Welcome to our intimate journey into the world of Txakoli wine, a hidden gem from the Basque Country that fuses heritage, innovation, and the dynamic spirit of its land of origin. Uncover the secrets of this wine’s creation as you traverse sun-drenched vineyards, from the nurturing hands tending the vines to the stories told in each savoured sip. Embrace the heart of the Basque country and culture encapsulated in every bottle and every glass and get ready to toast to this enriching journey. This comprehensive guide is designed for you, the passionate wine explorer, to delve into the intriguing realm of Txakoli.
What is Txakoli wine?
Txakoli is a white wine from the Basque Country. 30 years ago txakilos were considered unattractive drinks with an uncontrolled acidity, but nowadays is a big ambassador in the culinary industry. It has evolved to a sophisticated white wine with an irresistibly delicious taste that delights even demanding customers. A tour of the wines from Aia, Zarautz Hondarribia and Getaria in the region of Gapuzkoa that produces most of the wines reveals the secrets of the young and fruity wines. The tour includes another delightfully beautiful view of coastal scenery anticipating the pleasure of the txakoli which you could taste immediately upon entering.
What is the difference between Txakoli and Txakolina?
The Basque word “Txakolina” can be translated into English as “the Txakoli.” You will see “Txakolina” in the Basque Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) names “Bizkaiko Txakolina,” “Getariako Txakolina,” and “Arabako Txakolina.” In these names, the “ko” ending indicates the basque genitive case, which is similar to the use of the apostrophe “s” in English.
The genitive case is used in Basque to indicate possession or relationship. In the case of the PDO names, the “ko” ending indicates that the wine is produced from the region that is named.
For example, “Bizkaiko Txakolina” literally means “the Txakoli of Bizkaia.” This indicates that the wine is produced in the Bizkaia region of the Basque Country.
Is Txakoli a grape?
No, Txakoli isn’t a grape but a style of wine. The primary grapes used in its production are Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza, indigenous to the Basque Country, which bring their unique character to these spirited wines.
The roots of Txakoli wine
The Basque people have produced grapes since the earliest settlers spoke béqueque. The winemaking culture in the region dates from the Roman period and the particular takoli was made from around the 15th century according to the documents found within Hondarribia. Until around 400 years ago txakoli remained as an easy farmer’s and fisherman’s wine and was often drunk in low-cost casesro, or fermented in worker’s lodging. In the 1990s it only became possible that the first txakoli – D.O. Getariako Txkolina – was developed, helping bring this ancient brew to the forefront of the wine industry.
The phenomenon began to emerge with the turn of the millennium. About 20 years ago, a new generation of winemakers with fresh ideas emerged. Famous professionals gathered sophisticated vine trimmers, precision vine cultivation, knowledge of soil conditions, climatic characteristics, increased aging with lees and many experiments that have resulted in a new wine category. The producers used their skill set in understanding the potential of native varieties and importing foreign varieties. It worked.
Far from that unfortunate memory, in February 2021, Decanter magazine — one of the most influential wine publications — included Malkoa from Bodega Astobiza, among the best white wines in Spain. Two years prior, 42 by Eneko Atxa, from Gorka Izagirre winery, was selected as the world’s best white wine at the Brussels World Wine Competition.
D.O. Txakolina: Trio of appellations
There are three Txakoli appellations within the 3 Basque provinces. The first to be established is DO Getariako Txakolina in 1989. About 90% of the grape varieties are located very close to the Cantabrian Sea (named the Bay of Biscay too) and often planted in extremely lovely steep slopes (15% to 2’0%). Currently around 600ha are being planted, mainly of Hondarrabi Zuri variety. Getariaka Txakolina wines have higher pH than those of both the other appellations, often accompanied by an added pronounced saltiness and an acid. The memory of oceans is hidden in the vine.
1. Txakoli from Getaria: DO Getariako Txakolina
Vineyards are in a little region in Gipuzkosa around the towns of Getaria, Zarautz, and Aia. Wines are pale yellow to green. This was the first varieties of Txakoli to receive the DO certification on November 29th 1989. The cultivation area has increased from 62ha to 177ha since certification. Around 900k liters (280,000 U g) annually are manufactured here mainly on south-east slopes for the protection of the vines against the harsh Atlantic climate.
