Macabeo which is also known as Viura or as Macabeu in Catalan is a white wine grape variety of Spain. Widely grown in the Rioja region of north-eastern Spain, the Cava producing areas south of Barcelona, and the Languedoc-Roussillon region of France. Spanish plantations stood at near 32,000 hectares in 2004 and French plantations at 5,200 hectares in 2008.
The grape is predominantly used to make youthful white wines with sharp acidity suitable for early consumption or blending with other varieties, both red and white. It is often the main grape of white Rioja and is sometimes blended in small amounts with Tempranillo and red Garnacha, both in unoaked and oaked versions.
The varietal was introduced into Rioja after the phylloxera epidemic, where it largely replaced Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca, partially because of the ability of its wines to better withstand oxidation. Some producers of white Rioja make superior wines (e.g. Reserva and Gran Reserva) - which are subjected to extended ageing that can span decades, resulting in a highly distinctive and aromatic wine.
Macabeo is traditionally blended with Xarel•lo and Parellada to make sparkling Cava, the best known sparkling wine of Spain. Both still and sparkling wines from the Macabeo are dry, medium in acidity, and have notes of delicate wildflowers and bitter almonds and best consumed young.
Macabeo is a sturdy and vigorous white skinned grape variety that is particularly well suited to warm Mediterranean climates. Macabeo was also once well established in North Africa, although its origins are believed to be Middle Eastern. Macabeo also conveniently buds late which makes it less likely to be harmed by frost. Although prone to rot, the dry regions in which the grape now successfully grows seldom suffer fungal disease issues.
In Spain, Macabeo white wines of Rioja can be subject to barrel fermentation and extensive lees handling, and subsequently developing wines with a tight, lemony palate. Conversely, under the guidance of traditional techniques it can undergo extended ageing in neutral wood, bringing an oxidative complexity and appealing texture.
This historic grape variety is also known as Macabeu and Maccabéo in Roussillon in southern France. It is also particularly well suited to the Languedoc, where it is found in the higher terroir of the Minervois and Corbières. Where it is blended with a number of other southern French grape varieties including Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc to give ample wines with a mouth-coating viscosity.
When picked early, Macabeo makes for fairly bland straight forward varietal wines, or serves as a blending agent to stretch rosé wines. In parts of Spain, it is also used to balance intense red wines, with up to 10% allowed in a red blend, and up to 30 per cent in rosé wine. It may also serve as a key element in Roussillon - where late picked Macabeo is used in a unique fortified wine (vin doux naturel).