Location: Northern Spain, Pais Vasco (Basque County)
Grape(s): White- Hondarribi Zuri
Red- Hondarribi Beltza
Soil(s): Sandy clay, sand
Climate: Very cool maritime, over 270 days of rainfall per year
Just 30 minutes outside of San Sebastian lies the small DO of Getariako Txakolina. Here, the tradition of Basque winemaking is continuing on the majestic slopes overlooking the Bay of Biscay. Anyone who has been to this part of the world can tell you the beauty of the cliffs and many small towns along the coast. Not many people can share the experience we had on a cloudy Monday morning. The weather is Pais Vasco is fairly rainy, it was a solid 65 degrees at the winery when we arrived and never got much warmer than that. Ameztoi sits directly above the town of Getaria, known for their grilled seafood, on 34 hectares of the best vineyards in the appellation. They have been growing quickly in the past years as demand for their wine has exploded. They produce both red and white grapes, but the majority of their production is strictly white wine. The vineyards are 150m (492 feet) above the shore and are home to mostly 20 year old vines. Ameztoi also has holdings in neighboring Zarautz which are over 100 years old! Getariako receives almost 270 days of rain per year, combined with a consistent northwest wind off the ocean, it is tough for grapes to fully ripen. In fact, when we asked if they make a red wine, they said no because Hondarribi Beltza can never fully ripen. It is used for blending only to give the wines extra acidity and body.
Ameztoi produces several types of Txakoli, traditional, a premium blend called Primus, a rosé, and a sparkling rosé that is being produced for the first time this vintage, exclusively bottled in magnums, exclusively for the US. The whites are actually a blend of both the Hondarribi Zuri and Beltza grapes, but the Beltza is vinified without skin contact, and hence without color. Txakoli is a very specific type of wine and its followers are fairly picky when it comes to its presentation. In fact, Nayara and Paolo told us that the only market they have for Txakoli rosé is the United States. When they tried introducing the rosé locally they were nearly shunned as the local Basques told them “you are crazy! This is not Txakoli, it’s pink!”
Needless to say, no one bought it. In the US though, consumers can’t get enough. The first year DeMaison brought it over it sold out in a matter of weeks. When André Tamers tried to re-order he was told that unfortunately that is all they had made that year. The following year, production was more than doubled and the same result ensued. The wines are crisp, with flashy minerality and a great balance of citrus and sour apple notes. As customary, they are slightly sparkling and low in alcohol, perfect for pairing with the seafood sourced from the nearby sea.
Ameztoi vinifies each of its lots differently, and the lots are separately numbered on each botttle, though unless you were looking for it you would skip over the ubiquitous code near the bottom of the back label. We sampled a few different plots, with #17 being our favorite. It is a small plot in Zarautz that faces the sea and has a slightly stronger salty character than the others we tasted.
Ameztoi also produces a liqueur called “Orujo”. It is distilled from grape skins and is infused with three separate flavors. The most intriguing is a grass called “Luisa” which produces an intensely herbacious note. The others are coffee and cream.
As we stood out on the terrace overlooking the Bay of Biscay, time seemed to become irrelevant. We realized we had taken a step into a world that has never accepted the lightning speed pace we are accustomed to. Here, the calm soothing sound of the ocean and the wind combined to create a melody that can be described as trancelike. We gazed at the steep slopes covered in various shades of green and then at the sea which was a tranquil gray for what could have been 2 minutes or 20. Afterwards, we headed down to Getaria and ate lunch at a small family owned restaurant by the sea. Needless to say, we were late to our next appointment…
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