Why is Txakoli effervescent?
Because of Carbon Dioxide Addition (only in Getaria only): One of the distinctive features of Getariako Txakolina is the slight effervescence that the wine exhibits. The effervescence is achieved through the alcoholic fermentation process, where carbon dioxide (CO2) is produced and trapped in the wine. This creates the characteristic slight fizziness or effervescence that is a hallmark of Getaria txakoli.
Pouting txakoli from the height?
In Spanish there is a specific word: “escanciar“. It is not just a matter of tradition; it has some practical reasons as well. But remember we only keep doing it for the txakolis from Getaria, those that are fizzy.
Pouring the wine from a height allows it to come into contact with the air as it splashes into the glass or into the traditional porrón (a glass pitcher with a spout). This aeration can enhance the wine’s aromas and flavors, particularly in young and slightly effervescent wines like txakoli. It helps release volatile compounds, making the wine more aromatic.
It’s often done in a lively and theatrical way, creating a sense of celebration and fun during gatherings and meals.
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2. Txakoli from Biscay: DO Bizkaiko Txakolina
The Txakoli from Biscay was the second txakoli to receive the certification in 1994. It has approximately 150 ha and produces approximately 700,000 litres (180,000 US gal) of txakoli annually from 85 villages across Biscay. Records of winemaking in this area start in the eighth century and references to txakoli date back several hundred years. Bizcaya’s Txakoli is more complex, vineyards are now facing south to allow grapes reach full ripeness. With alcohol levels reaching up to 12%, and it lacks bubbles, making it a high-quality white wine. It’s capable of competing with the finest Rieslings from the French Alsace region.
3. Txakoli from Alava: DO Arabako Txakolina
In recent decades, the Ayala Valley revived an age-old vine-growing tradition dating back centuries, with records of vineyards in Artziniega as far back as 864. Though once widespread, viticulture nearly vanished in the last century, with only 5 hectares of vineyards remaining. Today, thanks primarily to the DO Txakolí de Álava, wine production in Álava is experiencing a renaissance. Arabako Txakolina is the most recent and smallest (it gained the certification in 2001), encompassing only five villages from the Ayala Valley: Aiara, Artziniega, Amurrio, Llodio, and Okondo, currently hosting eight wineries.
Following the innovative drive of the Bizkaiko Txakolina Designation of Origin, this sector has evolved over the course of the past 25 years to the point where it now produces a sophisticated and widely recognized wine.
Terroir and Grapes of Txakolina wine
The Basque Country is the proud birthplace of Txakoli wine, a land deeply intertwined with its production. A region of lush green hillsides, winding rivers, and picturesque coastline – it offers a unique climate that gives rise to vibrant fruits and fragrant herbs. Actually there less than 1,000 hectares if planted vineyards within the three designations.
Most txakoli (90%) are manufactured from indigenous hondarribi grape varieties. This is genetically identical to the Courbu grape, found in Jurançon in South-West France, where they often blend Courbu (also named Petite Courbu) and Gros or Petit Manseng. Some experts have suggested that “Homodrarbi Zuri” indicates a family of species and not just an individual variety of plants and flowers. Meanwhile, ampelography expert Jose Voullamoz says there are two other grapes named Hondarrabi Zuri in the Basque country: Crouchen and Noah.
Things can get complicated, but nowadays the grapes used for Txakoli are primarily the local Hondarrabi Zuri (white) and Hondarrabi Beltza (red) varieties. In 2021, the Regulatory Council approved the inclusion of other varieties: pinot noir and berdexarie (cabernet franc) as authorized red grape varieties without limitations. The authorized white grape varieties with limitations are mune mahatsa (folle blanche), izkiriota (gros manseng), izkiriota ttipia (petit manseng), sauvignon blanc, riesling, and chardonnay.
