All I am yearning for in this oppressive Delhi heat is a glass of crisp, dry, refreshing Txakoli wine from Spain’s Basque country.
Not the easiest of names to roll off the tongue, I agree, but a rather easy wine to drink. And once you know that ‘x’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ in the Basque language, not that difficult to say either. It’s ‘cha-ko-lee’.
Also called Txakolina or Chacolí in Castilian, this traditional and indigenous wine of the Basque Country or País Vasco or Euskadi, (a fiercely autonomous mountainous region in the north of Spain, that extends from the coast of the Bay of Biscay, to as far south as the Ebro Valley of Rioja), is unique and unlike any other wine you would have tasted before.
A little bit like Vinho Verde, the light, fresh, slightly fizzy ‘green wine’ from Northern Portugal’s Minho province, but a slightly more intense version of the same.
Let’s say with a sharper more piercing acidity, interesting herbal aromas, faint spritziness and a saline finish. The wine is often poured into glass tumblers from a height, mostly to reduce the levels of carbon dioxide, but also for the theatrics.
Chances are that you will rarely find Txakoli outside the Basque Country, as most of the total annual production, (which isn’t a lot in any case), is consumed within. These wines, that are an integral part of the Basque culture, are usually drunk within one year of bottling as they cannot be stored for longer.
I tried my first Txakoli during the official welcome reception of the 11th International Wine Tourism Conference IWINETC 2019, held at the stunning ARTIUM Museum of Contemporary Art in Vitoria-Gasteiz, the de-facto capital of the Basque Autonomous Community.
The wine tasted sharp and fresh with a chalky zestiness. The fizz, mild carbonation and low alcohol levels (below 11.5 % ABV) made it the perfect aperitif, and a great accompaniment to the excellent ‘pintxos’ or ‘tapas’ served at the reception.
My next introduction and a much more detailed one happened during the Masterclass on ‘Wines of the Basque Country’ conducted by Sarah Jane Evans, MW on Day 1 of IWINETC on 12th March 2019.
Sarah Jane is a Master of Wine and an authority on Spanish Wines, on which she has written several books. In recognition of her work in Spain, she has received several awards.
She began the Masterclass by telling us that Txakoli is not a grape variety, nor a wine region in Spain but an ‘Atlantic wine style’ produced in Spain’s Basque Country.
The name comes from the Basque word ‘etxakoa’ (‘home-made’) or ‘etxeko ain’ meaning (‘enough for home’). There are records of vineyards in the Basque region from 1186.
The three wholly Basque D.O’s (Denominación de Origen) for Txakoli are Alava, Bizkaia and Getaria.
Out of these three, the principal appellation is Getariako Txakolina or Chacolí de Guetaria, way up on the Biscay coast, west of San Sebastian, in the region of Gipuzkoa, around the towns of Getaria, Zarautz and Aia. This was the first variety of Txakoli to receive the DO certification in 1989.
The main white grape varietal here is the pale-skinned Hondarribi Zuri which accounts for 85% of Txakoli.
For light reds and rosé Txakoli, it is Hondarribi Beltza, a rare Spanish red wine grape related to Cabernet Franc. Zuri means white and Beltza means red in the Basque language.
However, a few other grapes like Chardonnay, Petit Courbu, Folle Blanche, Gros and Petit Manseng, Riesling and Hondarribi Zuri Zerratia can be used, depending on the D.O.
Since the weather here is harsh, because of proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, and far from ideal for growing grapes (cool summers and heavy rainfall), the vines are often affected by mildew. To counter this, the vines are cultivated at a greater height above the ground with the foliage forming a contiguous canopy to improve the microclimate. Getaria wines are characterized by light spritziness.
The second Txakoli to receive the DO certification was Bizkaiko Txakolina or Chacolí de Vizcaya in 1994. The vineyards are around the city of Bilbao and the wines here are more acidic and herbaceous than in Getariako, with hardly any effervescence.
The third and the youngest DO variety of Txakoli is Arabako Txakolina or Chacolí de Álava, having gained certification only in 2001. It is the furthest inland of the three DO’s in the province of Álava/Araba.
At the Masterclass, we tasted wines from all three Txakolí appellations.
Hiruzta Berezia 2017 from Bodega Hirutza (Getariako Txakolina) with an alcohol level of 12% ABV was a blend of 85% Hondarribi Zuri and 15% Gros Manseng.
Berroja 2016 from Bodega Berroja (Bizkaiko Txakolina)12.5% ABV, a blend of Hondarribi Zuri 80% and Riesling 20%.
Malkoa 2015 from Bodega Astobiza (Arabako Txakolina), 100% Hondarribi Zuri, a single vineyard, estate-bottled, hand-harvested, dry-farmed, low production Atlantic wine.
The post-conference press tour took us to Bodega Gaintza, a family-owned winery built in 1923, located in D.O Getaria, very close to San Sebastian. Gaintza means ”on the top of” and the vineyards which overlook the bay in Guipuxcoa, provide an absolutely stunning view. Their meticulously crafted wines are made from 100% estate-grown indigenous varieties, from a mix of young and old vines, some more than 40-years-old.
The refreshing Txakoli wines with their low alcohol level are totally in tune with the current trend for lighter, fresher styles. It won’t be long before the world sits up and takes notice of this Basque treasure.
By: Lavina Kharkwal.