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Ep 384: Txakolina --The Wine of Basque Country

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 07/28/2021

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The Basque Country in northeastern Spain lies on the Bay of Biscay and abuts the Pyrenees Mountains, a mere 18 mi/30 km from the French border. Until about a decade ago, this area was relatively unknown as a wine region. But with the rise of Basque cuisine, an increased interest from wine buyers in native varietals, and a thirst for lighter wines, Txakolina (chock-o-LEEN-ah), a white, high acid, spritz wine started to gain ground. In this show, we discuss this historic region and its wine traditions.

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The Basque Country in northeastern Spain lies on the Bay of Biscay and abuts the Pyrenees Mountains, a mere 18 mi/30 km from the French border. Until about a decade ago, this area was relatively unknown as a wine region. But with the rise of Basque cuisine, an increased interest from wine buyers in native varietals, and a desire for lower alcohol, thirst-quenching wines, Txakolina (chock-o-LEEN-ah), a white, high acid, spritzy wine started to get attention. The phenom started in places all over the United States (which boasts a Basque population of more than 50,000 people), then the UK and Japan, now small quantities of wine find their way to  many other countries around the world.


Map of Basque Country: Vineyards.com

In this show, we discuss this historic region, with its own language, culture, and wine traditions. We talk about how the modern wine industry was renewed, and what you can expect from these delicious, refreshing (mainly white) wines. If you haven’t had these wines or heard of them, this should will give you a good foundation to learn about them and appreciate all that it took for them to make it to your table!

 

Here the show notes:

  • We give an overview of the Basque region (Euskadi), and the language of Euskera, one of the oldest spoken languages with no link to any other known language
    • We discuss the quirky naming convention of the wine of this area, the original name of called txakolin and the meaning of txakolina  "the txakolin" – a term was used from middle of the 18th century onwards and how Txakoli was a misspelling used after 1985. (Source: Wikipedia, originally from the Academy of Basque Language)
    • The wine is called chacolí in Spanish

  • We spend time on the history of Basque country, with a focus on the independent spirit of the Basque people. We discuss the political discord in the region, especially the difficulties with the Basque Separatist Movement. We tie in wine—discussing the importance of the rise of Michelin-starred chefs in the Basque region, the interest of importers like Jorge Ordoñez who imported cases of Txomin Etxaniz to the US in the early 1990s, and how sommeliers and others had growing interest in native grapes

Photo: Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in Basque Country

  • Location: We review where Basque Country is…
    • Northern Basque Country: The French part in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of France
    • Southern Basque Country/El País Vasco of Spain, Basque Autonomous Community: including Álava, Biscay, and Gipuzkoa
    • Other areas that make Chacolí (I’m spelling it this way because they are Spanish areas) are Cantabria and Burgos

 

  • Land and climate: We mention features like the Cantabrian Mountains, vineyards near the coast surrounding Bilbao, and vineyards toward the Ebro Valley and Rioja. Vineyards are terraced and on hillsides, some quite steep. We talk about the wet Atlantic climate of the reigon and its effect on the grapes.

Photo: Bodega Doniene Gorrondona

 

  • Vineyard and winemaking. We discuss the parras – the high pergolas that help keep the airflow through the canopy. We talk about the mainly modern winemaking facilities and methods, but how some of the producers are working with longer lees aging, aging in wood and concrete, and blending. We explore the technique of making the wine under a blanket of nitrogen to ensure spritz in your glass and how it is pour from shoulder height to enhance the fizz in the glass.

 

Txakolina Vineyard Photo: Josu Goñi Etxabe, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Finally, we discuss the Denominaciones de Origen:

Getariako Txakolina or Txakoli de Getaria, (Chacolí de Guetaria -Spanish), is the most important, oldest, and most prolific DO, yet the smallest geographically. The wines are softer and riper, with less bitterness and great acidity. They nearly always have spritz.

 

Bizkaiko Txakolina or Txakoli de Bizkaia  - (Spanish is Chacolí de Vizcaya), got its DO in 1994. It is mostly small tracts of land around Bilbao, overlooking the Bay of Biscay. These wines are more herbaceous than other regions and can be less fizzy, fuller, rounder and more textured.

 

Arabako Txakolina or Txakoli de Álava, achieved DO status in 2001, making it the youngest DO. This area is inland, south of Bilbao. In the south of this province, you'll find Rioja Alavesa. The north makes acidic, dry, fruity, low alcohol wines. These wines are often blended -- Hondarrabi Zuri, Gross Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Corbu are commonly mixed together.

 

Producers we mention:

Getariako:

  • Txomin Etxaniz: Largest winery in the Getaria region, makes 18% of the region’s output
  • Ameztoi
  • Gaintza

 

Bizkaiko

  • Doniene Gorrondona
  • Bodegas Itsasmendi

Photo: Bodegas Itsasmendi

Arabako

  • Bat Gara

*Outro Snippet from the Song "Mr. Dobalina" is by Del the Funky Homo Sapien, (c)1991 from the "I Wish My Brother George Was Here", Elektra Records. 

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