Doností, Gipuzkoa. I sat at a very hard to come by table at one of the most frequented Bar de Pintxos in the Casco Viejo, La Cepa. It is a traditional restaurant with all of the ubiquitous trappings of most Pintxos bars in this little corner of the world known as Euskadi. Bullfighting paraphernalia on the walls, Jamón Serrano and Jamón Iberico hang from the ceiling, the counter popping with Pintxos like Pastel de Pescado, Gambas a la Plancha, Txangurro, and Rabo de Toro en Vino. The Barman pours from a great height the local cider a highly acidic and dry version that pairs amazingly well with the local specialties such as Lechón, Txuleta de Cordero and Conejo. This place is wedged in with people, and its Raucous. The cacophony can be heard from any part down Calle 31 de Agosto.
I returned to Doností seeking a gastronomical experience more than anything else, and I got it, but what I really learned the most about was actually quite unexpected; the local wine. La Rioja is nothing more than a short bus ride away from the Shoreline of La Concha beach, but the Txakolí of Getaria took me more by surprise than I could have ever expected. In short it is a wine from the traditional local varieties of Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza(Zuri=white Beltza=black) it is traditionally grown on trellis, and is cultivated in very small quantities in vineyards usually no larger than a Hectare with many under an acre. Current production is right around one million litres. These wines are typically under 12%ABV. Most of the quality producers in my experience are in the Gipuzkoa province in the coastal area known as Getaria.
Basque Wine, Basque Music
Txomin Etxaniz Txakolí 2010 If you’re at all familiar with Txakolí, then by proxy you’ve almost without doubt tried Txomin Etxaniz. This is benchmark Txakolí. Crisp, zingy, lemony juice with all of the structure and acid you could ask for. Back in the day the wines of Etxaniz were stored in large ancient oak casks. Now their wines are exclusively fermented in stainless steel vats. As popular and well-known as this producer has become they have remained very consistent and true to their style. Beyond the flagship Txakolí Etxaniz makes 2 other wines, a sparkler, and a late harvest desert wine. all of them are whites produced from the Hondarrabi Zuri variety, and the Hondarrabi Beltza in varying different percentages. Having had the pleasure of walking around a few of their vineyards around the town of Getaria, Gipuzkoa province, you get a mind-blowing appreciation for how incredibly close these vines are to the Atlantic Ocean. Great acidity, slightly effervescent, and infinitely compatible with any shellfish or Tuna dish, the Etxaniz Txakolí is what Txakolí should taste like.
Ameztoi Rubentis 2010 After having tasted at the least a dozen Rosé Txakolís I can say Ameztoi has probably the best offering. Rubentis is a great wine with aromas of rose-water, raspberry, crushed rock, and wild strawberry. Zippy acidity, a wonderful mineral quality and lively red berry fruit show off an amazingly balanced and complex palate. Also Made from the traditional blend Hondarrabi Zuri and Beltza, the Beltza portion of the wine is made in a style very similar to the French method of Saignée, and then blended with the white. Ameztoi also makes a pretty good sparkling wine using the Hondarrabi varieties as well. This is a very, I repeat very small production winery. I have seen these wines in the U.S. but always in limited quantity. All around a high quality producer. Their white Txakolí is also worth seeking out.
Urki Txakolí de Getaria 2010 Urki is another small-scale operation that make one wine, and they do it very well. This one wine is produced solely from their estate Hondarrabi Zuri. Like most of the high quality producers in Getaria, Urki employs only hand harvesting, and uses exclusively stainless steel vats for fermentation. Everything is done in a temperature controlled state-of-the-art winery. The result is the quintessence of Getariako Txakolina. Zesty and fresh with complexity.
There are two other areas in Euskadi that produce quality Txakolí. Araba(Alava) and Bizkaia(Vizcaya) Both have good quality wines to be explored, Bizkaia especially. Check out Gurrutxaga(great rosé), Uriondo, Gorrondona, and Berroia to name a few. However to really taste and experience Txakolí I believe Getaria is a few steps ahead.
I am still in awe over how fresh, natural, and authentic these wines still are. I hope they stay this way. I hope people discover these wines and appreciate them for what they are, an indigenous variety produced to be the pure expression of its traditional terroir.What endears me most to Txakolí and its wine makers is that although they have embraced technology, they have stayed true to their land, and their grapes. Instead of pandering to the people’s palates and trying to make something that is New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc-like or Napa Chardonnay-like, they stick to what they know. These are real wines. in every sense of the definition.