November 12, 2022
Karin Rockstad, Spanish translator/English editor, WSET Educator, SWS, FWS, Albariño Ambassador, Certified Advanced Cava Educator
Kaixo! Eskerrick asko! Ongi etorria! Hi! Thank you! Welcome! These are just a few words in Euskera that I learned last month in Donostia/San Sebastián. This is Euskadi or the Basque Country in northern Spain. Euskera/Basque is an ancient language with no clear origin. It's its own thing and so are its wines!
I spent a couple of days outside of "Donosti" (San Sebastián), as the locals affectionately call it, in the town of Zarautz. This is a lovely beach town popular with surfers, so if you just want to come for the waves, go for it! And just like in Donosti, there are delicious pinxos to be had all over town. And to wash them all down, of course, you must drink Txakolí.
Most Txakolí (also called Txakolina) is white and made from the Hondarrabi Zuri grape. There is some red, made from Hondarrabi Beltza. Rosé is made but is exported (mainly to the US). I was told by one local that they "just don't drink it."
A good way to see vineyards and visit wineries is actually on foot. From Zarautz there is a seaside promenade that runs 3-4 miles to the fishing village of Getaria. It's mostly flat and you have the beautiful Bay of Biscay right at your fingertips. As you get closer to Getaria, you'll start to see the "mouse," which is like a mountain islet. This is also a decent hike up and then you can refill the tank with fresh fish after all that effort.
I stopped by the office of the local Denomination of Origen (DO Getariako Txakolina) and was told that to go back, I could just loop around the mountainside. It's in this way that you'll pass by Txakolí vineyards and where you can visit several wineries. It's a moderate hike back on a combination of country roads, hills, fields, and some rocky paths. You're up higher here and the views of the sea are breathtaking, even on the cloudy day that I had.
I passed the wineries of Akarregi Txiki, Gaintza, Ulacia, Ameztoi, and Txomin Etxaniz, just walking! None were open for visits, as they were still harvesting or finishing up, but those with bottle shops or restaurants were doing a brisk business. However, these wineries are small (there are just 36 wineries in the DO), so just walking along, you can see them at work.
Vines grow along steep slopes, sometimes terraced, and are trained on parrals (wooden or stone pillars and wires), like in Galicia. This is to keep grapes aerated because of the high amount of rain the region receives.
White Txakolí is very dry and refreshing with green fruit and herbal aromas and flavors with a slightly bitter, saline finish. It has bracing acidity and the residual carbon dioxide creates a slight spritz. You'll often see it poured from a height, like cider, to keep the liveliness. This wine goes great with the fish and seafood that's right out the front door. I love it with just a dish of olives or cheese.
Most wines are fermented in stainless steel and left on their lees for a while, but some are fermented in wood. Txakolí is not meant to age. It's best when it's young and thirst-quenching.
Ameztoi and Txomin Etxaniz are big exporters to the US, but you can also find other producers, so check them out and enjoy! Osasuna! Cheers!