Don’t be intimidated by the silent X, this tasty little number is a simple delight. I first encountered it at Donostia – an absolute gem of a Basque restaurant in Marylebone – the promise of something a bit different and the challenge of an “overhead pour” proved too intriguing to resist.
Txakoli (pronounced Cha-co-li), which translates into ‘Village Wine’, is from the Spanish Basque region nestled in the armpit between Spain and France, perched on the cliff top overlooking the Atlantic. The sea breeze and maritime climate ensures that the area stays damp and mild having roughly double the rainfall in London, hard to believe given that my umbrella seems to be more or less a permanent fixture in my handbag this summer!
The novelty pour comes from the way Asturian Sidra (cider) is traditionally dispensed – it basically involves pouring the wine from a height of up to two meters (or as high as you dare) into a delicate tumbler. It’s a wine which wants, and needs, air and it is the ‘pour’ which aerates the wine giving the lovely gentle fizz. In restaurants they use a special pourer which looks a little like a mini cake stand sitting on top of the bottle. Having witnessed our waiter executing a seemingly easy, splashless example of this we attempted to replicate at home without the pouring spout, assuming the slightly amateur technique of “stand on a chair, aim for the glass and hope for the best!” My advice as a nascent pouring pundit would be; stock up on floor cleaner and add a healthy sprinkling of gusto… that should help.
The wine is pale yellow with a small froth (from the pour). The nose is reminiscent of English orchards or rosy apple hard boiled sweets, lemon fresh with aknitted minerality – it reminded me of the zestyness of a Picpoul. This is a low alcohol wine (9.5-11.5%) which should be served chilled. Not terribly complex on the palate, searing acidity and a saline aftertaste are the take away flavours leaving a persistent but refreshing tingly finish. Be warned, it is quite a mouthful and almost needs food to lessen the punchy acidity – a Spanish pocket rocket.
It seems only fitting that this racy little number should complement the fun and cheeky tone of the ‘Pinxos’ (bar snacks) and other styles of experimental tapas native to the Basque region. Trying the wine at Donostia with some Boquerones (salted anchovies with sweet marinated piquillo peppers) felt a bit like finding money down the sofa, or a missing puzzle piece. The acidity in the wine and salty sweetness of the Boquerones were a perfect match. In fact, I think another portion may have been ordered, to make sure it wasn’t a fluke, strictly scientific purposes – obviously. Amazingly only 15% of this wine is drunk outside of the production region, no surprise really – I wouldn’t want to share if it was me.
The grape variety is Hondarrabi Zuri, it grows in vigorous small to medium sized compact bunches on high trellises to lessen potential damage from mildew. The grapes are handpicked before a controlled cool fermentation. In the specific region of this bottle (Getariako Txakolina) the wine is then left on its lees to rest (residual yeast) which gives it a slightly carbonated texture.
So, if you are not intimidated by pronunciation or potential collateral floor damage this is a wine I would highly recommend. Try it with some yummy Boquerones, fresh fish, cured meats, cheeses or even calamari. Not one for the wine rack or stashing away for a rainy day, drink it young and drink it now. Or even better, book some flights out to San Sebastian and drink as intended. Spanish health & safety might have put a dampener (sorry couldn’t resist) on the high pours and wood chipping covered floors, but it’s definitely still the real deal.