Visitors to the Basque country will have definitely tasted the Txakoli, a local white wine that is drunk everywhere you go. But outside the region, the wine is extremely difficult to find despite the fact that it washes down well with food.
When you visit the Azurmendi galaxy, a three Michelin star restaurant a few kilometres outside Bilbao in the idyllic Larrabetzu, you will not only find the sister restaurant Eneko, recently awarded with a Michelin star but also the headquarters of Bodega Gorka Izagirre, a newish and enthusiastically patriotic Biscayan wine producer.
And as you would expect from a wine that is served in Eneko Atxa’s restaurants, the wines produced are of the highest quality white wines while remaining true to their unique identity and origins.
The wines are made from the Hondarrabi Zuri and the Hondarrabi Zerratia varieties. These are Atlantic grapes that are cultivated locally in small and concerntrated clusters located on the hillsides of Biscay giving wines their character and personality.
Winemaker José Ramon Calvo told Food and Wine Gazette that these grape varieties are unique to the Basque country though there are very similar grapes in the French region of Jurancon but these are used for mixing with other grape varieties.
Gorka Izaguirre has 40 hectares that are dotted along the Biscay with the grapes grown on steep hilly slopes facing southeast to favour the morning sun.
The normal Txakoli (or Chacoli as it is pronounced) has Co2 added to it to give it a light sparkle but this is not done at the Gorka Izagirre because they believe that they produce good quality wines.
José Ramon tells me that they have to fight the mentality of people who are used to a certain type of wine in the region. “One day we sent a box of our wine to Belgium and the importer told us the wine was not yet ready. He stored it and only released it a year later.”
While Txakoli is not meant for ageing, they have created a wine the G22 which is aged on lees. “At a recent tasting we opened a number of bottles from 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 and the best wine was the oldest wine,” said José Ramon who believes that Txakoli can age if there is a focus on quality.
José Ramon has also created a special wine for Eneko Atxa, the chef of the three Michelin star restaurant Azurmendi. Called 42, this wine is barrel fermented again going against the grain of what a Txakoli should be.
The people in the region believed that it was impossible to create a sweet wine from the grapes. “We created this wine because people told us it was impossible to create a sweet wine in the region. The problem is that people are used to getting around 15,000 kilos per hectare and to produce sweet wine we go down to 6,000 kilos per hectare. “We have to adapt the production to what the land can give us. But if people tell us something is impossible, we will try to do it,” José said.