There are moments when time, place and taste come together to create an experience that results in something that is not only memorable, but forever changes your senses. I had Txakoli before I went to San Sebastian and I was intrigued, but when I had Txacoli in San Sebastian it was a revelation.
Last year after 3 days in Barcelona, we headed to San Sebastian. It seemed like the perfect stop on way to Paris. I had never been and wanted to go as it looked beautiful and had a reputation as a major food destination. San Sebastián and its surrounding area has the most Michelin stars per capita in the world (Arzak, Mugaritz, Berasategi, Akelarre…). In addition, San Sebastian is home to tasty snacks similar to tapas called pintxos, which are found at the bars in the old part of town.
The first night, we stopped in at Bar Goiz Argi, ordered some pimientos and brochetas de gambas. Everyone seemed to be drinking Txakoli, so I ordered a glass as well. The occasion, place, food and drink all came together in a way that only seems to happen a few times in life.
When I returned home I started to have cravings for Txacoli and pintxos. So this summer I planted pimientos de padron and stocked up on Txacoli. Granted, I have a soft spot for Spanish whites (Godello, Grenache Blanc, Albariño and Verdejo come to mind…) — but Txacoli might be the most exciting and unique wine from Spain.
Once in danger of extinction, Txacoli is undergoing a major renaissance and for good reason. Grown within sea-breeze distance of the Atlantic, the best Txacoli (choc-o-lee) tend to be light and crisp, with sharp citrus flavors and mouth-wetting acidity — making it a great food wine. To accent the wines’ freshness, producers capture a bit of residual CO2 in the bottle. That little spritz accentuates the minerality and acidity and makes the wine sing.
There are three DO certified varieties: Álava, Biscaya and Getaria.
Arabako Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Álava in Spanish. This variety comes from the far north-western end of Álava. It is the youngest of the three DO varieties of txakoli, having gained certification in 2001. It is yellowish in color, very acidic and slightly frothy. Wine making has a long tradition in this region, going back as far as 760AD in the historical record. In the late 19th century grapes were grown on more than 500ha of land, declining to 5ha in the late 20th century before the recent revival.
The most commonly used grape for this txakoli is Hondarribi Zuria (“white Hondarribia”) but other grapes are also permitted: Bordeleza Zuria (Folle Blanche), Izkiriota Ttipia (Petit Manseng), Izkiriota (Gros Manseng) and Courbu.
Bizkaiko Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Vizcaya in Spanish. This variety is made in most parts of Biscay, except for the far western end. This was the second txakoli to receive the DO certification in 1994. The region produces some 700,000 litres of txakoli annually. Records of wine making in this region go back to the 8th century and references to txakoli go back several centuries themselves. The quality of the txakoli varies, as the microclimatic conditions vary.
Both white and red grapes are used for making txakoli in Biscay. White varieties are Hondarribi Zuria and Folle blanche (called Munemahatsa in Biscay); the red variety used is Hondarribi Beltza (“black Hondarribia”). Historically another light red variety called Oilar Begi (“chicken eye”) was also used. This variety was on the verge of extinct but is making a slow comeback.
Txakoli from Getaria
Getariako Txakolina in Basque, Chacolí de Guetaria in Spanish. This variety comes from a small region in Gipuzkoa around the towns of Getaria, Zarautz and Aia and is of a very pale yellow to green color. This was the first variety of txakoli to receive the DO certification in 1989. Annually some 900,000 litres are produced in this region, mostly on south-east facing slopes to protect the vines from the harsh atlantic weather. Unlike the other varieties which are grown as most varieties of grapes, the grapes for this Txakoli are grown according to the treille or trellis system (called parra in Basque). The white variety used is Hondarribi Zuria, the red grape is Hondarribi Beltza.
In terms of specific producers/bottlings, Gurrutxaga, Ameztoi and the Ameztoi Rubentis are probably my 3 favorites, though I also really like Uriondo Bizkaiko and Xarmant.
Txakoli Gurrutxaga 2009
Bodega Gurrutxaga was founded by Gotzon Urezpi in 1998 after having purchased an old winery and vineyard in the Mendexa region of Bizkaia. With a beautiful landscape facing the sea, Iñigo has been working to restructure the existing vines and plant new vines on surrounding land. They currently have four hectares planted to Hondarribi Zurri, Hondarribi Beltza and Mune Mahatsa. In the next few years they will be planting eight additional hectars in the surrounding hills creating one of the largest single estates in Bizkaia.
Bodega Gurrutxaga’s 2009 Txakoli is made from 60% Hondarribi Zuri, 20% Mune Mahatsa, and 20% Txori Mahatsa fermented in stainless steel. Light gold in color with a nose of sea salt, citrus and floral notes. Loaded with minerality with notes of brine, citrus and pear. Rich and flavorful. While it is acidic and crisp, it has a softness and elegance not always found in a Txakoli. Imported by De Maison Selections. 10.5% alcohol. $18-20 a bottle. Recommended.
Ameztoi Rubentis Txakolina 2009
Just five minutes down the coast from San Sebastian, Ameztoi’s vineyards overlook the Atlantic Ocean. The Ameztoi family has been making txakolina in Getaria for seven generations, utilizing the indigenous Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grapes to craft a light, crisp wine bottled with residual carbon to give it its signature natural spritz. By adjusting the blend to increase the amount of Hondarribi Beltza, the red txakolina grape, Ameztoi has made this rosé txakolina that retains all the freshness of traditional white txakolina.
The wine has a beautiful pink hue with tutti-frutti aromatics with notes of strawberry and raspberry. On the palate, candied red fruit with citrus and a touch of quinine. Tart and slightly sour acidity, light bodied and totally refreshing. I would love to pour this blind and ask people what they were drinking…Imported by De Maison Selections. 10.5% alcohol. $18-20 a bottle. Recommended.