Macabeo is a sturdy and vigorous white skinned grape variety that is particularly well suited to warm Mediterranean climates. This is attested to by the variety's spread from southern France to Spain, where it is known in parts by the synonym Viura. Macabeo was also once well established in North Africa, although its origins are thought to be Middle Eastern. The grape also goes by the names Maccabéo and Macabeu.
Macabeo buds conveniently late, obviating the risks of spring frost. Although prone to rot, the dry regions in which the grape proliferates are seldom stricken by fungal disease pressures. Macabeo's suitability to warm and dry climates is due to a carapace of thick skins that serve to prevent oxidation, despite the variety's inherently low acidity. This sturdiness has obvious qualitative repercussions and Macabeo has become the most widely planted white grape variety in northern Spain, with over 32,000 hectares.
In Spain, Macebeo stars in the white wines of Rioja where it is subject to barrel fermentation and extensive less handling, and subsequently gives wines with a tight, lemony match-struck palate in the hands of modern producers. Conversely, under the aegis of traditionalists including Bodega Lopez de Heredia, it can undergo extended long ageing in neutral wood, bringing an oxidative complexity and beguiling texture. It also serves among the traditional triumvirate of grape varieties to make Cava. Its brethren being Parellada and Xarel-lo.
Macabeo's influence also stretches across the French border into the Roussillon where it boasts in excess of 5,200 hectares, making it France's eight most planted white grape variety. It is also particularly well suited to the Languedoc, where it is found in the higher terroirs of the Minervois and Corbières. Here, it is blended with a host of other southern grape varieties including Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc to give ample wines with a mouth-coating viscosity.
When early picked, Macabeo makes for fairly innocuous straight varietal wines, or serves as a blending agent to stretch rosé. In parts of Spain, it is also used to balance potent reds. Indeed, up to 10 per cent is allowed in a red blend, and up to 30 per cent in rosé. It may also serve as a constituent in Roussillon's distinctive Vins Doux Naturel.