Airen is a drought-resistant white wine grape planted throughout central Spain, occupying about twice as much land there as any other variety. In fact, there are more acres of Airen vines in the world than almost any other wine grape variety.
Airen is planted most notably in Spain's inland La Mancha and Valdepenas wine regions, where its tolerance of hot, dry conditions and poor soils made it the obvious choice of grape variety. The vine's high yields and low maintenance requirements took precedence over the quality of the wine it made, so Airen has traditionally been used to produce base wines for Spain's brandy industry, and to produce oxidative, high-alcohol white wines for local consumption. It was also blended with Cencibel (the local clone of Tempranillo) to produce lighter-bodied red wines. Recently however, with careful handling and improved vinification, Airen has been used to create simple, refreshing, dry white wines of reasonable quality.
Modern preferences for lighter, fruitier wines have led to a decline in Airen's popularity over the past few decades, although there is still a need for low-maintenance varieties as the characteristics of the region make mechanization difficult.
In the Canary Islands, Airen goes by the name Burra Blanca (meaning 'white donkey'), and is used mainly as a blending ingredient to produce dry white wines, alongside Malvasia, Breval and Listan Blanco (aka Palomino).
Synonyms include: Valdepenas, Manchega, Forcallet, Forcayet, Lairen, Burra Blanca, Burrablanca.
Food matches include:
Europe: Sardines escabeche; chilled almond and garlic soup (ajoblanco)
Asia: Blanched kai-lan with oyster sauce
Australasia/Oceania: Garlic prawns