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09 April 2006

Txacoli, Chacoli

On a recent trip to Seattle, I nabbed two bottles of Basque wine - a red from France and a white from Spain.  The red overwhelmed me with its Tannat-ness.  The white lit a curiosity fuse for Basque wine.

Txacoli (Chacoli in Spanish) is the Basque version of Vinho Verde or Muscadet.  There are three Chacoli denominations (AKA appellations) along the relatively rainy (58 in/yr) Biscay coast:  Chacoli- de Alava (50 hectares of vines), de Bizkaia (120 ha) and de Guetaria (140 ha). These low-alcohol white wines are typically crisp and possesses a charming prickle of petillance, which seems to say, "I'm fresh & zesty."  In fact, this slightly sparkling character is prized by Basque folk.  Traditionally, Txacoli is poured sparingly - an inch or less at a time into small tumblers to preserve the baby bubbles throughout a meal.  Unsurprisingly, this wine is tailor made for all manner of seafood.

Most Txakoli is made from two native grape varieties:  Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza.  H. Zuri is a white grape, which typically dominates the blend.  H. Beltza is a red grape, which serves as the 'secret spice' seasoning in Txakokli wines.  Modern versions of this wine are commonly fermented in stainless steel, and on the lees (i.e. sur lie).  I have only one Txakoli under my belt, and I am already a true believer.

The Skinny
Amestoitxak04_w_2 Ameztoi Txakolina 2004 ($~15)

  • 11% alcohol.  Made from 90% Hondarribi Zuri and 10% Hondarribi Beltza
  • From the Getariako Txakolina D.O.  on Spain's northern coast
  • Light straw yellow in color with noticeable petillance
  • At first sniff, this wine exudes heavy duty 'mineral water' minerality.  As it warms, scents of green apple, fresh pear  and citrus evolve
  • In the mouth, this wine is light-bodied and crisp.  It offers simple flavors paired to a surprisingly complex mouthfeel.  Ameztoi begins as a bracing, dry wine, but finishes with a rich, creamy texture.  Both tasty and interesting

The easy food match with this wine is seafood.  Yet, in my Txacoli ignorance, I stumbled upon an interesting pairing with homemade chicken curry.  The wine's acidity served as a handy palate reset button throughout the meal - It prevented curry fatigue.

I thoroughly enjoyed this wine for its style, history and food-amigo-ness.  If you see a Txakolina, snatch it up, chill it, pour it in a tumbler and enjoy.

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Yeah! It's great to hear a good shout-out for txacoli. I have family in Spain, and have had my fair share of txacoli at tapas bars in the Pais Vasco. What a great, refreshing white. One quick correction, though: Judging from the guys behind the bar in the parte viejo of San Sebastian, the proper way to pour txacoli is to hold the bottle at arm's length over your head and hit the glass with the stream. I was told that this is to aerate the wine. You can always tell an experienced bar tender by the way he doesn't look at the glass; sometimes he'll even hold a separate conversation while executing a perfect pour from three feet away. The noobs always have to look to avoid spilling.

Homer Erectus

Just saw a show on PBS with chef José Andrés. He raved about this wine. Haven't tried it yet, but I'm hot on the search. The way he described it, I'm expecting a lighter, crisper version of an NZ Marlborough. Hope I'm right.

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