Vinification process of Txakoli wine
Txakoli is a white wine. Therefore, the grapes are harvested and crushed, and the juice is fermented with native yeasts. The wine is then aged for a short period of time, typically 6-12 months, in stainless steel tanks, and are bottled young to retain their fresh and vibrant character.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend towards producing more complex and age-worthy Txakoli wines. Winemakers are experimenting with different grape varieties, fermentation methods, and aging techniques to create wines with greater depth, structure, and complexity. While the traditional young and fresh style of Txakoli remains popular, there are now also Txakoli wines that undergo extended lees aging, barrel fermentation, and other winemaking practices that contribute to a more intricate flavor profile and aging potential. This evolution in winemaking has expanded the range of options available to consumers looking for different expressions of Txakoli wines.
Are there other types of Txakoli?
Yes, Txakoli, predominantly known as a white wine, also offers delightful variations including rosé, red txakoli, and sparkling, each with its unique character, taste and charm.
Main characteristics & Tasting Notes of Txakoli wine
We uncover its main characteristics and provide detailed tasting notes, inviting you on a sensory journey through this unique Basque gem.
1. Tasting Notes of Txakoli Wine
Txakoli wine embarks on an enticing sensory adventure, defying the conventions of its appellation. Its color han range from pale to straw yellow. For the youngest txakolis, the first sip awakens the palate with lively acidity, evoking a thirst for more. Prominent flavors of green apple, grapefruit, and lime dance on the taste buds, occasionally mingling with subtle pineapple undertones. These fruity notes harmonize beautifully with the wine’s pronounced acidity and underlying saline nuances, paying homage to its coastal heritage. A delicate effervescence contributes a playful element to the overall tasting experience.
But txakoli wines can offer complexity and depth, revealing intricate layers of flavor and aroma that captivate the discerning palate.
2. Alcohol Level of Txakoli Wine
One distinct characteristic of Txakoli is its low alcohol content, typically ranging from 9.5% to 11.5%. This lower level is attributed to the cooler climate and limited sun exposure of the Basque Country, which results in grapes with less sugar, and subsequently less alcohol during fermentation. This attribute not only makes Txakoli a lighter, more sessionable wine, but also contributes to its crisp, refreshing character, making it an excellent choice for those seeking a less potent wine that does not compromise on flavor.
3. The Texture and Body of Txakoli Wine
Despite its primary reputation as a light and crisp wine, Txakoli can demonstrate some variations depending on the terroir.
In general, Txakoli wines from Getaria are slightly spritzy with a pronounced acidity and a lean body, embodying that crisp characteristic commonly associated with Txakoli. However, wines from Bizkaia and Arabako can sometimes exhibit a bit more body and roundness, due to variations in local soil, climate, and vinification techniques.
Furthermore, certain producers have been experimenting with different fermentation methods and oak-ageing, which can lead to a fuller body and more complex flavors, offering a different take on the traditional Txakoli profile. While these are not the norm for most txakoli made, they demonstrate the versatility of the hondarribi zuri and beltza grapes, and the continuous innovation in the Basque winemaking tradition. Despite these variations, Txakoli wines tend to stay on the lighter side, maintaining their distinctive crisp and vibrant character.
Discover 9 Exceptional Txakoli Wineries
Among the best producers we can mention:
- Txomin Etxaniz (Getariako Txakolina): is unique among txakoli producers for its commitment to innovation and its focus on quality. The winery was one of the first to produce sparkling txakoli, and it is also one of the few producers to make late-harvest txakoli. Txomin Etxaniz wines are known for their bright acidity, fresh fruit flavors, and elegant balance.
- Doniene Gorrondona (Bizkaiko Txakolina): Doniene Gorrondona is a pioneer in the production of red txakoli and artisanal sparkling wines in the Basque Country. Its location in a historic Basque farmhouse, the utilization of concrete tanks for fermentation, and their dedication to organic and biodynamic viticulture practices, showcase a holistic approach to winemaking deeply rooted in the local terroir and tradition.
