So the holiday season is drawing to a close for another summer. Hopefully you have all enjoyed trying new wines in exotic locations. Local wines washing down local food as you sit in the sun not thinking about work. Nothing beats holiday wine.
But in most cases, that's how they always will be, just holiday wines.
That rose from Provence tasted great by the pool over a lazy lunch but it doesn't quite hit the mark on a freezing Friday in forest hill.
And as for that local white wine you had in Croatia.... why had you never heard of it before now? It tasted so good with that calamari overlooking that beautiful marina. Why don't they sell it in Budgens in Crofton Park?
Are holiday wines all just a bit shit? Are your taste buds actually wearing wraparound rose tinted shades because you are on your holibags?
In some cases, yes they can be a bit shit. As a tourist you were probably sold the local mouthwash. But even the local mouthwash tastes good on holidays doesn't it? Especially if its lunchtime and you've got nothing to do all afternoon except lounge around the pool.
But in many cases they are not shit. Many local wines are made in such small quantities that it's not economical to export them all over the world. Wine markets are very competitive these days. Unless people have heard of the wines, which for most producers only happens after spending lots of time and money on marketing, they can be a hard sell in a busy marketplace. And if the locals enjoy drinking them or there are enough tourists drinking them locally, why go to the expense and hassle of exporting?
My holiday wine this year was a white wine I drank for the first time in July called Txakoli. Produced along the Basque coast in Northern Spain between San Sebastián and Bilbao, it's spiritual home is the surrounding area of the fishing town of Getaria, about 20km west of San Sebastián. This area was the first Txakoli region to be awarded DO (Denominacion de Origin) status in 1989. The DO is called Getariako Txakolina.
The grape variety used to make the white wines in this DO is Hondarrabi Zuri, with the red variety being Hondarrabi Beltza, although the vast majority of production is white. There are two other Txakoli DOs; Bizkaiko Txakolina and Arabako Txakolina, but I only saw Getariako wines served in San Sebastián.
Txakoli is served everywhere you go in San Sebastián, alongside another local favourite Rioja (it's only an hour or two by car to the heart of Rioja's wine country). Most Txakoli produced is consumed within the Basque Country so they don't need to worry too much about export markets.
My kind of wine, Txakoli is a lean, mean fighting machine. High in acidity, it cuts through the often fatty and deep fried basque foods beautifully. It gives you a taste of the sea with minerals and salty refreshment. A great palate cleanser on a balmy evening. Another upside is it's generally low in alcohol, usually about 11% abv, so you can guzzle with less guilt.
Some Txakoli wines have a slight fizz on the tongue, but of the ones I tried only one of them had a noticeable fizz. As a comparator I thought the wines were similar in style to a Portugese Vinho Verde
The bottles are a bit weird looking though. They typically come in tall, narrow, Riesling shaped bottles and many of the labels are written in Basque. A lot of the art work and calligraphy I saw on the bottles reminded me of something from Eastern Europe rather than Northern Spain. A bit old school to say the least. But when the wine tastes good, who cares?
The two bottles I had San Sebastian were a 2015 by Ganeta and a 2014 by Bengoetxe. Both were from the Getariako Txakolina DO.
The Ganeta was the lighter of the two. It had a bit of fizz on the tongue, leading to flavours of lime, minerals and pepper on the finish. I really enjoyed this with several seafood pintxo dishes on my first night overlooking the bay.
As for the Bengoetxe, it was quite different. A much more serious wine. Lots of minerals on the nose, it had a fuller body and was a darker colour than the Ganeta, this was a really elegant wine. Nice pepper and spice again on the finish.
I think these were two different interpretations of the Txakoli style. With an extra year under its belt as well as an extra 1% alcohol, the Bengoetxe was definitely a more serious wine. Of the two this would be the one to take home with you, whilst you guzzle the Ganeta over your farewell lunch on your last day.
As luck would have it, a few weeks after the trip I had dinner at a new Basque restaurant in London called Eneko at One Aldwych. A London outpost of the Michelin 3 starred Azurmendi restaurant just outside Bilbao run by superstar chef Eneko Atxa.
Not only do they serve great Basque food, but they have a winery (called Gorka Izagirre) where they make their own Txakoli at the Azurmendi restaurant in Bilbao. What better opportunity could there be to test out my holiday wine theory. Was Txakoli actually any good or was it just the rose tinted wraparound shades that had my taste buds going?
It wasn’t quite a straight comparison as the Gorka Izagirre wines are produced in the Biscay area (Bizkaiko Txakolina DO) rather than Getaria, but close enough for my little experiment.
They produce four Txakoli wines, three dry ones and a late harvest dessert wine.
Purely for research purposes I sampled all four…
Gorka Izagirre, 2015 – the entry level wine, and a bit simple for me. Not much fruit in evidence, it was light, dry and pleasant enough but not much to it. The salty mineral flavours were there but it just lacked fruit. A bit of a let down.....is Txakoli actually a bit shit?
G22 by Gorka Izagirre, 2014 – a big step up in class. My favourite of the four wines. They describe this as their “vintage” wine, with the legs to last a few years, which I’d agree with. Much rounder, with a lovely citrus nose (fruit, hurrah!) leads to flavours of lime and grapefruit (more fruit, double hurrah!) and then that trademark salty finish.....woo hoo, Txakoli is not shit!
42 by Eneko Atxa, 2014 – no, this was not made by the chef, but is apparently a tribute to him. I’m not sure it works. It has had 6 months in French oak, which for me just takes away the characteristics of the Txakoli style. This just tastes like a well-made oak aged wine, but it doesn’t really taste of Txakoli. Based on this wine, Txakoli should be left to flourish in the safety of steel tanks, leave the oak in Rioja….
Arima by Gorka Izagirre, 2014 – the late harvest dessert wine was very good. Lots of acidity which I like in a good stickie. Still a baby, I’d be interested to see how this developed over time. Not really part of this experiment as I have nothing to compare against but a good pudding wine nonetheless.
After sampling each of these wines, I plumped for the G22, which went beautifully with the Basque seafood we enjoyed that night.
So, what about my little experiment?
Well first of all, Txakoli is not shit. And it does travel.
However, I would recommend drinking the lighter, cheaper stuff when on holiday and upgrading when you take a bottle home to the fuller bodied “vintage” style. But steer well clear of any oak aged wines.
And finally, as with any wine, drink it with the right food. Treat it like a Basque dry Riesling. If you are not serving Basque delicacies, try it with fresh seafood, salads or spicy Thai dishes.