Txakoli region

Txakoli

Gorka Izagirre
Txispaz

Three regions X three grapes = white wine happiness. Txakolina is three geographically related but distinct wine regions. They are all extremely cool, wet climates and are heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. Two are centered around coastal cities, Bilbao and San Sebastian and one is a dramatic river valley, 45 kilometers south (inland) of Bilbao. Txakoli is most often a high acid, still white wine. It is sometimes produced with Chimparta (frizzante, spritzig or gas). It is much less than sometimes made into Rosado (and quite possibly illegally so with red grapes from elsewhere in Spain as Txakoli Rosado production greatly exceeds vineyard capacity, we are told) and it is almost never red wine but there is trickle of red wine, too.

When the Master Sommeliers ask you to identify THE white grape varietal in Txakolina on your next test – it’s a trick question. There are actually three primary white cultivars; Corbeau Blanc/Petit Corbeau, Crouchen and an American hybrid called Noah developed in Illinois in 1873. Yes, the land of Lincoln. They are all erroneously called Hondarabbi Zuri (literally: ‘white grape’) and the Consejo Regulador of D.O. Txakoli officially recognizes all three as Hondarabbi Zuri, although everyone good works with Corbeau. Hondarrabbi Beltza, on the other hand, is a legitimate, indigenous, unique grape variety that is red, exceptionally rare and often inter-planted and confused with Cabernet Franc (which is technically not part of the D.O.) Traditionally, farmers and fisherman in these villages made field blends, most of which were Rosado (Rose) but in the 1980’s a wave of professional winemakers emerged and the first Txakoli D.O. was established in 1989. The three geographic regions each have three names. One in Euskadi (Basque), a second in Spanish and just for good measure, an Anglicized version – this is the Bay of Biscay, after all.

D.O. Getariako Txakolina

Chacolí de Guetaria or Txakoli de Getaria

est.1989

  • oldest and most traditional region, the heart and soul of txakoli
  • chimparta (bubbles)!
  • tall green bottles, old school labels
  • closest to the ocean

This is the area near San Sebastian. Getariako was the first Txakoli D.O. and remains the most famous and if anything invented in the 1980’s can actually be called ‘traditional’, Getariako is ‘traditional’. Getariako always comes in tall green bottles with old school labels, Chimparta (bubbles) always when young and almost always ‘Hondarabbi Zuri’. The vineyards are generally closer to the ocean than in the other Txakoli regions and are almost always trellised on the windward side (facing the ocean) of the hill, while the leeward or backside of the hills are almost always trained on Pergola systems, due to the wet climate.

Amats

Amats (pronounced ‘ah MAH tch’) is ‘traditionally’ produced, balanced and humble but with exceptional character. ‘Farmer Fizz’ is not exactly an original[1] moniker, but is is the perfect description for Amats. Amats is the hayride you took with your girlfriend the fall of your junior year in high school under that harvest moon when the world was a less complicated place and true joy could be found in the purity of the simplest things[2].

D.O. Bizkaiko Txakolina

Chacolí de Vizcaya or Txakoli Biscay

est.1994

  • experimental, inventive, forward thinking region[3]
  • no chimparta (bubbles)
  • cutting edge packaging
  • urbane, sophisticated, worldly approach to winemaking

Bizkaiko is the area surrounding Bilbao. Think of a more delicate and slightly less refined Gruner Veltliner. Bizkaiko producers are likely to experiment with other grape varieties but have routinely chosen Hondarabbi Zerratia (Petit Corbeau) over plain old Corbeau and one sees innovative production methods and all sorts of modern equipment in the wineries. There is more Beltza planted. Bizkaiko stands on the world stage with more polished winemaking, as world class, high acid, cool climate white wines that generally have no Chimparta (bubbles). Ultra modern packaging, screw caps, unique bottle shapes are hallmarks of Bizkaiko.

Gorka Izagirre

The picture on the left is the Michelin 3 star, Azurmendi restaurant, owned by Izagirre and next door to the winery. G22 is the greatest Txakoli made and that’s what two different other Txakoli producers told us. At the far right is the really badass strip label for the ‘regular’ Txakoli that will make most of you weep with joy. And then there’s Bertol. He won’t admit that he is standing next to a panel that monitors the secret under ground nuclear power plant… but we knew. Not only did they build a technological marvel of a winery, they want to elevate the region, so they lease space out and act as a custom crush facility for several producers that would never be able to even dream of having that type of equipment at their disposal. This is community conscious, locally proud, world-class white wine. The only better white wines we know of say things like ‘Heiligenstein’, ‘Graacher’ or ‘Sommerberg’ on the label and we suspect those do not use Petite Corbeau.

D.O. Arabako Txakolina

Chacolí de Alava or Txakoli d’Alava

est. 2001

  • small, idyllic mountain valley,
  • smallest production and rarest of of the 3 txakoli regions
  • chimparta (bubbles) de-emphasized

In the stunning Nervion River Valley or Arrastaria Valley, 45 kilometers south of Bilbao there is lush, mountainous landscape and precision and complexity in the wines. There is a calm rural, pastoral rhythm about Arabako, not found in hustle and bustle suburbs of Bilbao (Bizkaiako) and or the hard working fishing villages near San Sebastian (Getariako). Here there is Petit and Gros Manseng along side the Hondarabbi Zuri menagerie of grapes in alluvial, riverbed soils. Although surrounded almost 360 degrees by mountains, the Nervion River creates a seaward opening to the north and the climate is heavily moderated by the Atlantic, 45 kilometers north. If you listen carefully, you can hear Julie Andrews singing[4].

[1] Yet another brilliant term coined by Terry Theise.

[2] I wonder what she is up to?

[3] I’d say ‘progressive’ but it’s almost an election year and that is one very fugly word

[4] If you get that reference, you probably don’t hear so well anymore, so maybe not…