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Viura

Macabeo (or Viura in Rioja) is a white wine grape used on either side of the Pyrenees, in the north and east of Spain and the southernmost reaches of France. A relatively versatile grape, it is used in still, sparkling, dry and sweet wines. There are few universal truths about how Macabeo tastes; the wines can be fresh, floral and aromatic when harvested sufficiently early and aged in stainless steel, but weighty, honeyed and nutty when aged in oak and harvested slightly later.

Spain is unquestionably Macabeo’s homeland, most obviously the northern regions. It is the principal ingredient in white wines from Rioja, where the locals call it Viura, and it is used in almost every wine district of Catalonia, particularly in sparkling Cava wines, where it is blended with Parellada and Xarel-lo.

Southwards along the Mediterranean coast, Macabeo can be found in various areas, most notably Valencia, Yecla and Jumilla. In France (as Maccabeu) the variety is well respected but significantly less common, and limited almost exclusively to the southern parts of Languedoc-Roussillon.

France has just a couple of thousand hectares of Macabeo (just one-fifteenth that planted in Spain), almost all of which is in Roussillon. The variety is used there in both sweet wines (white Banyuls and Maury) and rich dry wines (Corbieres and Minervois). It is not an overly aromatic grape and its relative neutrality makes it a good candidate for blending. When picked early, varietal Macabeo can show grapefruit flavors with pronounced acidity, but when picked later, the wines generally taste more of oak than anything else.

Macabeo must is quite resistant to oxidation, in no small part due to its high levels of antioxidant resveratrol monomers (trans-piceid, cis-piceid, trans-resveratrol, and cis-resveratrol). This made it a traditionally popular option with winemakers in Rioja, where barrel aging is relatively common and inevitably involves a certain amount of oxygen exposure. Rioja’s red wines have traditionally permitted a certain amount of white wine to be used in red winemaking, and Macabeo (Viura) was an obvious choice here.

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