By Fred Minnick
When it comes to value, an often-overlooked wine comes from the white grape Airén. Many people might scoff at the suggestion of Airén being a value wine, because it’s so widely used in Spanish brandy, but it’s unfair to blanket label a grape that when tended to correctly can actually be very rewarding.
In D.O. La Mancha, vineyards like Bodegas Lahoz, Bodegas López Mercier and Vinícola de Tomelloso are treating the Airén vines delicately and are producing wonderful whites with pale yellow color with slight green reflections that are fruity and clean, well-balanced, light and easy to drink. Some vineyards are actually hand-harvesting Airén at night, which allows a better quality grape to be picked and gives it a fresher, fruitier and crisper flavor profile. They are planting the vines far enough a part, and not bunching them up like the days of old, to give the Airén vines room to grow. Once the grapes are harvested, some winemakers are practicing a short maceration with the skins in pneumatic press and fermenting at low temperatures to extract as much flavor as possible.
Airén has long been used to blend with red grapes to lighten powerful reds, but the stainless steel and cold-soak fermentation practices have made Airén a splendid single varietal wine that is perfect to pair with grilled fish, light cheeses or sautéed vegetables.
I’ve personally enjoyed sipping on Airén during this heat wave. Its crispness is so refreshing that you just forget how hot it is outside—for a second or two, at least.
You can find most Airén wines for under $12, and D.O. La Mancha, the world’s largest wine-producing region, produces the vast majority of the world’s Airén.
Here are 10 D.O. La Mancha Airen value wines that will boost your next summer picnic.
Torre de Rejas Airén 2009, Bodegas López Mercier: This lovely straw-colored blanca has a balsamic herbs and citrus nose with a fresh and fruity taste.
Torre de Gazate Airén 2009, Vinícola de Tomelloso: Bright straw-colored with notes of citrus, flowers. It’s light and fresh.
Armiño 2008, Bodegas Ayuso: A slightly pale yellow color with floral notes. A crisp dry finish.
El Yugo Airén 2009, Cristo de la Vega: With a pale yellow this light and aramotic wine gives hints of pear and apple.
Los Galanes Blanco 2009, Santa Catalina: Light white with soft yellow hues, this Light white gives an intese aroma of flower petals and is balanced on the tongue with floral, pear and green fruit notes.
Vega Córcoles Airén 2009, Bodegas Lahoz: Pale yellow with an excellent aroma. It’s very balanced and fruity.
Rezuelo 2009, Galán de Membrilla Bod. Rezuelo: Winemaker’s tasting notes: “Elegant pale yellow with green tones. Aroma of good intensity, fresh and fruity. Balanced and fruity in the mouth.”
Clavelito Airén 2008, Bodegas Entremontes: This lovely elegant straw color meets an intense aroma of fruit and flowers. Pineapple and peach stand out with hints of rose petals and banana.
Viña Cuerva Airén 2008, Bodegas Naranjo: Staw-colored, and with fruity bouquets, this fresh wine is light and gives notes of green apple and hints of clove.
Visibel 2008, Cooperativa San Isidro Labrador: A pale yellow color is followed by a floral nose with compote fruit and hints of tropical fruits with pineapple notes that last a very long time.
Fred Minnick is an international writer/photographer who covers wine and whiskey. Visit FredWrite.com.