Posted by: tomciocco | July 22, 2008

ALWAYS A SUCKER FOR A TXAKOLI

Those of you have read what I’ve written over the last couple of years, will definitely remember reading about Basque food, wine, and culture. I am a tried and convicted Basque-o-phile. Both the Basque land and the Basque people are a fascinating and seemingly contradictory braid of warmth and dourness; of sincerity and directness twisted together with a confounding inscrutability; a calmness and reliability fused with a real ferocity that roils like a fumerole just underneath smooth seas…

And those of you who have travelled in The Basque Country know about the almost religious attachment the Basques have to their land and its products – unique strains of peppers, superb anchovies (and fish of all kinds), sweet asparagus and leeks. But to be perfectly frank, anything but “newest” of New Basque Cuisine is not the last word in diversity  – either in terms of preparation or in the breadth of its palette of ingredients. Much of the Basque country is cool and damp – it’s not Ireland mind you, but it’s closer to that than the climate of most of France or Italy. But what the Basques do perhaps better than any other cooks in the world is to demand the very finest quality ingredients, and pair that stickling tendency with an almost alchemical technique and knowledge of how to get these beautiful raw materials to give truly inspiring performances. Basque cooks’ extremely skillful and delicate seafood preparations are legendary, and those of you who cook know that serving truly transcendent seafood is MUCH harder than it looks, and indeed is said by many to closer to an art than a science…

And the quintessential Basque wine – Txakoli (cha-co-LEE) -not surpsingly perfectly follows the form of the land that give birth to it, as well as to the people who make it. At first meeting, Txakoli can seem a bit tight and sour, but its citrusy spritziness (traditional Txakoli is bottled with a frothing, tiny-bubbled carbonation, though THIS one, and many more “contemporary” Txakolis, is bottle completely still), and stalwart, briney flavors, and the perfectly harmonious way that these traits buttress the bold, clean, elegant flavors of Basque food is nothing short of magical. 

In a previous post, I had written about a REAL Basque oenological rarity – a RED Txakoli – made from the THOROUGHLY Basque Hondarribi Beltza grape variety (“beltza” means “black” in Basque). Hondarribibi Beltza is the dark-skinned twin of the far more common Hondarribi Zuri (“zuri” means “white”), and indeed the Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina 2007 is made from 90% Hondarribi Zuri with the addition of 6% Folle Blanche (a minor white grape from the greater Bay of Biscay area) and 4% Riesling, believe it or not.

For all of their ancient history (the Basques are arguably the oldest ethnic group still extant – they can dig their roots IN THAT PLACE over 6,000 years deep!), the Basques are not a quaint or old fashioned folk – just the opposite really –  the Basques take almost as much pride in embracing new or foreign ideas as they do in preserving their extremely ancient language, festivals, games, etc., and this unique blend succinctly illustrates this character.

The dinner that was the subject of my first Basque post here at EXALTED RATIONS  included among other things, a dish of Hake in Biscayne Sauce. Being ever the frugal cook, the sauce recipe yielded FAR more than I could use in one meal, so I froze it, and just gave an encore performance for this white Txakoli. We started with a tuna/lettuce/tomato/white asparagus salad, and a side of peas and carrots rice with the fish)…

One puzzling thing, and a question to anyone out there who might have an answer…This wine is classified as a Bizkaiko Txakolina  – that is Txakoli from the northwesternmost Basque region of Bizcaya. But, within the explanatory/tasting notes on the reverse label, the vineyard from which the grapes are harvested is said to be “…just west of San Sebastian city.” Those familiar with Basque geography know that San Sebastian resides comfortably and proudly in the Guipuzcoa region, not in Bizcaya (where Bilbao can be found)…what’s up with that? If anyone can explain, please post here post haste. Eskerrik Asko ! (Thank you!)The notes:

Berroia Bizkaiko Txakolina 2007

Very pale straw color. Fresh, spritzy nose of lime juice and lemon zest, white flowers, dried hay, and a touch of kerosene. The wine in the mouth is a medium-light affair with tangy and refreshing pear, grapefruit and cool notes of boiled peanuts and “twiggy” flavors. Finishes with a longish and elegant bitterness. 

  

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