The Best of Basque

Txacoli Wine

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The Basque Country is an exceptional tourist destination that offers a rich mix of history, culture and impressive landscapes. But there is something that makes this region even more special: its Txakoli wine. Known as “the wine treasure of the Basque Country”, Txakoli is a unique and refreshing wine that delights visitors and locals alike.

What is Txacoli?

Txakoli is more than a drink; It is an essential part of the local culture and an important element of the traditional “pintxos” (Basque tapas). The bars and restaurants in the region offer a wide selection of pintxos to pair with this refreshing wine, creating an unforgettable culinary experience.

In addition to its unique flavor, Txakoli is also appreciated for its beneficial properties for health. Due to its moderate alcohol content and high level of antioxidants, this wine is a lighter and healthier option compared to other wines. Studies have shown that Txakoli can help improve digestion and contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system.

What makes Txakoli so special is its lively and effervescent nature. When served in the typical “txotx” (a peculiar style of pouring from the boot), the wine is oxygenated and acquires an effervescent touch that gives it an incomparable freshness. It is an experience in itself, since when enjoying Txakoli, the senses are awakened by its fruity and citrus aromas, and its slightly acid but balanced flavor, perfect to accompany the delicious Basque cuisine.

Txacoli grapes

Txakoli is a young and vibrant white wine, made mainly from the Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza grape varieties. These grapes grow on the steep slopes and green hills of the Basque Country, where the Atlantic climate and fertile soils provide the ideal environment for their cultivation. The tradition of producing Txakoli goes back centuries, and its production process has largely remained faithful to the ancestral techniques passed down from generation to generation.

Txacoli Grapes
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Txakoli Winery of Bizkaia, Gaztelugatxe & Gernika

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The Designations of Origin of Txakoli

Each of the three Basque provinces: Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, and Araba, boasts its own designation of origin for Txakoli. Throughout the Basque Country, there are just over 950 hectares of registered vineyards among the three Designations of Origin, accounting for 0.1% of vineyard area in Spain or roughly 1% of the planted area in the Rioja DOCa.

The Getariako Txakolina/Txakoli de Getaria

Designation of Origin was the first to be established, in 1989. Spanning 440 hectares in production, 90% of which are located by the sea, it boasts 34 registered wineries and 96 vine growers. Here, the traditional style of Txakoli is crafted with a touch of carbonation, resulting in a particularly refreshing and lively wine.

Bizkaiko Txakolina/Txakoli de Bizkaia

Following suit was the Bizkaiko Txakolina/Txakoli de Bizkaia Designation of Origin, established in 1994. With a similar extension, it encompasses 425 hectares of vineyards, with 38 registered wineries and 191 vine growers. In this designation, more complex styles of Txakoli are being crafted, including those aged on lees and in wood, alongside young wines from the current vintage.

The Arabako Txakolina/Txakoli de Alava

Designation of Origin was the latest to be established, in 2001. Despite its smaller size, with only 100 hectares planted and 7 wineries, it holds a prominent position in the market, exporting 20% of its production.

The technical role of these three designations of origin is crucial for managing regulation, vineyard registries, wineries, and annual wine production. They also contribute to driving investment in technology and improving plantations, as well as facilitating, when possible, economic aid and European projects alongside other public administration entities. Over the past decade, conversion plans promoted by the EU and improvements in vineyards have been instrumental in increasing production and quality. Furthermore, professional training in the sector and the development of branding and marketing strategies have also contributed to the positioning and sales of these wines.

Txacoli subregions

The Basque Country is an exceptional tourist destination that offers a rich mix of history, culture and impressive landscapes. But there is something that makes this region even more special: its Txakoli wine. Known as “the wine treasure of the Basque Country”, Txakoli is a unique and refreshing wine that delights visitors and locals alike.

 

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Txakoli winery san sebastian

A Unique Cultivation Context

The Basque Country, situated in northern Spain along the Cantabrian Sea and bordering France, presents a distinctive setting for vine cultivation. With temperatures ranging from 8 to 22°C during the vine’s growth months (March to September) and annual rainfall varying between 925 and 1,400 millimeters, the region boasts a diverse climate. Its irregular, mountainous terrain—although not extremely high—forms valleys, riverbanks, and slopes with varying elevations and inclinations.