- Bodega K5 (Getariako Txakolina): K5 Txakoli is a pioneer in aging txakoli on its lees for 11 months, giving it a more complex flavor and structure. Led by famous chef Karlos Arguiñano’s daughter Amaia Arguñano, K5 Txakoli is a personal project that produces high-quality txakoli wines in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.
- Astobiza (Arabako Txakolina): Astobiza winery is a member of Grandes Pagos de España, an association of elite wineries dedicated to producing wines of the highest quality from exceptional vineyards. This membership is a testament to Astobiza’s commitment to their philosophy of sustainability, tradition, and creativity.
- Gorka Izagirre (Bizkaiko Txakolina): this is the winery of Eneko Atxa’s family, sits at the foothills of the renowned 3-Michelin starred ‘Azurmendi’ restaurant in Larrabetzu. It produces a Txakoli that has earned the prestigious title of “the world’s best white wine.” A true testament to excellence in winemaking!
- Gaintza (Getariako Txakolina): Joseba is the fourth generation of this fantastic winery involved in the “integrated sysem”, a step below organic category. Nestled in Getaria, their 25-hectare vineyard benefits from natural protection by Garate Hill and the invigorating sea breeze. This unique climate and their meticulous vine care yield exceptional grapes. They also grow other grapes permitted by the Getariako Txakolina designation, such as Hondarribi Beltz and Chardonnay.
- Hiruzta (Getariako Txakolina): it embodies a life philosophy rather than just a winery. Its name, meaning “A THREE-PERSON HARVEST,” symbolizes the collaboration of a father and his two sons, Asensio, Txarli, and Angel Rekalde. Located in the picturesque town of Hondarribia, their 17-hectares of south-facing vineyard are caressed by sea breezes from the Jaizkibel cliffs.
- Itsasmendi (Bizkaiko Txakolina): Bodega Itsasmendi, founded in 1994 by local winegrowers, aimed to produce exceptional Txakoli that showcased the unique character of the region. Initially spanning three hectares in Muskiz, Bakio, and Mendata, a winery with a 25,000 L capacity was established in Muskiz. In 2003, operations moved to Gernika, marking a period of recognition in the press and innovation in product development. This venture aimed to revive the historic economic importance of winemaking in Biscay.
- Talai Berri (Getariako Txakolina): Established in 1992, is the pioneer Txakoli winery dedicated to producing high-quality wines. Run un by the fifth generation, the winery is known for its commitment to quality and sustainability. It was founded by Bixente Eizaguirre, who championed the creation of the Txakoli de Getaria Guarantee of Origin (1989).
Over the past decade, Txakoli has experienced a phenomenal resurgence, bolstering its global reputation and popularity among wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. This revival is largely attributed to innovative winemaking techniques that have amplified the inherent qualities of Txakoli, as well as the determined efforts of local producers who have breathed new life into this centuries-old tradition. As a result, Txakoli has transcended its status as a regional specialty, emerging as a compelling player on the international wine stage. This thrilling revival of Txakoli is testament to the enduring vitality of the Basque winemaking heritage and the magnetic allure of its unique wines.
The interest in local gastronomy and products further fuels the popularity of Txakoli wines, both domestically and internationally. Wine tourism in the Basque Country and educational experiences play a significant role, offering visitors the chance to explore the winemaking process and sample various expressions of Txakoli wine. Sustainability and organic practices also take center stage in Txakoli vineyards, aligning with broader trends in the wine industry.
No matter where your travels may take you in the Basque Country – be it San Sebastian, Bilbao, or Alava – Txakoli is an ever-present companion that captures the essence of this vibrant land in every glass. Its prevalence across these areas offers an opportunity to discern and appreciate the nuanced variations in style that each locale brings to this iconic wine. Through tasting the diverse expressions of Txakoli, you immerse yourself in the rich character of the Basque people, culture and landscape.
The experience, in turn, enables you to not just enjoy Txakoli but to truly understand it, further enhancing your wine journey. Remember, the beauty of Txakoli lies not just in its refreshing taste, but in the stories of the land and people it represents, thus making every sip a unique, flavorful narrative.