Tuesday, June 19, 2007

“H” is for Hondarribi Zurri

Some letters are more difficult than others.

When I dreamed up the idea of writing a post for every letter of the alphabet, my goal was to highlight the incredible diversity of wine and, hopefully, inspire my readers to try something a little different.

I have to admit I was sweating my “H” post, but then, along comes a wine made from hondarribi zuri. Talk about something different.

Arabako Txakolina “Xarmant” Txakoli Arabako Txakolina ($14)
(This is either a 2005 or 2006 vintage. I couldn't find a vintage anywhere on the bottle, but I know it is a vintage-bottled wine.)

To clear any confusion, there is no typo in the name. The name of the producer is the same as the name of the Denominatión de Origen (D.O.). The producer is actually a collective of 12 growers who pooled their resources. This collective is the only producer of any real quantity in the D.O., which is comprised of 60 hectares.

So, what’s with the funky name? Although this is a Spanish wine, it hails from a very distinct part of Spain—Basque Country.

Basque Country is one of Spain’s autonomous regions, located in the north-central part of the country, bordering Castilla y León on one side and Navarre on the other. The vineyard sites are located within the valley of Ayala, which encompasses the municipalities of Llodio, Amurrio, Okondo, Artiziega, and Aiara.

Winemaking in this region dates back to 760 A.D., but phylloxera devastated the majority of the vineyards in the 19th century. The vineyards were resurrected in the 1980’s, although the Arabako Txakolina D.O. was only created in 2003.

The grapes used in Txakoli (Chakoli in Spanish) are the traditional and indigenous hondarribi zuri and hondarribi beltza, as well as other local varieties: izkiriota, izkiriota ttippia and hondarribi zuri zerratia (is everyone taking notes?). The blend for this particular wine is 80% hondarribi zuri and 20% hondarribi zuri zerratia.

Xarmant, which is Basque (or French, depending on who you ask) for “charming,” is well-named. “Charming” is how I would describe this wine. Straw-colored and slightly fizzy from a touch of residual carbon dioxide, it is definitely reminiscent of Vinho Verde.

The nose was a bit muted and reminiscent of lemon rind and oyster shells (I swear). This turned out to be false advertising, because the flavor was definitely not muted; although it starts out lean with prominent citrus flavors, it quickly opens up to a creamy mouthful of peach, pear and fig, and finishes on a firm, mineral note.

An interesting tidbit about this wine is that it is traditionally served in a tumbler rather than a wine glass. The idea is to pour a very small amount from a great height (holding the bottle above your shoulder), thereby releasing more of the aromas and flavors. Please feel free to try this at home.

This turned out to be an outstanding discovery, just in time for the really hot weather in South Carolina. Txakolina is meant to be consumed very cold, works well as a low-alcohol (11.5%) apéritif and is very food-friendly. Try it with anything from seafood to chicken curry.

Or, pick up a bottle just to impress your friends with your comprehensive knowledge of the wines of the world.


Joe said...

nice review - I have never tasted one of these. Will look for it in my travels. Is there any history to the grapes (are they related to other well known varietals)?

John said...

Thanks, Joe.

This was an interesting find for me. I knew nothing of Basque wines. As far as I can tell, the grapes used in this wine are only found in this area, which leads me to believe the other varieties of the region are unique to Basque Country as well.

I'll have to investigate further.

winedeb said...

You have certainly aroused my curiosity with this post! I really like the idea of going down the alphabet. I too have been thinking about a certain "path" to follow for wine tasting. But then I get hooked on a certain region or grape and off I go. Takes a WBW to get me diversified again.
Your Spanish wine is really interesting! Spanish is such a hit right now. "Oyster Shells" is a new one on me and WOW, the grapes! Always cool to discover something new! Cheers!

John said...

Thanks for the comment, Deb. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Reading other blogs inspires me to try new things, so I'm happy to do the same.