Situated near the northern coast of Spain, flanking the Bay of Biscay, País Vasco is one of the wettest areas in Spain and the homeland of “txakoli”, a wine produced nowhere else in the world. The name “txakoli” is believed to have its origin in the Basque term “etxakoa” meaning “made at home”. Traditionally, the majority of vineyards in the region were small family plots and txakoli was made for personal consumption.
The first reference to 'vino chacolín' (txacoli wine) is from 1623 here and in later writings there is mentions of its excellent quality.
In the late 19th century, the region’s vineyards were devastated by powdery mildew and phylloxera. The combined effect of competition from foreign wine markets, changes in consumer tastes, and a flourishing industrial activity in the region (drastically reducing the labor force available for viticulture), seemed to have sentenced the Basque wine industry to death. By the mid-20th century, there were almost no vineyards left.
Fortunately, a group of growers and winemakers formed an association to preserve txakoli, a unique wine of local tradition: “Asociación de Txakolineros de Bizkaia” was created in 1980, and vineyards started to be recovered and replanted. Soon after that, due to a significant increase in quality, three DOPs were awarded.
Pais Vasco - The bay of Biscay influence
The coastal provinces of Vizcaya and Guipúzcoa are cool and damp due to the influence of the Atlantic Ocean. Mild winters and rain falling year-round, with no dry season.
Moving inland to the south, towards the mountainous province of Álava, the climate becomes more continental with some oceanic influence. Winters are colder, summers are warmer (and drier) and sometimes with significant diurnal temperature swings.
The coastline is made up of valleys with short rivers flowing from the mountains down to the Bay of Biscay. The majority of txakoli vineyards are found in this area, running from the coast to the interior hillsides.
Given the considerable rainfall in the region, vines have traditionally been trained using the “parral” system; a horizontal trellis allowing for the ventilation of the vine canopy in this humid and fungal-prone environment. A labour-intensive system (requiring both canopy management and hand-harvesting), parral ,still dominates in the region, even if some producers have switched to the easily-mechanized 'espaldera' (VSP – an automated grape growing and harvest system).
The Hondarrabi sisters, ruling Txacoli land 90% of the DOPs vineyards are planted with the indigenous white grape Hondarrabi Zuri, and the only red grape grown in the region is Hondarrabi Beltza.
These two unrelated grapes are named after Hondarribia, a town in the province of Guipúzcoa. 'Zuri' and 'Beltza' meaning 'white' and “black” respectively. Worth mentioning is that DNA analysis has shown that Hondarrabi Beltza and Cabernet Franc genetically related.
White Txacoli style
DOP Txacoli de Bizkaia (Bizkaiko Txakolina/ Chacolí de Bizkaia)
It was here, in the Vizcaya province, where a group of wine producers formed an association in the 1980s to preserve and bring back the vinous heritage of txakoli.
Most of the vineyards are planted near the coast on low foothills (150 m average), where rainfall is significant (1200 mm a year), so vines are usually trained using the 'parral' system.
DOP Txacoli de Alava (Arabako Txakolina / Chacolí de Álava)
Located in the northwest of the Álava province, this was the last area to gain DOP status, and the smallest of all “txakoli” DOPs, both in vineyard area and production. It’s also the most continental and least humid, so vineyards are usually planted following the “espaldera” (VSP) training method.
DOP Txacoli de Getaria (Getariako Txakolina / Chacolí de Getaria)
Located in the eastern, coastal province of Guipúzcoa, and with most of its vineyards within 1 km of the sea, this DOP experiences the highest rainfall of any wine region in Spain (1600 mm a year average), so growers have to use the 'parral' training system to improve airflow and mitigate humidity and fungal pressure.
The majority of its wine industry is centered around the coastal municipalities of Getaria and Zarautz.
This is the only wine region in the world producing Txacoli, an ethereal, refreshing and very gastronomic wine made from unique indigenous Basque grapes.What are the most popular grape varieties in País Vasco?
White Hondarrabi Zuri and red Hondarrabi Beltza.What types of food works well with wines from País Vasco?
White dry light txakoli: Salt cod, grilled fish (turbot, red bream). Local pintxos and Idiazábal cheese are also a perfect match.