Basque country wines

by Neil Morris

campo de borja

Despite the fame and reputation of Basque country cuisine; wine from the region is relatively unknown. The are a few explanations for this fact; firstly, the Basque people are quite happy to keep their wine to themselves; secondly, the wine has a very unique style and character that does not comply with commercial stereotypes; and finally, it is not considered to be very good by many people outside of the region.

Recently, however, things have started to change for this deeply misunderstood wine region and certain wine importers - particularly in the USA - have started to take an interest in the quiet revolution taking place in the txakoli denominaciones de origen; in fact, they are in danger of developing a cult following.

Txakoli wines are light, fruity and sometimes sparkling wines of relatively low alcohol content that are usually paired with seafood; they are fairly acidic and are best consumed when young. The Basques have been enjoying their wine this way for centuries but since the late 1980's they have been employing more modern techniques in order to improve the overall quality and consistency of the wine. Their are three DO's making txakoli; Getariako, Bizkaiko and Aranako with the most commonly used grape variety being Hondarribi Zuria (white Hondarribia).

If you want to try these fascinating wines for yourselves you may have to pay a visit to the Basque country as availability is still scarce outside of the region. However, if you are lucky you may be able to find one of the few merchants who has managed to prize some of the best quality txakoli away from the locals.

If red wine is more your style then a short trip to the southern province of Alavesa will take you into Rioja country. The Rioja wine region is split into three regions, one of which happens to be in the Basque country. The vineyards of Rioja Alavesa are sheltered by the Cantabrian mountains and enjoy a different climate and soil condition to the other Rioja regions of Baja and Alta; this results in a wine that displays its own unique character. Tempranillo is the most popular grape variety and accounts for around 80% of all vines grown.

Red table wine is also used in the popular drink kalimotxo where it mixed 50/50 with cola and occasionally with a shot of liqueur or lime. This is certainly one of the more unusual Basque country recipes and most wine connoisseurs will shake their heads in horror at the mere idea of mixing wine with cola but it really does work well. I was first introduced to this drink by a friend from Venezuela (Hi Dilcia!) - where it is also popular - and initially I was sceptical but I soon learnt to appreciate its unique qualities. It is a great way to drink cheap table wine on a night out and also acts as a stimulant due to the caffeine and sugar content of the cola.

Denominaciónes de Origen

bizkaiko-txakolina
arabako txakolina
getariako txakolina
rioja alavesa

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