This white wine comes from the Basque country, a mountainous, rainy, windswept region that straddles the Atlantic Ocean and the border between France and Spain. The people of the Basque country are proud of their sports (they invented the “fastest sport in the world,” jai-lai), their ridiculously difficult and strange language (completely unrelated to Spanish), and especially their food and wine, dominated most notably by the ornate pintxos that tend to feature lots of locally-caught seafood such as shrimp, oysters, and buttery white fish called merluza.
While Spanish staples such as jamon serrano and chorizo are found in Basque kitchens, the region’s culinary focus on seafood, not to mention plenty of creamy cheeses produced by the hardy mountain goats and sheep here, makes this(usually white but occasionally red), barely-bubbly dry wine a natural pairing choice.
Everything about this wine is typically Basque: its grapes are grown on steeply terraced, chalky mountainside vineyards. The grape thrives in the rain, not to mention the cold – the Atlantic coast of the Basque Country averages between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and up to five feet of precipitation per year, not to mention the occasional frost.
Even the way that it is poured in bars in the Basque cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian is unique; an aerator is inserted into the top of the bottle, then the bartender slowly drips Txakoli from a height of a foot or two into wide-bottomed tumblers – no traditional wine glasses here – with a significant amount of wine failing to reach the glass at all and instead splattering on the bar. It’s a luxury they can afford, since even quality Txakoli wine hardly costs more than $5 or $6 in a local supermarket.
Traditionally, Txakoli was fermented in oak casks, although today most varieties of this wine are fermented in stainless steel vats. It is a young wine, meant to be consumed within a year of making.
While it has a mostly home-brew origin, the semi-autonomous Basque government gave it an official certification of origin in 2010, raising its profile, prestige, and hence availability on the world market. There are three types of Txakoli wine: Getaria, Biscay, and Alava, each one corresponding to a different region within the Basque country, with the Getaria variety being the most common.
If you are lucky enough to get your hand on a bottle of Txakoli, serve it chilled alongside fresh seafood such as oysters on the half shell or scallops with butter. For an extra authentic bit of flair, try pouring it high like the Basques do! Then raise yourself a glass and enjoy an authentic taste of the Basque country.