  • Most Txakoli vineyards are nestled on ancient soils dating back millions of years to the Jurassic and Lower Paleocene periods. These sedimentary deposits comprise fossilized remnants of corals, crustaceans, and minerals, creating marly-limestone and carbonate-rich sandstones alongside areas of hard bedrock composed of limestone or clay. As a result of sediment accumulation and tectonic movements, the geological formations in the soil are irregular, with layers of hard rocks, sediments, and sands arranged in various orientations, often vertically or steeply inclined relative to the ground. This geological profile, coupled with abundant rainfall, facilitates drainage and nutrient leaching in the more permeable and vertical areas of the soil, enriching it and favoring the cultivation of quality grapes. At a shallower depth, the soil features a combination of textures and varied organic and mineral components—limestone, slate, sand, and minerals—yielding high-quality vineyard soils. This unique cultivation context sets this territory apart.

 

  • While the climatic conditions for viticulture are generally sufficient, humidity and limited sunshine pose challenges, especially in autumn. Fungal diseases such as mildew, powdery mildew, botrytis, and wood diseases are chronic concerns, particularly in very humid years. Vintage variation in the region can be significant, as intense rainfall, frost, and hailstorms can cause substantial losses, as seen in 2017 when production in Álava decreased by 40%. Despite the challenges, climate change may be beneficial overall for Txakoli production, as rising temperatures within the Atlantic climate context promote better grape ripening. In recent years, the vine’s vegetative cycle has slightly lengthened, allowing for improved and slower grape ripening, resulting in higher quality. Spring budburst and harvest dates are advancing, albeit to a lesser extent for the latter. Harvesting earlier is advantageous, minimizing the risks of autumn rain and humidity.

 

  • Traditionally, vines were trained using the trellising system. Vines were tied and positioned as they grew along rows of double posts spaced approximately one meter apart and interconnected at the top, creating a kind of “roof” upon which the vine branches could climb, positioning the clusters and leaves at the highest point, above these junctions. While these vines were not excessively tall—around one and a half to two meters—they were sufficient to elevate the fruit from the ground and better protect it from moisture and fungal diseases. However, this system required labor-intensive pruning, harvesting, and vineyard care, all done manually.

Today, most new vineyards and cultivated hectares have transitioned to the trellis system. Vines are aligned in rows according to slope orientation and sunlight exposure, forming vertical vegetative screens approximately one and a half meters high. This modern system offers several advantages. It allows better control of vine vigor, resulting in fewer and smaller clusters, compensating for reduced volume with increased quality. Additionally, vineyard work is more agile and efficient, eliminating the need to bend under the trellis and allowing for faster and more effective work. Furthermore, clusters remain at an appropriate and ventilated height, preventing moisture-related issues and maximizing sun exposure for both clusters and leaves, promoting photosynthesis and grape ripening.

People also asked...

The main difference between “Txakoli” and “Txakolina” lies in their usage and regional variations. “Txakoli” refers specifically to a type of wine produced in certain Basque regions, while “Txakolina” is a broader term encompassing various wines from the Basque Country and nearby coastal areas.

Txakoli is often poured from a height, not just for show, but for practical reasons. When the wine cascades into the glass or the traditional porrón, a glass pitcher with a spout, it undergoes aeration. This aeration enhances the wine’s aromas and flavors, particularly beneficial for young and slightly effervescent wines like Txakoli.

Txakoli, also known as Txakolina, is a Spanish wine style that shares similarities with Vinho Verde. Both wines can be slightly effervescent, offering a refreshing taste profile that pairs well with a variety of foods.

The slight sparkle in Txakoli is a result of surplus carbon dioxide produced during fermentation. This carbon dioxide is absorbed by the wine, contributing to its characteristic effervescence. Additionally, Txakoli’s unique climate, characterized by mist and rain, leads to grapes struggling to achieve full ripeness, imparting a distinctive tartness to the wine.

Txakolina pairs excellently with salty Spanish snacks known as conservas. These include tinned seafood, cured ham, olives, and nuts, which complement the wine’s acidity and effervescence, offering a delightful combination of flavors. Whether enjoyed as a prelude to a meal or as part of a casual gathering, Txakolina and conservas celebrate the culinary heritage of the Basque Country.

 
 
 
 

In conclusion, Txakoli is a wine jewel that enriches the experience of any tourist in the Basque Country. Its refreshing taste, deep-rooted tradition and the passion of local producers make it an exceptional drink that you will never forget. So, if you have the opportunity to try it, feel free to toast with a glass of Txakoli and say “txin-txin” (cheers) to this wonderful region of northern Spain.

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Irene was born and raised in Bilbao. She has a deep rooted passion for her country and culture. She has a Bachelors degree in education and has traveled to over 85 countries throughout the world.
List of professional guides in the Basque Country

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Zachary was born in Michigan, USA. He has lived in the Basque Country for over 10 years, and fell in love with the natural beauty and quality of life found here. He earned a Bachelors degree in economics from DePaul University in Chicago.

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