When most of us think of the most planted grapes (in terms of acreage) we tend to think chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. It makes sense considering our local retail shelves are lined with these well-known grape varietals.

So it may surprise you to learn some of the top grapes grown in the world are some you may not have even heard of.

Cabernet sauvignon, as expected, tops the list with about 710,000 acres and merlot a close second with 660,000 acres worldwide. These grape varietals are the backbone of blends around the world and stars in their own right.

It’s the unsuspected Airen grape with around 620,000 acres that most are not familiar with. Many wine drinkers find this an interesting statistic considering many have not ever had a glass of this grape or even heard its mention. It’s almost an unknown grape varietal outside of its home in Spain. The vines are planted at very low density and resistant to long stretches of drought making it ideal in the vast hot areas of Spain.

Airen is not the winemaker’s ideal grape with its many seeds and other undesirable traits but it serves a purpose in other ways than your next glass of wine. The juice of the grape is mostly fermented and distilled for brandy and fortified wines. The seeds are pressed for grapeseed oil. There has been a decline in the planting of this grape (at one time holding the prestigious first place in world plantings) to the more globally popular tempranillo grape. With its generally straightforward simple profile wines from this grape are uncommon outside Spain, where you’re most likely to encounter it as a refreshing white wine in local restaurants.

Tempranillo, with around 570,000 acres, is another unexpected grape at the top of the most-planted list. Its origins are also in Spain, but this grape can be found elsewhere including South America and Texas. When this grape is young it has a fresh fruity profile unique to most red wines. But as it ages with oak influence it takes on a tobacco, dusty leather flavor serious wine lovers seek out.

THE VALUE

  • 2019 Toro Loco Tempranillo, Spain (about $11 retail)

THE SPLURGE

  • 2018 Volver La Mancha Tempranillo, Spain (about $20 retail)