The Wines of Txacolí - Basque country
We continue our articles on different Spanish wine regions. If the last region we covered was Priorat, near Barcelona, on this occasion we go north, near the French border, to discover the txacoli wines.
can only think about a few examples where the landscape defines the character and personality of the wine in such a way as Txacolí wines. Even though there are red and rosé wines coming out of this region, in this article we will dedicate ourselves to the white wines from Txacolí.
Before talking about these wines it is well deserved to pause and revisit the consumption habits in the Basque Country, the birthplace of Txacolí. It is here (and roughly the rest of Northern Spain) where we find the highest wine consumption in the country. The traditional habit of going out for drinks and food is locally known as chateo, an expression that refers to the chatos (“flat” in English), the type of short glasses where they serve the wine, accompanied by some pintxos (as the Basques refer to their tapas).
Wine from Rioja was and still is the predominant type of wine in bars and restaurants in the Basque Country. The Txacolí is understood as a very fresh white wine, with a peculiar high acidity, low alcoholic graduation, and in some cases, somewhat aromatic.
What is the grape varietal used to make Txacolí? It is the Hondarribi-zuri, which gets its name from the village of Hondarribi, or Fuenterrabía, located East of San Sebastian, right at the border with France and with a large and rich history behind it.
This type of grape is perfectly adapted to the humid conditions and the moderate temperatures of the production zones in the region. Vineyards are planted on the terrain below 1.300 feet above sea level.
There is an initial time of expansion in the Txacolí history when at the end of the 19th century the chacolines emerged. They were popular taverns with very limited menus, much like the cider bars, but serving mainly cod and cuttlefish paired with the Txacolí wines. This kind of popular consumption required for bigger venues. Later on, the 20th century was witness not only to the Txacolí origin but also to the rest of wine production in Spain (and other countries) within an expansive model centered on industrial efficiency.
This takes us to the second boom of Txacolí, which is the one we currently live in. This is a much more terroir-centered, fruit-forward model. We are not facing an isolated case here. This is a phenomenon we keep observing in several wine producers from all regions, along with other agricultural products. It is true though that the impressive rise of the high-end gastronomical scene in the Basque Country has been a catalyst to finding the right quality guidelines, no longer targeting the chateo, but aiming to be embedded in the fancy white-cloth restaurants conducted by reputable chefs.
This shift in wine was not possible without a change in the philosophy behind winemaking. In this way, Txacolí wines foster their reorientation on a group of pillars that define and give a new meaning to their character.
- Acidity. The reputation of harsh wines that the more popular Txacolí had, now revolves around the mindful management of acidity by the winemaker, trying to hone it to create fresh but elegant wines. Reorientation of vineyards to face south has also assisted this objective, allowing a more thorough ripeness in the grapes.
- Extricate themselves from the cider concept. The popular notion of Txacolí has been related to natural cider in the way it is poured, from an extended-arm height, a custom called escanciar. This method brings out the carbonic and gets a crispier feeling in the palate. Currently, winemakers are not looking for residual carbonic in their wines, but clear and bright, clarified end products instead.
- Winemaking. Regarding this area, we can talk about different elements during the vinification process that contribute to a full range of options while making wine. Some wineries choose to ferment on their fine lees to gain some complexity. Not limited to that technique, there are other wine estates that delay the harvest dates hoping to increase the sugar concentration on the grapes, aiming for higher concentration. Others will go through very controlled barrel aging, trying to give their wines more complexity without losing that Atlantic character of Txacolí.
This change in the winemaking philosophy is shared by the different sub regions in the designation of origin (D.O.).
Txacolí de Bizcaia brings together 57 wine estates which produce wine in very modest volumes. Txacolí de Getaria , in the Getaria and Zarauz area, spreads out also until Fuenterrabía, past San Sebastian to the East. The number of wineries under its belt is fewer (24), but their production is bigger than Bizcaia. And lastly, there is the Txacolí de Álava, the smallest and least known of the three, with just 7 member wineries surrounding the village of Ayala.
We encourage you to try Txacolí wines from small wine estates and discover their nuances. In some of the tours from San Sebastian you will be able to enjoy local txacoli wines. We are sure they will surprise you, especially when introduced on a white wines bind tasting.