Tour de Spain: Basque Country
I don't know about you, but whenever I watch Parts Unknown I'm overcome with an intense desire to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Bourdain and eat and drink my way through whatever city or country he happens to be featuring. I recently watched the episode where he was in San Sebastian (I am so far behind on this season), which is in Basque Country in northern Spain. It also happens to be the home of a wine called Txakolina! Say....what now? Chock-oh-LEE-na. This white wine is rarely seen outside of Basque Country because much of it is consumed by the locals and for good reason: it's uncomplicated, fresh tasting, high in acidity, low in alcohol, and it pairs with virtually any dish found in this part of Spain. After tasting a couple versions of Txakolina I can also tell you that a solid ocean breeze will make you want to drink this wine with gusto. Luckily, the US is one of the few countries that imports Txakolina, although now I feel like we're getting the leftovers.
Until I began writing this post, I knew nothing about Txakolina, except how to pronounce it. So, we're learning together! The majority of this wine is made with a grape called Hondarrabi Zuri and a small portion of red wine made with a grape called Hondarrabi Beltza is blended into many of the wines. The climate of Basque Country is rather humid and sees more rain than neighboring wine regions (oh hey, Rioja!), so vines are planted where they can be exposed to wind coming off of the ocean which keeps the grapes well ventilated to avoid rot.
The winemaking process is pretty interesting - once the grapes are harvested, they are brought to the winery and are kept at a temperature just above freezing, then treated with nitrogen to preserve freshness. My three year old just plopped down next to me and I asked him if he wanted to help me write. He nodded. When I told him that I'm writing about oxygen and nitrogen he immediately said "where did Daddy go?" and left. Soooo....I hope you'll stick around for this. Put on your science goggles! When grape juice is exposed to oxygen, it begins the process of oxidation, which reduces its acidity and fresh fruit aromas and flavors. With continued exposure, the wine will develop a nutty flavor and basically turn into vinegar. For some wines, especially reds and sherry, minor and controlled exposure to oxygen is welcomed during maturation because it can add complexity and soften tannins, but that's not the case with Txakolina. So, a protective barrier of nitrogen, which is an inert gas and heavier than oxygen, is "blanketed" over the grapes to prevent any contact with oxygen.
Some Txakolina are made to be slightly sparkling which gives the wine an extra refreshing kick. Fun fact: in Basque Country the wine is often served using the pouring technique for cider that I wrote about last year.
The first wine I tasted was Ulacia Getariako Txakolina 2015. It showed lots of fresh, crisp green apple with lemon and honeysuckle. It's a zippy wine with a high acidity and a very smooth texture. It was almost like a dry Riesling or Alsace Pinot Gris but with less body and just a hint of sparkle. It's really yummy!
Like the first wine, the Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina 2016 had a nice green apple flavor, but it also showed lots of juicy citrus aromas and flavors like lemon juice, grapefruit, and cara cara orange. The bubbles in this wine are more obvious, but still rather subtle. Its high acidity and fresh, crisp flavors make it a great choice for summer. Or anytime, really.
I'm officially a Txakolina convert! If you're stuck in a wine rut and looking for something that's different, spunky, and maybe a little too easy to drink, then this is definitely a wine you should try. I feel so compelled to share this very weird association with you - every time I hear/read/say Txakolina, this song gets stuck in my head. "A ella le gusta la TXAKOLINA...." You're welcome.