You’ve got to love Spain’s Basque Country. The language is this ancient, pre–Indo European dialect that when written looks like a party full of consonants, hosted by x’s and k’s, with not nearly enough vowels. Bars serve beer, wine and light, fizzy cider that gets poured from a prescribed 30-cm height (that’s close to 12 inches) so it ends up cloudy and bursting with funky, citrusy aromas in the glass. Then, there are the pintxos, which sound like they’re aren’t as good a deal as tapas because you have to pay for them, but can be far more exciting and rarely cost more than 3 euros a pop.
One of the things Basque Country is best known for is the light, fizzy, low-alcohol wine called txakoli (pronounced cha-koh-lee) or txakolina, depending on the label. The wines have been characterized as the ideal summer sippers, but are also perfect for the colder months and holiday time. Gentle effervescence suggests the celebratory vibe of bubbly, low alcohol means you can sip throughout the length of a party without getting sloppy and razor-sharp acidity is a great pairing for a good many finger foods, from hard cheeses to raw oysters to salty, deep-fried bites.
I keep calling the wines “fizzy” because this is the style I like best: dry, mineral to the point of being nearly salty, zesty and laced with tiny, fleeting bubbles (they disappear if you let your txakoli sit out too long – which is why small, frequent pours is how this wine should be served). This fizzy, saline, high-acidity style is best associated with Getaria, the smallest subregion of txakoli-producing Basque Country. The other two regions, Bizkaia and Alava, make a slightly lusher, rounder txakoli. A few wineries even make red txakoli. Even if you know txakoli, chances are you have no idea what it’s made of. The main grape varieties are the difficult-to-pronounce white hondarribi zuri and its red counterpart hondarribi beltza. Here are a few to look out for:
Txomin Etxaniz 2011 Getariako Txakolia ($24)
From the biggest producer comes this quintessential txakoli: crisp, zesty, with an underlying minerality. At the winery, you can taste it with tender house-cured anchovies.
Ulacia 2011 Txakolina Getaria ($18)
Even drier, more saline and with sharper acidity, this austere wine with its fine bubbles is a serious palate cleanser: chalk and lime peel.
Txakoli Uixar 2010 Bizkaia Txakolina ($24)
An unusual txakoli made with 100% hondarribi zerratie, another grape indigenous to the region, it’s fruitier, more floral and all-around fleshier than the first two.
Doniene Gorrondona 2011 Bizkaiko Txakolina ($27)
This red txakoli made from old vines is full of wild aromas. It’s light and fruity, with some spice to it, and might appeal to the adventurous Beaujolais lover.
Xarmant Arabako Txakolina 2011 ($17)
The Alava, the smallest wine designation of origin (D.O.) in Europe, has only seven wineries. This producer’s flagship txakoli is pretty and balanced, dangerously drinkable.
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