When it comes to wine, Spain offers the best value, at least according to sommelier Kelly Coughlin, GM and Beverage Director at Smyth and The Loyalist, two new Chicago eateries, in a June interview on Eater. She said “Whether you’re looking for a white, red, or sparkling wine, Spain pretty much covers it when it comes to value.”
When asked to name varieties, she began with “Since summer is right around the corner, I initially think of Txakoli from Spain’s northeastern Basque Country. Being slightly effervescent, and offered in white, rosé and red, it is easy, light, and refreshing, with a price to match.” Having just returned from San Sebastian in the Basque region of Spain, I can only agree with her.
I had my first taste of Txakoli (in Basque, “tx” is pronounced “ch”) and immediately thought of Albarino, a similar wine from the neighboring region of Galicia. Txakoli is a verdejo, or green wine, meaning not its color, but that it is new and meant to be drunk fresh, not aged for years in a cellar. Their newest wine is Olatu, which means “ocean wave” in Basque and is produced right on the shore in Getaria, just a short and quite lovely drive from San Sebastian. It’s distinctive blue bottle will be highly visible on store shelves soon.
Iban Unzeuta, in charge of publicity for Akarregi Txiki, gave me a tour of the vineyard and the stainless steel fermenting tanks as he talked about the plans for the new winery. Most interesting to me was that the vines were grown horizontally, overhead, not vertically. I’d seen them grown like that in Madeira (Portugal) so that seasonal crops could be raised under the vines after the leaves dropped in the fall. Iban explained that here it was to allow for better air circulation because of the dampness on the shore, and because it made the grapes easier to harvest. Either way, it was very nice to walk beneath the shading vines to a table set with live oysters and chilled bottles of wine.
I was with a group of culture mavens exploring the many cultural offerings of San Sebastian, the European Capital of Culture for 2016. Since San Sebastian has more Michelin Stars per square foot than any other city in Europe, it has also become quite a foodie destination, with culinary travel high on its cultural list. Our host explained, “We bring top chefs over from San Sebastian to prepare meals that feature our wine for groups large and small, and for everything from business meetings to weddings. It is a great use for our facilities and a perfect introduction to our wines.”
The alfresco tasting, paired beautifully with oysters, was a refreshing introduction to a wine I drank almost exclusively during my visit.
After the “picnic” in the vineyard, we went inside where Ismael Iglesias, the chef of KATA.4 restaurant was serving us that day. He’d created a menu of seasonal specialties grown within just a few miles of the winery that included white asparagus, precious green peas and strawberries, but the first-of-the-season tuna he brought to the table was the best I’ve ever tasted. Simply seared on both sides and served red in the middle, it needed nothing more to shine. As Chef Ismael explained: “using the freshest local ingredients means you can taste the purity of the food without embellishment.” The tuna went perfectly with the slightly salty taste of the Txakoli produced here on the hillside above the crashing ocean waves.
When next in Getaria you’ll surely taste the terroir of the txakoli and appreciate how well it goes with light summer fare. Until then, take the advice of leading somms as well as my own – Txakoli is the wine of summer, and this easy drinking white from Akarregi Txiki will compliment any meal.
For more information on this and other attractions of Donostia/San Sebastian during the European Capital of Culture year, please visit this San Sebastian Tourism website.