Spanish Basque Country is known for its fine wines, but when visiting the area it can be hard to know where to begin. This is where wine expert and friend of The Slow Cyclist Jamie Collins comes in. As the owner of The Wine Beagle, Jamie tracks down excellent wines from up-and-coming producers in Europe before offering his discoveries to his subscribers.
Read on for some of Jamie’s favourite wines of the Basque.
The Basque country is well known for its impressive gastronomy, and so it is perhaps unsurprising that the region is also home to some excellent wines. These can be broadly divided into two categories – the zesty whites of Txakoli (pronounced Cha-ko-lee) and the soft, fruity reds of Rioja Alavesa.
Txakoli is the less famous of the two, but a style of white that you will come to know well as you travel through the region. Light in alcohol (9 – 11% abv as a rule), zesty and fresh with a slight fizz to it, it is the ideal palate cleansing wine to enjoy with the local Pinxos (pronounced Pin-chos) – the Basque version of tapas.
Red and rosé versions are also made but, it is the white that dominates production, and if you ask for una copa de vino blanco in a bar, it is Txakoli that you will get – generally poured from a height so that it froths in the glass, releasing mouthwatering aromas of peach, lime and wild herbs.
There are three different Txakoli appellations, one for each of the three Basque provinces – Álava, Vizcaya and Guetaria – and the main grape used for the whites is Hondaribi Zuri. Historically the whites are bottled shortly before fermentation has finished and it is this that gives them their distinctive fizz.
For fans of Vinho Verde or German Riesling, this is a style not to be missed and ideal refreshment after a day in the saddle. If you’re in the market for red, the wines of the Rioja Alavesa A.O.C. are the best local options. Made primarily from the Tempranillo grape, usually with some Garnacha blended into the mix, these tend to be soft, fruity, well oaked reds which make a good match for a hearty Basque stew.
The Rioja region (named after the Rio Oja that flows from the River Ebro down to the sea at Bilbao) is actually divided into three appellations – Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa. Alavesa, found to the west of Lograno, in the foothills of the Cantabrian mountains, is the only one in the Basque country though.
To help you navigate the different styles, Rioja can be broadly broken down into the following four categories:
Joven: wines that are unoaked and released for drinking soon after the harvest.
Crianza: wines that have been aged for a minimum of two years before release (12 months of which must be in oak barrel).
Reserva: wines that have been aged for a minimum of three years before release (12 months of which must be in oak barrel).
Grand Reserva: wines that have been aged for a minimum of 5 years before release (24 months of which must be in oak barrel).
So, two very different styles of wine to try from the region, both excellent in their own distinct way. But if wine isn’t your thing, fear not, the Basque cider is also well worth a look!