Posted by: tomciocco | August 18, 2013

TXAKOLI HAS A DARK SIDE…

The Basque coast, especially in the province of Gipuzkoa, has an undulating and rocky emerald coast intermittently strung with neat and elegant pearl-like fishing towns all the way up to the biggest jewel in the strand, San Sebastian, and continuing beyond to the French border. And in the pintxos bars and restaurants of this maritime gastronomic wonderland thousands upon thousands of skinny bottles of the frothy white Txakoli are poured from above the heads of waiters and barkeeps, splashing into delicately thin-glassed tumblers that are then put to lips and gulped down with rounds of bread ridden by white anchovies and pickled hot peppers, shrimp salads, hashes of  top-grade tuna with onion marmalade, and countless other concoctions of the fruits of the sea for which this region is justifiably famous.

For most gastronomes acquainted with Txakoli, it is a wine that is almost synonymous with white wine, full stop. In 99% of the cases, nothing could be truer, but there is that 1%…Txakoli (de Getaria in this case) is typically made from a blend of two very Basque grape varieties with equally Basque names to match: Hondarribi Zuri and Hondarribi Beltza. In Basque the word “zuri” means “white”, and the word “beltza” means “black”, and even the 99% of the Txakoli that is white is made with predominantly Hondarribi Zuri but also with a lesser percentage of Hondarribi Beltza that is quickly separated from its purply skins to prevent any pigmentation of the final product. Tonight’s wine however is Txakoli of another color…literally.

Very slowly but with increasing frequency, certain Txakoli de Getaria producers are eschewing Hondarribi Zuri altogether in favor of making wine exclusively with Hondarribi Beltza that is macerated on its skins like any other red wine, while still retaining the piercing, spritzy style of its ubiquitous light-skinned brother. And indeed, “beltza” – “black” is a far more apt descriptor of the color of this wine than “red” ever could be. To be more precise, wines made from Hondarribi Beltza typically have a deep and intense but electrically bright violet/black color, with aromas and flavors that evoke wild forest fruits and soil dampened by salty ocean spray and fog. If white Txakoli is the golden white sun reflected off of the verdant water of the Biscay bay, red Txakoli is the dust and the dried leaves blown up by the wind and  black clouds rolling over the waves onto the rocky cliffs…

Bubbly-style red Txakoli, despite its deep pigmentation, does not preclude its pairing with seafood, especially fattier, “blue” fish like sardines or mackerel, but I followed a different path in pairing this Basque oddity opting instead for a first course of a salad of green lentils and leeks followed by a main course of floured and fried pork cutlets I cut from a tenderloin that I then simmered in a sauce of minced chorizo, mushrooms, and yellow and red tomatoes with a side of lightly browned green cabbage folded into creamy mashed potatoes.

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Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina Beltza “Stimatum” 2011

Deeply saturated but bright blackish magenta/purple color, with pinkish/purple froth at the rim. The nose opens with an intense briny minerality followed by bold but still quite elegant aromas of boysenberry, raspberry, watermelon candy, red wildflowers, dried herbs, and green pepper. The palate is medium-light with a slight spritziness, a finely “grainy” texture, wiry tannins and spunky acidity and sapid flavors of blood orange, black cherry, chalky earth, mocha, and wild honey. Big bittersweet finish.

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