During the coronavirus crisis, I have been corresponding with an old friend in Vitoria, capital of the Basque country. She was responsible for first introducing me to tapas, or pintxos as the Basques call them, and to the Basque wine that so often accompanies them. Txakolí, (or Txacolina, or Chacoli in Spanish) pronounced “chaculee”) is a light, very acidic, lively, crisp wine with a light spritz. Bar staff in tapas bars like to show off pouring it from a height into a small glass.
Much of the Basque country is wet, misty and mountainous. Growers struggle to ripen grapes in tiny vineyards scattered around the verdant countryside. Many of the vineyards look out on to the Atlantic coast. For many years the Basques were happy to keep the wine to themselves, and until recently consumers elsewhere didn’t really go for low-alcohol wines, especially if they had an unpronounceable name. That has all changed.
Getaria, the first DO – the mainstay of Spain’s wine quality-control system – for Txakolí, was established in 1989. It has since been joined by Bizkaiko Txakolina and Arabako Txakolina. All three are small areas producing tiny but growing quantities of wine. The main grape varieties also appear in the French Basque country and other parts of southwest France. Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza are the two principal varieties, but there are many others, including Hondarribi Zuri Zerratia (Petit Courbu), Mune Mahatsa (Folle Blanche), Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng, as well as the better-known Riesling and Chardonnay.
There is even some rosé, red and sweet Txacoli made, but the vast majority is white. Three of the four wines featured below fall into the traditional style, light acidic with a bit of CO2 left over from fermentation to give a spritz.
Txakolí has changed for the better in recent years. At a tasting in Spain earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised by how good some of the wines were and look forward to seeing a greater range here in the future. Producers are picking later, working with lower yields, and ageing wines on their lees to give greater complexity.
While Txakolí may have increased in body, it is still a light, invigorating wine, sometimes with an intriguing saline note. The north of Spain has provided us with some of the most exciting white wines over the past decade. Will Txakolí soon join Godello, Albarino, Treixadura and the wines of Catalonia?
While Txacolí goes well with tapas of all kinds, it is best with seafood and shellfish – favourites of the Basques. That crisp acidity is a great foil for deep-fried or oily fish. Pre-Covid some of the more adventurous wine bars here had started serving it by the glass. Hopefully that will all return shortly.
Ameztoi, Txacolí de Getaria 2019 10.5%, €18.95
A spritely, appetising, frizzante wine with vivid pure Granny Smith apple fruits and citrus peel. One to drink with all sorts of Basque pintxos.
Stockists: Bradleys Off-licence, Cork, bradleysofflicence.ie; Le Caveau, Kilkenny, lecaveau.ie; Ernie's, Galway.
Bodegas Astobiza Txakolí 2018 12.5%, €18.99
A seductive lively wine with subtle pears and peaches, underpinned by a zesty acidity. Try it with sashimi, whitebait or salt cod croquetas.
Txomin Etxaniz Getariako Txakollna 2019 11%, €21
Nervy, invigorating, lightly spritzy lemon, grapefruit and pear fruits finishing with a saline flourish. Perfect with a plate of oysters or crisp, deep-fried chipirones.
Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; Baggot Street Wines, Dublin 4, baggotstreetwines.com; The Corkscrew, Dublin 2, thecorkscrew.ie; Green Man Wines, Dublin 6, greenmanwines.ie; Drinkstore, D7, drinkstore.ie; Martin's Off Licence, Dublin 3, martinsofflicence.ie; Power & Co Fine Wines, Lucan, power-wine.com; Redmonds, Dublin 6; redmonds.ie; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; Worldwide Wines, Waterford, worldwidewines.ie.
Vino Atlantico 2018, Buzkaiko Txakolina 13%, €27
A complex, more ambitious wine with real precision. Bright, textured green fruits, good minerality, a herbal note and a long, saline finish. Prawns al pil pil or pan-fried hake with butter and herbs.
Stockists: 64wine, Glasthule, 64wine.com; Café Rua, Westport, caferua.com; Ely Wine Store, Maynooth, elywinebar.ie; Clontarf Wines, D3, clontarfwines.ie; First Draft Coffee & Wine, Dublin 8, firstdraftcoffeandwine.com; Sweeneys D3, sweeneysd3.ie; Storyboard, D8, storyboardcoffee.com; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock, blackrockcellar.com