Spring has sprung- at least in the baseball universe. Ken Korach’s lulling voice is vibrating through my radio, the A’s have beaten the Giants twice already and I can almost smell the scent of kettle corn that wafts optimistically through the left field bleachers. The sounds and smells of summer are slowly approaching, and with that comes the super light, slightly effervescent little patio pounder, Txakolina.
Txakolina (CHOK-o-leenah) comes from the Basque country, northern Spain near the Bay of Biscay, where the locals drink it like water with everything from boquerones to meat dishes. This low alcohol refresher is consumed all day, largely in the summer, and is poured in small doses from great heights to keep its slight fizz in proper form- sometimes from a pointy bong-looking jobby called a porrón. Almost all Txakolina is white, planted to the hondarribi zuri grape. The rest is made up with the black-skinned hondarribi beltza (zuri means “white,” beltza means “red”). It comes in white, red and rosado and can be slightly fizzy to full on sparkling. It pairs with light, salty seafood and four hour lines for Coco Crisp bobbleheads.
There are three different sub regions in Txakolina- Getariako, Bizkaiko and Arabako. Most of the Txakolina we see comes from Getariako. Getariako is the furthest east, is the smallest and sits right on the Bay of Biscay just a few short miles from the Pyrenees. The wines from this region are generally the fizziest of the three, have a little less acid and have a refreshing, sometimes bitter tone. Bizkaiko Txakolina is a little less fizzy and fuller in body, but still maintains great acidity and salinity. Bizkaiko is also home to a large chunk of the plantings the black-skinned variety, hondarribi beltza. The Arabako region lies further inland from the Bay of Biscay and deals with its fair share of humidity. It’s hard AF for grapes to ripen here, but wines are still fruity, lean and acidic.
And now for the 6th inning, slightly sleepy portion of this post…
For all its fizzy, fun loving simplicity, Txakolina has a some technical intricacies up its sleeve. When on the hunt for Txakolina, you may see the wines labeled Txakolina , Txakolí or even the Castilian, Chacolí. The differences may be geographical, or may solely depend on who’s making the label that day, but they are invariably interchangeable. Hondarribi zuri, the main varietal of the region, may also be spelled a few different ways- each hard to pronounce, each very similar, but each referring to the same varietal. Now Hondarribi zuri, however you want to spell it, is actually not one grape, but a blanket name for three different varieties that are potentially not indigenous to the Basque country, but somehow made their way through the nearby town of Hondarribia (whoa nelly). And finally hondarribi beltza, the red grape of the region, actually shares no DNA with hondarribi zuri. Now breathe, take a gulp of some Txakolina and enjoy the rest of the ballgame.
Ameztoi– Ameztoi was my first Txakolina, and it delivers like the day we met. It comes from Getariako and keeps a little trapped carbon for that slick fizz we know and love. Comes in white, rosado or sparkling rosado. Grab a bottle at Bay Grape in Oakland (drink by Lake Merritt), Arlequin in Hayes Valley, and off and on at Birba!
Gorrondona– Gorrondona hails from the Bizkaiko sub region of Txakolina. The white is still slightly effervescent, and maybe a little fuller bodied than a Getariako. A must try, however, is the Gorrondona Tinto- made from the red hondarribi beltza. It varies from vintage to vintage (as it should) but comes through with savory bell pepper, warm spice and just enough structure. Cool stuff. Found at Arlequin Wine Merchant.
Bengoetxe- Bengoetxe lies in the Getariako sub region, but not directly on the Bay of Biscay. They fought long and hard for their spot in the DO and they deserve it like non other. The weather is a little warmer here, grapes get riper and the wines get a touch more serious. They add very little sulfur and the wine is less frizzante than its neighbors down the hill. In exceptional years they make a wine called Berezia, raised a year on the lees and aged 1 year in bottle- honeyed, salted deliciousness. Found at Flatiron Wines, SF.
As always, these are just a few examples of many. Grab a bottle wherever you see it, knock it back and have a good time.
Blogged at: Casa Magna, Puerto Vallarta
Soundtrack: Poolside Vibes, Ocean waves