Region: Northern Spain, Pais Vasco (Basque Country)
Grape(s): White- Hondarribi Zuri, Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, Petit Courbu
Soil: Limeestone, Sandy Clay
After we left Getariako Txakolina, initially we thought our jaunt over to a neighboring Basque appellation would take less than an hour. Oops… when the GPS spit out our estimated arrival time, we knew we were not getting back to San Sebastian until late in the evening. Nestled within a single valley damn near in Rioja Alavesa is the tiny DO of Arabako Txakolina (known as Txakoli de Alava in Spanish). This region received DO status just in 2003, and produces both red and white wines. Aside from grapes, the region is well known for its ornithological highlights… yes, I had to ask Brandon what is the technical term for bird watching, now we know. The reason is quite clear, in the distance, at every part of the valley rose sheer cliffs that would make any climber drool or shiver depending on their level of experience. The sight was almost like Jurrasic Park, or King Kong. It seemed that just on the other side of those cliffs is a land of fantasy, a parallel universe. As the fog began to descend it seemed like an invisible hand pulled a lid over the mountains and we realized that we were the ones left in a magic bubble with the Cantabrian Mountains encircling us from all visible sides. This is a place of wilderness and quiet isolation.
Xarmant (a clever Basque play on charmant, the French word for “charming”), is a small winery founded just three years ago. The family run operation is part of a larger cooperative that pools its resources in order to further the overall image of the appellation. In contrast to Getariako, this is a continental climate. Summers are quite hot and grapes have a more intense ripening season. For this reason, varietals such as Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng, and Petit Courbu are grown in parcels next to the classic Hondarribi Zuri. The resulting wines are much bigger in body and in richness than their coastal counterparts. While this style is a bit richer, it does not have the slightly salty zing of Getariako. These wines are still quite acidic, but quite different from the seaside Txakoli. Xarmant’s Txakoli is a great example of climactic influence on a regional style. Purists will argue that this is not classic Txakoli and they will be correct. But that is not a bad thing, sometimes you come across a wine that is just great and different at the same time.
Xarmant uses machine harvesting and the flat valley on which we found ourselves definitely lends itself to that ability. The facility is new, having been recently converted from use as a barn. This is not as sexy as the monolith like structures of big production Rioja on the other side of the Cantabrian mountains, but the wine is sexy enough on its own. Simplicity wins out in the end.
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