterized by a rounding and complicating of the wines. It is a very aromatic grape, but it is normally used in very small proportions. There is also a red Loureiro, but it is very scarce, so the white is better known for its aroma of laurel (Loureiro in Galician.)
Although there are various hypotheses about the origin of this variety, one of the most plausible claims that it came from Asia Minor, the homeland of many Mediterranean grapes. However, this vine has been cultivated in Spain since ancient times, and from there it spread to the South of France.
It occupies the seventh position in the list of Spanish vineyards, and is found in almost all the winegrowing regions of Spain. It is mainly cultivated in Cataluña, Aragón, Alto Ebro and the French Midi.
It is the basic grape for Rioja quality whites and Cavas. Its slow oxidation makes it very suitable for ageing in wood. The wine is pale and light, reminiscent of green fruits if it is made from a high output. Recently, an excellent flavour has been produced from Macabeo grown in poor, unproductive soils, which is the exact opposite of the strategy employed in Penedés and La Rioja.
The vine is upright, with a late sprouting and fairly late ripening. Therefore, it resists later frosts well. It is very sensitive to mildew and powdery mildew, and especially Botrytis, which prevents its general cultivation on the plains or on excessively high soils. It grows very well on sunny slopes, because it is extremely resistant to drought. As a result it was grown a lot in Algeria and very popular there.
It produces straw-coloured wines, rich in alcohol, with a high acidity and a fruity, astringent aroma. The balance between alcohol and acidity is good, creating excellent barrel wines.
In Cataluña, together with Xarel.lo and Parellada, it forms the famous Cava grape trilogy. In La Rioja, monovarietal wines are elaborated, and some are aged or fermented in barrels.
This is the main vine for the creation of white wines in Madrid. The texture is smooth and fruity, with a certain sweetness which combines very well with Airén, and it is ideal for fermenting with its peel.
Together with La Viognier and La Roussane, this variety makes the great white trilogy of the Rhone. It originates from Montélimar, and is characterized by mineral and melony tones, and a pleasing, oily body. It rarely appears as a monovarietal, because it needs the contribution of richer aromatic varieties, such as La Viognier.
Anybody who has enjoyed a bunch of Moscatel grapes will recognize its wine without difficulty. The taste is the only point in common among this extensive family of grapes. Some of them are red, others reddish, and others white. The wines they produce are therefore varied, and range from sparkling whites to rich, generous, dense wines from Australia or the Spanish Mediterranean.
Moscatel may well be the oldest of all the vines, possibly even the ancestor of all the other forms. It is impossible to prove this hypothesis, but we know that Moscatel, or something similar, was grown in ancient Greece, and that one of the vines described by the author Pliny was Moscatel. Nowadays it is still grown in Greece and in her ancient colonies, from the Crimea to Marseille.
The Moscatel family has at least 200 members. Some are superior to others, and the white Moscatel with small grapes is generally considered the best. This variety prefers very warm climates, where the wine sweetens naturally. It is found in Italy and Spain, as well as Greece, Australia and South Africa. Muscat Ottonel, a hybrid created in the 19th century, is grown in the centre of Europe, from Alsace to Rumania, including Austria and Hungary.
Although the origins of this variety are not clear, all the evidence suggests that it came from the zone of Jerez.
It was one of the first famous Spanish varieties, thanks to the popularity achieved by the wines of Jerez, which promoted their propagation in other areas. It was cultivated in Valladolid to reinforce Soleras de Rueda, but also in Portugal, especially in the island of Madeira, as well as in Argentina, Perú, California, Mexico, Algeria, Tunisia and Cyprus. Its greatest expression is shown in the creation of the generous wines of Jerez. In these wines Palomino stays in the background and does not interfere with the biological ageing process when the wine is programmed to be fine, or in the oxidizing ageing in Amontillado and Oloroso sherries. Then very aromatic, clean and delicate wines are created, with a wide range of dry tones, salty almond in the fine wines, and oily, balsamic hazelnut in Amontillados and Olorosos.
A legend explains that Pedro Jimenez originates in the Canary Islands, whence it journeyed to the Rhine, to be finally returned to Spain in the 16th century by a German soldier under the orders of Carlos V called Peter Siemens, or Pedro Ximén. Over time it was introduced successfully in Jerez and extended all over the South of the Peninsula.
