We know Spanish wines…a little bit. Rioja, of course. Priorat for sure. And we’ve dabbled a bit in Sherry from Jerez. But the Basque region? Nowhere on our radar until last summer, when I savored fresh and fizzy glasses of Txakolina (cha’-kō-lee-nah) rosé at two of Boston’s hipster restaurants, Chickadee and Pagu. Txakolina is a slightly sparkling white or rosé wine found only in Spain’s Basque Country. This week I opened a bottle of Txakolina white wine from the region’s largest producer. Again, I was charmed by the slight fizz and bracing acidity. Twice was coincidence. Three times is a trend. So here’s a snapshot of the region I’m belatedly discovering and the wines I heartily recommend to anyone who enjoys a crisp, refreshing and fizzy glass of joy.
Geography and History
Located in northern Spain on the Bay of Biscay, the Basque region spans across the western end of the Pyrenees into France. The 1997 opening of the Guggenheim in Bilbao put the region on the map for Americans, as did ETA, the armed separatist movement founded in Bilbao in 1959. ETA’s violent, six-decade campaign for independence ended in 2018 when the group disbanded.
The Basque region has a unique language and culture distinct from Spain and France. Its wine heritage dates back centuries but modern-day winemaking got a boost in the 90’s with the assignment of three “Denominacions de Origen” [like french DOCs] for Txakolina. The native grapes are the red Hondarribi Beltza and white Hondarribi Zuri. Just 3.5 million bottles are produced each year, with only a small percentage exported to the US.
TXAKOLINA WINES TO BUY
I’ve just begun my deep dive into the Basque region, but I can vouch for the three I’ve tasted, all produced in D.O. Getariako Txakolina.
Ulacia Getariako Txakolina Rosé 2018 – $17.99/bottle
A 50-50 blend of the native Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red) grapes, the wine boasts an unusual flavor combo of citrus and watermelon. Crisp and dry, the Txakolina paired beautifully with the roasted beet salad and semolina gnocchi. Where to buy: Available online at Ancona’s Wine in CT or call Bin Ends in Needham, MA [781-200-4096] to see if they still have a bottle or two.
Txakoli Rezabal Rosé 2017 – $16.00/bottle
Dreamy perfumed nose; clean and crisp on the palate; essence of strawberries. Bright acidity with slight fizz. 100% Hondarrabi Beltza. Where to buy: See above for Bin Ends.
Txomin Etxaniz Getaria 2017 – $24/bottle
This family-owned business dates its legacy back to 1649. Today it’s the largest producer in the D.O. with nearly 100 acres of vines. I would drink this sparkly white charmer as an aperitif or with grilled fish or chicken. Hints of citrus and mineral with light acidity. 90% white grapes, 10% red. Where to buy:This is more widely available than the two rosés; check your local shop or buy at Wine.com.
More: The Times‘ Eric Asimov’s article on the Basque region is a terrific read. It’s from 2010…which shows you how late to the game I am. But I’m catching up now 🙂