Txacoli , Txaco-la, Txaco-ha-ha-ha-ha – pronounced char-koh-lee, it’s the most fun you’ll ever have with wine even before even getting high. The straw colored young wine wafts miniature pinprick bubbles that pries open the tastebuds. Coupled high acidity, an apple tang and floral hints, it’s addictive.
The party starts with the way it’s poured. In Basque country the bottle is held aloft and and glass three feet below, in a thin golden stream, ostensibly to release its unique, light effervescence. The showier the barman, the greater the pouring height. Not as easy as it looks, but they manage minimum spillage with flair and a big grin.
You can’t help expecting something incredible with all the drama, and you won’t be disappointed. It’s is a perfect accompaniment for the local cuisine oily anchovies, salty jamons and heavy, fatty cheeses in pinxtos, for me even more so that Riojas or the slightly bitter local ciders.
A big plus to txakoli is its low alcohol content allows you to down copious amounts. It’s a great social lubricant. It also goes flat in 15 minutes, more reason to gulp it down. The young wine (aged several months to a year) must be served chilled and contains 9.5% to 11% alcohol. White txacoli is the most common, although rose and red are gaining in popularity. White txacoli is made with Ondarrabi Zuri (white) grapes, which constitute 95% of all grapes grown in Basque country. Txacoli vineyards hover at the edge of Basque region’s Atlantic coast, so close the sea mists waft over in the mornings. The rarer Ondarrabi Beltza (black) grapes are also used to make a minute amount of red or rose txacoli. Fully ripened grapes are harvested from late September to early October, to attain the desired sugar/acidity balance.
Originating in the 16th century, Txakoli almost didn’t make it to the modern era. Produced at local farmhouses for family consumption, txakoli-making as a rustic occupation began to wane in the 1800s, almost to the point of disappearing in the 1990s. Fortunately, a group of txakoli fans applied for the prestigious Spanish certification Denominación de Origen or D.O., which revived, improved and expanded production. Txakoli was traditionally fermented in large oak barrels called foudres but now is mostly made in stainless steel vats. It’s still considered a rustic wine but has shed a reputation for low quality and headache-inducement. There are now three D.O certified txakoli varieties – Getariako Txakolina, Bizkaiko Txakolina and Arabako Txakolina – based on the coastal Basque provinces of Gipuzkoa, Biscay and Alava. Several varietals are used to make the wine, by far the most common the Ondarribi Zuri and Ondarribi Belza grapes.
Top of the four selections suggested by Sarah Jane Evans of Decanter –
Astobiza, Malkoa, Txakolí, Txakolí de Alava, Spain, 2015
Goianea, Uno, Txakolí, Txakolí de Alava, Spain, 2015
Itsasmendi, 7, Txakolí, Txakolí de Bizkaia, Spain, 2014
Doniene Gorrondona, Doniene Barrel Fermented, Txakolí, 2015
Txacoli Vineyard Txomin Etxaniz
After so much loving on txacoli, it made sense to visit a vineyard through a private tour with Basque Cooltours to family run Txomin Etxaniz in the Getaria region, southwest of San Sebastian city. I thought the hilly Douro Valley was gorgeous but this stunning 60-hectare vineyard takes the cake. It hugs the coast, smack dab in the cradle of txakoli wine, with views of the wild Atlantic Ocean and fishing boats chugging in the morning mists. This creates ideal conditions – shallow chalky soil with goody proportion of clay and microclimate shielded from winds while enjoying both sun and misty rains. The Extaniz family has been in the business for 450 years, and with over 80 acres of tis sprawling estate dedicated to Ondarrabi white and red grapes, owns the largest estate for Getaria Txacolina appellation. The ancient and rustic grapes are grown in canopies, along with other varietals for rose, a tough and pricey system due to regula pruning Sep thru March. The grapes which cluster in the middle of the vines, cost more to harvest.
Harvested by hand in late September to early October when the temperatures hit 20-23C and the grapes yellow, they are processed by means of white vinification, pneumatic pressing in an inert atmosphere, fermentation at controlled temperature and maintenance-aging on lees.
Txacoli is a quickie wine not just to drink. It’s quick pressed in only 1.5 hours and once removed of sediment, yeast is added to the juice for 20-40 days’ fermentation. Then after the yeast is killed off at lower temperatures, the tanks are sealed to preserve those celebrated mini bubbles. CO2 is added when the wine is bottled, and the bottles rest for 15 days. Then – lucky us!- its ready to drink.