Brought long ago from the Middle East, Macabeo has become well established in Spain and the vast French vineyard of Languedoc-Roussillon. The Spanish also refer to this grape as Viura, undoubtedly the workhorse of their white wines produced in the north of the country. Catalonia proudly has its own language, flag and capital city, Barcelona being more like Paris than Madrid. This region is at the very heart of the 20th century wine revolution, the Champagne-method for sparkling white wine introduced to San Sadurni de Noya, Cava having been made here for almost a hundred years. Today there are 159 towns and villages producing Cava in northern Spain, 95% in Catalonia. Hence the claim of the largest sparkling white wine cellar on the planet.
Cava is usually blended, Macabeo joining Parellada and Xarel-Lo, and definitely best drunk very young, while zingy and fresh. In its own right, Macabeo/Viura is best known as white Rioja, either as oaked or unoaked expressions. This grape certainly has quality potential and most of the 50 or so bodegas making red Rioja will also produce small amounts of white. A touch of oak will add character and, with age, the wine will become quite rich and buttery. From the Medio Penedes, south-west of Barcelona, the popular Vina Sol is dry but unexceptional. The rather large grapes have a low skin to pulp ratio, leaving it a bit short on taste. Labour intensive pruning and thinning of the tight bunches can alleviate this problem.
In the south of France, Macabeu/Maccabeo, as they call this grape, is thinned-out as much to prevent any trapped rain encouraging the development of fungal infection. It is used to produce the mildly acidic young wines of the Midi, especially for vin de pays and Cotes du Roussillon blanc. The level of acidity is appreciated both for blending properties and for withstanding oxidation, the natural browning of white wines. In the Languedoc-Roussillon, which covers the four departments of Pyrenees-Orientales, Aude, Herault and Gard, the vines are happily thriving at altitudes of 1,500ft/450m. The terroir, formed from the granite bedrock, providing these wines with a distinct honied, mineral streak.
In Roussillon, late picked Macababeo grapes are used to make into a lightly fortified wine, known as vin doux naturel. If it is something stronger that is required, wine from Macabeo grapes can be added to a base spirit, usually in the form of gin, to become Obsello Absinthe, green and flavoured with bitter extracts from the wormwood shrub. If you translate wormwood into Russian, the word you get is Chernobyl, the nuclear power station from which an explosion on 26th April 1986 released 8 tonnes of radioactive material into the atmosphere. In which case, this really should be a drink with a kick.