The other day I was saying something silly about how interesting varieties of grape don’t jump out as me as much anymore because at this point I’ve tried all the most commonly encountered wines? That just makes it all the more special when something unusual does come my way, even if it does mean I’m writing about my fourth Spanish white while Germany is still neglected.
Today I am writing about the Ulacia Getariako Txakolina Blanco 2010. It’s a wine from the Getaria in the Basque Country of northern Spain, just west of San Sebastian, and it is charming. (I’ll be using the Basque terms/spelling as much as possible, unless otherwise indicated.) Wine here has a recorded history going back 1000 years, though the area under vines is less than a tenth of the 1,000 HA that it was pre-phylloxera. Getaria is a fishing village on the Bay of Biscay, with Getariako Txakolina being the DO for the vine growing area around it. The region as a whole is maritime with a considerable Atlantic influence, though the vines are planted in the hills surrounding it, often on the southeast facing, often steep, unterraced slopes for maximum sunshine and some protection from sea breezes. The winters are mild and summers cool, with 1,500 – 1,600 mm of rain per year, the highest of any Spanish wine region. The soils are largely clay, covered with sand.
Txakolina is a style of wine, spelled Chacolí in Castilian, traditional to the Basque region. It’s typically white, low in alcohol, and somewhat sparkling, very much akin to Portugal’s Vinho Verde. In addition to being made in Getariako, there are several other DOs in the vicinity that have their own take on it, sometimes with different permitted contributing grapes. It’s typically fermented slowly under refrigeration, and bottled with some effervescence.
For all Txakolina, the primary grapes used are Hondarribi Zuri (white) and Hondarribi Beltza (red), which are, as you might expect, two versions of the same grape. For Getariako Txakolina the required blend is 95% Zuri and 5% Beltza, though in Arabako Txakolina Gross Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Corbu are permitted in small amounts, while in Bizkaiko Txakolina, a portion of Folle Blanche may be used. Rosé and red wines are also made in these regions, though in much smaller quantities and largely for local consumption. Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza are largely found only in this region and I have not been able to find any record of it being cultivated outside of Spain. Also, it’s a tough grape to spell – it’s apparently Hondarribi, Hondarrabi or Ondarrabi depending on where you are even within Basque Country. Vines are typically trellised, to make the most of the breezes in the often damp conditions, and to shelter the grapes from hail.
This wine is made by a family run winery, Nicolas Ulacia e Hijos, which produces roughly 6,000 cases per year, largely for local consumption. The two grape varieties are vinified separately under refrigeration, blended and then bottled quickly enough that residual CO2 is retained in the bottle, which is sealed with a cork. I’m coming up a bit short on detail for this producer as I cannot find a website for them – I’ll update this post if/when I do.
In the glass, it was difficult to determine colour as I was in a dimly lit restaurant when I had this, but I would put it at pale lemon with a bit of green. The nose was floral, smelling of blossom, with some grapey notes. It was youthful, but not particularly intense. The palate was of lime, and very zesty as a result of both good acidity and the bubbles which were more prominent that what I’ve read online would have led me to expect. The body was light, and there was almost a hint of sweetness, but I don’t think it was down to residual sugar – more likely just the freshness.
This is a very good wine for what it is – young and meant to be drunk you, refreshing, and inexpensive despite having come to the far side of the world from a small producer. I’ve seen the term “fun” used to describe Txakolina wines and I think this wine absolutely hits the mark. It’s also worth noting this was a 2010 and most sources recommend drinking the wine within a year, so it was almost certainly better still this time last year. In any case, I’m very glad to have been able to try it, and look forward to perhaps spending a summer drinking my way around Spain.