Welcome to the picturesque landscapes of the Basque Country, where breathtaking shorelines, and centuries of tradition intertwine with modern wine craftsmanship. Though a part of Spain, Basque Country stands out because of its distinctive cultural traditions, distinct language, and local cuisine. Here, winemaking is not just a skill; it's a cultural legacy passed down through generations. In this article we walk you through the wine styles and designated areas for winemaking in the Basque.
Where is Basque Country
Basque Country is an Autonomous Community in northern Spain. It sits on the extreme western end of Spain's border with France. The region is surrounded by the Bay of Biscay to the north, Navarra communities to the east, La Rioja to the south, and Cantabria to the west.
The Basque Country boasts a unique terroir that breathes life into its wines. The diverse microclimates and varied landscapes create the perfect conditions for cultivating various grape varieties. From the coastal vineyards with their saline influence to the mountainous terrains that lend a mineral character, every bottle tells a story of the land it hails from.
The Grapes and DOs of Basque Country
One of the charms of Basque Country wines lies in its commitment to indigenous grape varieties. Txakoli, pronounced "chak-oh-lee," is the region's signature white wine crafted from the Hondarrabi Zuri and Hondarrabi Beltza grapes. These native varieties are resilient to the local conditions and contribute to the distinct flavours that make Basque wines stand out on a global scale.
There are four designated wine growing areas (Designations of Origin or D.O.) of the Basque:
DO Arabako Txakolina
DO Arabako Txakolina is a designation of origin located in the Alava province. Established in 2001, it's the youngest of all the Basque DOs. Lesser known fact is that in Alava, there is also a big production of Rioja wine.
The climate in the area is influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, with cool summers and cold winters. The grape varieties accepted by DO Arabako Txakolina are Hondarribi Zuri, Gross Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Corbu in whites, and Hondarribi Beltza for red grapes.
DO Bizkaiko Txakolina
DO Bizkaiko Txakolina is located in the Vizcaya province, in the north of the Basque Country, and it was established in 1994. Vines are planted at around 500 feet, and they're affected by an Atlantic climate on the coast (cool and humid) and a continental climate (dryer and warmer) as you move more inland. The allowed grape varieties are Hondarribi Beltza in reds and Hondarribi Zuri, Folle Blanche, Gros Manseng, and Petit Manseng in whites.
DO Getariako Txakolina
DO Getariako Txakolina was established in 1989, making it the oldest designation of origin for Txakoli. The vineyards are located in the north of the Guipúzcoa province, close to the coast, and planted on slopes facing away from the sea to protect the vines from the strong ocean breezes, while ensuring they get enough sun. The accepted grape varieties here are Hondarribi Beltza in reds and Hondarribi Zuri in whites.
DOCa Rioja Alavesa
DOCa Rioja Alavesa is a subzone of DOCa Rioja and its vineyards in the south of the Basque Country. The vineyards are planted right on the shore of the Ebro River, at 1150-1600 feet, where they benefit from many hours of sun exposure. Around 80% of the land under vine is composed of the Tempranillo grape, with another 4% dedicated to other red grapes such as Graciano. The remainder of vines are dedicated to several varieties of white grapes, the most common being Viura.
Pintxos Small Bites
No exploration of Basque Country wines would be complete without talking about the delectable pintxos, the region's answer to tapas.
Pintxos are small snacks served on skewers, and they vary between meat, seafood, peppers, etc. The small bite delicacy was named from the Spanish word 'pincho', meaning 'spike'.
The Basque way is to raise a glass of Txakoli in one hand and have a pintxos in the other to create the perfect pairing of food, wine, and tradition.
While rooted in tradition, Basque winemakers are fearless in innovating. Modern techniques and a commitment to sustainable practices have ushered in a new era of winemaking in the region. From eco-friendly vineyard management to cutting edge cellar techniques, Basque wines reflect a harmonious blend of heritage and innovation, and its a region you need to discover.