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Txakoli: Spain’s instantly likable wine is fun, fizzy and food-friendly

By Michael Austin • Nov 28, 2018 at 7:00 AM

Although the traditional pouring technique of Spain’s txakoli could take a fair amount of time and practice to master (more on this later), the wine itself is instantly and effortlessly likable.

Txakoli (say “CHAH-koh-lee”) is dry, tangy and refreshing, and can offer everything from lemony citrus, earthy minerality and chalk, to stone fruits, tropical fruits, nuts and salinity.

This light, gently fizzy wine hails from Spain’s Basque region, near the country’s border with France along the coast of the Bay of Biscay, with a number of notable appellations. Those vineyards in the Getariako Txakolina D.O. (denominacion de origen) hug the country’s northernmost shorelines, directly west of San Sebastian. The Bizkaiko Txakolina D.O., farther west on the same coast, surrounds the city of Bilbao. A third appellation, Arabako Txakolina, lies south of Bilbao.

Made predominantly of the indigenous grape varieties hondarrabi zuri (white) and beltza (red), txakoli wines can include other grape varieties, but hondarrabi zuri is the star. (Even though rosé and red versions of txakoli are made, white is the undisputed classic.)

This is a wine style that says, “Let’s have some fun.” Imagine a restaurant in San Sebastian or Bilbao, a few steps down from street level, with stone walls, dark wooden tables and hams hanging from the ceiling. Or imagine a bustling, well-lit tavern with pintxos (the Basque version of tapas) being passed around, little plates stacking up throughout the night. In both scenarios, an abundance of txakoli is a given.

It is a great match for raw oysters, seafood, nuts, cheese and cured meats. If you want a fresh and vibrant wine with an alcohol content low enough to not worry about potential lapses in judgment an hour after your first sip, txakoli is for you. Drink this lively, thirst-quenching, lip-smacking wine with just about anything — its tingling acidity makes it immensely versatile — but also for any occasion. Drink it while you’re pitching horseshoes, lounging at the beach or killing time between flights.

Now, about the traditional pour. In Spain, pouring txakoli usually ends up being a brief moment of spontaneous theater. To pour like a Spaniard, hold the bottle high, at least at shoulder height, and aim for a glass below. A good way to try this time-honored tradition is to rely on a simple speed-pourer spout, which delivers a stream as precise as a tight piece of string. Once you get comfortable with that, graduate to free-style and pour straight from the bottle — first from shoulder height with a glass on a table or countertop (or over your sink as I did when I tasted the wines below), eventually working your way up to full arm extensions with a bottle held high in one hand and a glass in the other. Of course, there’s always the porron, a decanter of sorts with a spout for pouring streams of wine into glasses or — more fun — waiting mouths.

It’s not all for show. Spanish bartenders and waiters pour like this to agitate the wine and wake it up. Like a horse with pent-up energy, txakoli wants to buck and jump and run, and it displays its most power and beauty when it has the space to do so.

You don’t need to spend a lot of time considering the subtleties of txakoli. Just plop a bottle into an ice bucket, let it get nice and chilly, and enjoy its cleansing zestiness. And always drink it when it’s young and fresh. With some versions, you might be hard-pressed to even detect effervescence. You will notice the acidity. Fizzy or not, this wine will zap your palate.

Below are notes from a recent tasting of white txakoli wines, including one that is not effervescent. They are listed in ascending order, according to price, but all ring up at around $20, which is a fairly standard price for txakoli — not exactly cheap, but well worth the price.

2017 Gaintza Txakolina. From the Getariako Txakolina appellation and made of 85 percent hondarrabi zuri, 10 percent gros manseng and 5 percent hondarrabi beltza, this wine offers pear, crushed rock, ripe pineapple, tropical notes and zingy acidity. $20

2017 Berroia Txakolina. Notes of tropical fruit, ripe pear and chalk comingle in this fuller-bodied, less-fizzy blend of 85 percent hondarrabi zuri, 10 percent riesling and 5 percent folle blanche from Bizkaiko Txakolina. $21

2017 Ameztoi Txakolina. From Getariako Txakolina, this bottle offers bright lemon zest, fresh pear, stony minerality and a touch of clove, which led to a nutty finish and a manageable 10.5 percent alcohol. $22

2017 Bodega K5 Arginano K Pilota Txakolina. Stone fruit, lemon and anise seed give way to chalky notes, a touch of bitter nuttiness and pleasantly tart citrus, with 11.5 percent alcohol in this Getariako Txakolina wine. $22

2016 Gorka Izagirre G22 Txakolina. This noneffervescent txakoli, labeled “Basque white wine,” is from Bizkaiko Txakolina and offers floral and herbal notes along with lime, chalk, ripe green apple skin and crisp acidity. $23

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