In today's wine world which seems to be filled with Chardonnay and Cabernet You would logically think, that one of these two grape varieties must be the most planted grape on the Earth. Sorry you would be wrong!
While Chardonnay is the first or second most planted grape in the US, France, Australia and New Zealand, it is not the most planted grape in total area. This honor belongs to the Airen grape variety . Yes, amazingly, its true. Airen, a grape you've probably never heard of covers more of the planet than any other grape. The second-most planated is Trebbiano, used in France and Italy.
Airen is planted extremely heavily in Spain, and in the 1980s covered around 1.2 million acres of land. It is planted with a low number of vines per acre, and is used in the production of brandy as ''well as standard dry white table wines. The light-skinned grapes create wines that are typically inexpensive and not well known for their flavor.
Airen was first mentioned in 1615. In the 15th century it was known as Lairén and is named as such in Gabriel Alonso de Herrera’s “Agricultura General”. This author however preferred to call it “Datileña” because the grapes were bunched together similar to dates. He confesses to not having tasted the wine but states that “it”s not very strong and lacks body” and also that “it may be better to make raisins from these grapes as they are very shapely and abundant”.
Airén is abundant in the Valdepeñas and La Mancha DO's, very abundant in the provinces of Ciudad Real, Toledo, and slightly less so in Albacete and Cuenca. Significant amounts of the grape can also be found in Madrid and as far south as Montilla-Moriles. Airén is estimated to be the world's most grown grape variety in terms of planted surface, at 306,000 hectares (760,000 acres).
The fact that Airen wines are used widely in Spanish brandy leads some people to believe that this variety has little or no value as a table wine. Nothing could be further from the truth. In vineyards like Bodegas Lahoz, and Bodegas López Mercier winemakers are using techniques such as a short maceration with the skins in pneumatic press and fermenting at low temperatures to extract as much flavor as possible. This is leading to the production of wonderful whites with pale yellow color with slight green reflections that are fruity and clean. A light well balanced easy drinking wine perfect for a hot summers day.