Posted by: tomciocco | August 5, 2010


Though the Columbian exchange has had a profound effect on kitchens on both sides of the Atlantic, it has always struck me that the Basque kitchen seems to rely especially heavily on New World ingredients, especially peppers, tomatoes, and beans, but corn, squashes, and potatoes figure in as well. Further, the modern Basque kitchen (and the pre-Columbian as well?) is light on Old World ingredients like rice, chick peas, and fava beans, as well as herbs, and it makes almost no use at all of dried spices except in a few sweets. These facts lead one directly to question just what the hell the Basques were eating pre-1500 or so…I’ve got a few theories, and I bet in some library in Bilbao somewhere there’s an actual scholarly work on just this subject, but I thought that I’d throw this little culinary riddle out there for a discussion before I have to get on a plane to Euzkadi to apply for a library card…So if you have any theories (or actual knowledge!) on the contents of the pre-Colombian Basque pantry and the possible reasons for its dramatic conversion to the bounty from the New World, post away! 

From historic food to modern wine…In an effort to “re-basquify” the regions of Euzkadi that had over many years, and for many reasons, lost their Basque culture, the Basque government in Gasteiz (Vitoria) authorized the creation of new appellations like Arabako Txakolina. As with its older coastal Txakoli cousins in Getaria and Bizkaia, Alava Txakoli wines are based primarily on the somewhat mysterious and very Basque Hondarribi Zuri grape variety but with the addition of Izkiriota and Izkiriota Ttippia (sic!) (the Basque names for Gros Manseng and Petit Manseng respectively) the rare Petit Corbu, and few “international” varieties as well (Riesling and Chardonnay!). The Mansengs and the Corbu, if not strictly Basque (and they may be), are found in just a small slice of the northern Pyreneean foothills…

Xarmant Arabako Txakolina 2009

Ever so slightly coppery, pale gold color. Assertive nose of minerally lime, green apple, and toasted almond notes. The entry on the palate is zippy, bracing, and light, but with a very wiry mid-palate, and pulpy, “nectary” yellow fruit and fresh ginger flavors that add a richness and body that picks up a grapefruit tartness on the fairly long finish.



  1. Your knowledge of food and wines continues to astound me! I haven’t yet traveled in Basque country, though that is one of my next two trips. Txakoli and its relations are some of the reasons. One of my favorites is a rose: Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina, made of Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Belta, and you are the first person I ever saw refer to either of those grapes.

    I had a Petit Manseng just once, a few years ago in SFO. It was a Herri Mina 2005 at Piperade, and it was superb and unusual, as I find these wines often are. The other grabber for me was that it was from Irouleguy, on the French side of the Pyrenees, whence cometh Domaine Arretxea — a dark and dense red, perfect with Arroz Negro.

    So much more to learn and experience!

    • Hey dgourmac,

      I love Ameztoi’s wines. I posted a little while back about their rose` Txakoli which is very tough to find, but worth the effort…I’ve encountred the Manseng brothers most frequently under the Jurancon appellation…I think I’ve only had a white Irouleguy once (super rare), but I’m with you on the reds – the muscular grip of the Tannat and the zip and the fruit from the Cabernets make it a great partner for the heartiest of dishes, roasted chicken or game, lamb stews, and as you recommend, arroz negro. Thanks for the feedback


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