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Wine Wednesday: A Wine Safari through Northern Spain Part I

 Editor’s Note: We are excited to introduce our new contributor, Marissa Reibstein,  who has managed to make a life of traveling the globe, drinking wine! But, really she’s an expert, a level 3 sommelier to be exact. We are super excited unfold our new Wine Wednesday series to expand our knowledge of wines and really impress at our next fancy dinner party or even learn how to enjoy a bottle on our own with takeout. To kick it off, Marissa breaks down her most recent travels to Spain and all we need to know about their favorite juice!

Spanish wine is often an afterthought in the US.  When competing with the French giants from Bordeaux and Burgundy, or Italian whoppers like Barolo and Brunello, Spain seems like a distant third choice (and that’s not even considering the American wines that stock so many of our shelves). I recently traveled to Spain, on a little wine safari, to take my knowledge from the books into real life.

Spain is a massive country and there are MANY different wine regions and types of wine.  My trip was in the Northern Basque region and the Rioja region about 90 minutes south of it, so that’s where I’ll focus.

PHOTO: LuxuryColumnist

I think the key to enjoying Spanish wine is not just to understand where it comes from and how it’s made, but the way that Spaniards enjoy it.  Wine is part of the meal.  It’s not fussy.  There’s love and care and pride behind it, but you’re not expected to relish every nuance every time you drink it.  No wine snobs in-sight here! Spanish wine is about fun and exploration and, let me say it again, food.

PHOTO: Markel Redondo

Pintxo – Little snack jewel bites of perfection.

San Sebastian is the epicenter of Basque food and wine.  This place has more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than any other city in the world.  But if you ask me, the real star of San Sebastian is the pintxo.  “Peen-cho.”  You might like to call them tapas, but they’re really more like composed mini-dishes.  Little snack jewel bites of perfection.  And in each pintxo bar, tons of these little beauties are all laid out on the counter, to whet your appetite and entice you to sample to your heart’s content. 

PHOTO: San Sebastian Turismo

Txakoli – The wine of choice with pintxos.

So, you go into a pintxos bar, order a few snacks, and then order your vino.  What’s the wine of choice?  Txakoli!  Huh? 

Ok, say it with me, “Chuck-oh-lee!”  See, it’s even fun to say! 

The bartender will pull out a chilled bottle, hold it a looooong way above your glass (which, by the way, is just a regular glass, no wine glasses in sight!), and let the wine cascade down until your cup is just 1/3 of the way full.   This might seem a bit wild, but it’s all designed to make the txakoli shine. 

It’s a slightly effervescent white wine, and the long pour heightens that sensation from the moment you take your first sip.  A little fizzle on your nose and your tongue.  Citrusy, full of green apples and lemon, delicately acidic, quenchy, and light body, a little mineral on the finish.  All these characteristics help to enhance the food’s flavors, as well as cut the fat and lusciousness you might get from a jamon iberico or grilled foie gras.  Txakoli pairs well with seafood, meats, cheese, eggs… anything salty or briny. And, it’s lower in alcohol (you can drink more!) which is an added benefit when you’re walking around town sampling all night.

Txakoli is made from the Hondarribia Zuri grape, but you can also find it in red, made from the Hondarribia Beltza grape. And, you guessed it, there’s even rosé made from a blend of the two.  YUM.

There are three main wine growing regions or, D.O.s (Denominación de Origen) that produce Txakoli — Getariako, Bizkaiko, and Alava.  You don’t really need to know that, but for those of you who are geeks like me, you’ll notice those names on the wine labels when you buy it. What you should know is that these grapes are grown in the northern Atlantic part of Spain, so the weather there is moderated by the sea.  It can get pretty rainy there during growing season, so these grapes are typically grown on trellises to make sure there is plenty of air circulation and the little grapes don’t get water-logged and moldy.   It also helps make sure that when the sun is out, there’s more surface area so the grapes and leaves take in maximum warmth and nutrients.

PHOTO: Saveur

Now I know what you’re thinking.  “Ok, I’ve NEVER seen this in the US.  How am I going to get it?”  Don’t worry, you can find some lovely bottles over here in wine shops.  My favorite (and, an easy to find producer) is Ameztoi Txakolina.  They make it in a traditional white AND also a rosé, which they call their “Rubentis.”   

The great thing about this wine is that you really don’t need to be fussy about it.  You don’t need to pour it like they do in San Sebastian, and you can use whatever glass you want.  If your wine shop has a bottle from any producer, buy it and try it. See if it speaks to you. If they don’t carry it, don’t fret. Wine-o tip:  If your local store doesn’t carry it, ask them to get some!  It’s so key to make friends with your shop owners. They’ll often order a specific wine if their customers express interest.  You’ll be a trendsetter.

After a few days of stuffing our faces with pinxtos and txakoli, it was time to venture further south-east to the renowned Rioja region.  Just 90 minutes away, but a completely different geography and climate, so as you can imagine, a completely different kind of wine.  (Always remember: the land shapes the wine.  You’ll hear us wine-o’s talk a lot about this using the word “terroir”.)  We’ll tackle this part of the trip in part II!


1 Comment

  • Elizabeth jensen
    Posted November 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    What a refreshing reminder of all thIngs delicioso in spain. I am already inspired to plan our next trip for pinxtos and txakoli in ESPANA! Thank you, Marissa! Keep Sharing your wine adventures!

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