Airén is a variety of Vitis vinifera, a white grape commonly used in winemaking. This grape is native to Spain where it represents about 30% of all grapes grown. As of 2004, Airén was estimated to be the world's most grown grape variety in terms of planted surface, at 306,000 hectares (760,000 acres), although it is almost exclusively found in Spain. Since Airén tends to be planted at a low density, several other varieties (including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) are more planted in terms of number of vines. Plantations of Airén are declining as it is being replaced in Spanish vineyards with various red varieties, such as Tempranillo.
|Wine description||characterised by a pallid colour with yellow iridescences; in the nose, mature fruit can be noted (banana, pineapple or grapefruit), and in the mouth, despite a certain lack of acidity, they are quite tasty and pleasant, easy to drink, though not ‘elegant’.|
|Food pairing||Plainly cooked fish and shellfish. Grilled chicken breasts|
|Notable regions||La Mancha|
|Notable wines||Vinos de Madrid|
The grapes have a cotton-like bud burst, which is bronze or yellowish in colour, with light reddish edge, and not very intense at the tip. The grapes have a trailing growing habit. The leaves of the Airén are average in size and have a pentagonal shape. The lower lateral sinuses are less marked than the upper ones and the upper face of the leaf is yellowish green in color while the lower face is velvety. The grape bunch is large in size and has an average compactness. It can grow in two different shapes: cylindrical or as a long cone. The grapes are large and spherical and have a yellowish color. The grapes are late to bud burst and also late to ripen. They yield about 4.5 to 6 kg per vine. Further, this grape is very resistant to drought and the base buds are fertile and thus resists very short pruning and still have acceptable yields.
Airen in Japanese means Perfect Love or soulmate. In Chinese it means lover.
The first recorded mention of Airén was in 1615. In the 15th century it was known as Lairén (as it is in the Cordoba region today) and is cited as such in Gabriel Alonso de Herrera Agricultura General. This author however preferred to call it “Datileña” because the grapes were bunched together like dates. He confesses to not having tasted the wine but states that is not very strong nor does it have much bodyâ€ and also that it would be better to make raisins from these grapes as they are very shapely and abundant.
In 1807, Roxas Clemente describes two types of Layrén: the first is the one we know today as the modern Airén from La Mancha and second is a table grape as described by Herrera. The first reference by Roxas Clemente mentions that Airén is also known as Mantúo Laerén and Laerén de Rey. He describes this variety as follows:
white-ish [sic] very hard shoots. Green-yellowish very hairy leaves, with shallow sinuses and short (dientes), which fall off late. Tightly clustered grapes, large, rather late in maturing, with visible veins.
He says that this variety is grown in Sanlúcar, Xerez, Trebujena, Arcos, Espera, Moguer, Tarifa and Paxarete. He also mentions that it is grown in Valdepeñas and Manzanares, where it gives excellent wines for the production of exquisite spirits. The second reference by Roxas Clemente to Layrén states that that this variety is synonymous to the Datileña. He describes it as:
Thin vine, which sprouts at the normal time. Numerous shoots, very long, curly, entirely hairless, rather light brown-reddish in colour, very soft. Medium-sized leaves, somewhat irregular, somewhat lobed, with normally sharp sinuses, upper face smooth, the fall off early, yellowish colour. Sufficient quantity of bunches, well set in the upper part, set in the lower part. Grapes about ten˜lines long and six and a half wide at the most, somewhat thin towards the tip, very frequently slightly concave on the side facing the stem and convex on the opposite side, quite golden, very translucent, very meaty early on, stem somewhat thick.
This grape, according to Roxas Clemente, is used for the production of raisins and to mix its must with that of the Ximénez variety, and in 1807 was grown in Sanlúcar, Xerez, Trebujena, Algeciras, Arcos, Espera, Moguer, Málaga, Motril, Albuñol, Adra y Paxarete.
In 1885, Abela stated that Mantúo Laerén, apart from the areas mentioned by Roxas Clemente, was also grown in the region of Córdoba (known there as Mantúo Lairén) and in the areas around Cáceres, Ciudad Real, Málaga, Sevilla and Toledo, where it was known as Lairén.
In 1914, García de los Salmones mentioned the cultivation of Lairén in Madrid, Villacañas (Toledo), Tarancón (Cuenca), Campo de Criptana (Ciudad Real), Frejenal de la Sierra (Badajoz), Montefrío (Granada), Baeza (Jaén), Coin (Málaga), Fiñana (Almería), Cazalla de la Sierra (Sevilla), Espera (Cádiz) and Córdoba. And as Airén in Albacete.
In 1954, Marcilla defined the Airen variety as a typical vine in the La Mancha region, grown almost exclusively in that area. He described it as a
Trailing vine, very fertile including the first buds of the shoots, thus allowing very short pruning. Large bunches, quite tightly clustered.
Of the wine made from these grapes he states:
Gives must from which excellent table wines can be made, and also fine, white wines with a distinctive taste, although this is not very common practice in La Mancha. The average alcohol content of these wines is about 12-14°, and in good years up to 15°.
He also mentions Lairen as being grown in Montilla (Cordoba) and in Extremadura.
In 1965, Fernandez de Bobadilla described Mantuo Laeren as:
Vine with a sturdy trunk, semi-erect shoots, of average length, large leaf, orb-like, wedge-shaped, with 5 lobes, deep upper lateral sinuses, and overlapping edges; marked lower sinuses, more or less intense green upper face, velvety lower face. Numerous bunches and very similar, very long and thin, cylindrical and not very compact. Fat grapes, ovoid shaped, greenish colour, slightly golden, thick stem, hard pulp not very juicy.
He says the following about its agronomic properties:
Late ripening variety, good for transporting, not very sweet must, which gives low quality wines, as indicated by its classification among the Montuos, or not very select varieties. Good to eat.
In his book "Cepas del Mundo" (1997), José Peñín gives the origin of Airén as being in La Mancha, from where two thirds of all the grapes grown in Spain come from. It is absolutely the dominant variety in this region, especially so in Ciudad Real and Toledo, and slightly less so in Albacete and Cuenca. It can also be found further south in Montilla-Moriles. Peñín describes the wine made from Airén as follows:
Airén has had a bad press, more due to the processes used which never did it justice, rather than for the quality of the vine itself. In the past, there was a double problem of low productivity, due mainly to the low density of the plantations, along with the traditional method of fermenting in terra cotta fermentation vats. In addition, almost all the wine was sent to other regions to mix in with other musts or for distillation. In general, the wine [from Airén] are characterised by a pallid colour with yellow iridescences; in the nose, mature fruit can be noted (banana, pineapple or grapefruit), and in the mouth, despite a certain lack of acidity, they are quite tasty and pleasant, easy to drink, though not ‘elegant’. The best ones have a fresh bouquet of roses, with a fine harmonious taste that does not leave false tastes at the back of the mouth.
Airén is by far the most abundant in the Valdepeñas and La Mancha DO's, very abundant in the provinces of Ciudad Real, Toledo, and only slightly less so in Albacete and Cuenca. It can also be found significantly in Madrid and as far south as Montilla-Moriles.
RED GRAPE VARIETIES