It is also one of the most important varieties in Argentina, where it was used for making sherry, as well as in Chile, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Curiously, the Russians confuse Pedro Jiménez, which they do not know, with Moscatel and call its wines PX Krimsky (PX Crimea.)
The largest area of Pedro Jimenez wine production is concentrated in Montilla-Moriles. The people of Cordoba and Jerez agree in their modes of classifying and identifying their Finos, Amontillados, Olorosos and Palos Cortados, created in both cases with the traditional Soleras and Criaderas system. The only difference resides in the variety of grape: Palomino in Jerez and Pedro Jiménez in Cordoba.
The most popular white wines of Alsace, Moselle and the Rhine are made with this grape. It is small and yellowish, with a limited harvest. In Spain it produces dry, fresh, fruity and flowery wines, but with less solemnity and complexity than in those two European regions. It is cultivated in Cataluña.
This variety originates from the Rhone region, like Marsanne, and is present in the best wines, such as Hemiltage, Saint Joseph, Cates du Rhóne, Cháteauneuf du Pape and Corbióres. Despite its oxidizing tendencies, it can produce subtle wines that evolve magnificently in the bottle. The aromas are reminiscent of apricot, with daffodil overtones, citric scents and even honey. It contributes a certain oily character that makes the body appetizing. There are still some examples in Cataluña.
This is a white grape with small fruits and a golden colour when it ripens. It is cultivated mainly in Graves, in Bordeaux, and in the Loire, and has acclimatized to other countries like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, California, and especially New Zealand. In Spain it is grown mainly in the DO Rueda and slightly less in Cataluña, providing a taste of certain tropical fruits when it is very ripe, and a light, floral tone.
This variety was not considered a classic until Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé were discovered by the high society of Paris in the 60s, followed by the rest of the world. Sauvignon has been used to make white wines in the Loire for generations, but the relative interest that it had aroused until then was due to the role it played in Bordeaux wines.
Today the fresh style of Sauvignon, lively and imperious as a tasty fruit, is highly appreciated all over the world.
Thanks to the effects of fashion, Sauvignon is omnipresent today. In the warm Australian climate and in New Zealand well-defined, fruity wines have been made from this variety. In Spain new white wines have been created, called Rueda de Sauvignon. Italy, Slovenia, Austria and Bulgaria produce considerable quantities of Sauvignon, but Austria has definitely achieved the best results so far.
This is the Galician grape of Ribeiro, similar to Albariño, but less glyceric and refined. Its taste recalls ripe apples and combines perfectly with Albariño. The character is flowery and fruity. It is an excellent grape but has a very limited production.
This is perhaps the Spanish variety that is most completely incorporated into the ecosystem of the central plateau, and therefore adapted to the continental climate of Castilla. If foreign yeasts are not used, it is distinguished by pleasantly rustic fruity flavours, with a certain structure in the mouth, ending with slightly bitter finish, but with a sweet undercurrent that gives the wine its peculiar personality. It is cultivated best in silty soils and climates with a strong temperature contrast between night and day.
This is one of the oldest Spanish vines, which is mainly grown in the Canaries and Andalucía, particularly in Granada and Almería. It possesses a pleasant fruity character, with a touch of wild herbs and undergrowth. It is even interesting with barrel fermentation.
The greatest gem of the Rhone is arousing more and more interest all over the world, and is starting to be adapted easily to Spain thanks to its Mediterranean character which it shares with its home country. It is a noble grape that can age with grace and offers flowery and fruity tones and touches of herbs. In the best creations it presents considerable complexity. It is produced mainly in Cataluña, Teruel and Toledo.
This is a very harmonious grape with a greater body and character than the other classical Catalan grapes, Parellada and Macabeo. Other grapes complement it very well. When it ripens well and its output is low, it possesses a good character.
This name comes from the Arab word ‘salem’, which means ‘peace’. The grape, which is exclusive to the DO Condado de Huelva, has a fully fresh and fruity nose, characterized by tones close to exotic perfumes. The body is remarkable for its freshness and smooth, ripe finish, full of floral evocations and the taste of apple peel.