For those of the procreating variety half term dawns again and Facebook begins to be filled with humblebragging status updates about the queues at Gatwick or "treating myself to a glass of rose by the pool #blessed". For those of us not off sunning ourselves in foreign climes, knocking back cheap local plonk and thinking it’s the bee’s knees, spring can drag in the city. Seemingly interminable rain showers make us wonder if summer might never arrive, or worse still has been and gone. Thankfully there has been the odd evening in the last couple of weeks like tonight when we can spend long evenings sat outside bars and restaurants behaving like we’re in the middle of San Sebastian rather than somewhere off Carnaby Street in the middle of Soho with a faint whiff of drains in the air. No matter- a hubbub of chatter and a plentiful supply of tapas can lead me to only one grape this week – Hondarrabi Zuri!
Let's get one thing out of the way up front; there are multiple aspects to this grape that noone can seemingly agree on from the name to its appearance and right back to its origins. During my research for this article I found numerous different spellings including Ondurrabi, Hondarrabi, Hondurrabi, Hondirrabi. This could be down to an inability to spell or could be a translational issue between Spanish, Basque and English. Either way the name is its most evident disparity. I'm going to call it HZ to avoid the issue. Looking for images of the grape online I found pink grapes, big grapes, little grapes all kinds of grapes all purporting to be HZ so it seems noone can agree on that either. I'm going with the images below though which seem reliable and fit the description given in Wine Grapes.
The grape is mainly grown in three DO’s across the region; Txakoli do Alava (Chacolí de Álava in Spanish) - the smallest Txakoli DO, Getariako Txakolina (Chacolí de Guetaria in Spanish) and Bizkhaiko Txakolina (Chacolí de Bizkaya in Spanish) - the largest DO.
I should probably call them “Jatorrizko Deitura” instead of DOs unless I want militant Basque separatist trolls on my tail but a “JD” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as a "DO".
|Hondurrabi Zuri grape image from http://www.arzabrotxakolina.com/vinedo/|
Txakoli also seems to be made in small quantities in Chile under its Spanish name Chacoli but its far from clear whether it is made using Hondurrabi Zuri.
In fact even after consulting the bible Wine Grapes, its something of a mystery as to what HZ is at all.
What does Wine Grapes say?
Not a great deal although it is referenced. Wine Grapes calls it Hondarribi Zuri but hey, you say Tomahdo I say Tomaydo... Hondarribia is an area on the Basque coast right on the border between France and Spain and the Zuri bit means "white" in Basque and there is a Hondarribi Beltza which is a black grape so this all makes sense.
The alphabetical section of Wine Grapes devoted to HZ redirects you to Courbu Blanc, Crouchen and also to Noah. In summary, although DNA profiled, there still seems to be confusion over whether this is a local name misapplied to several slightly different grapes or a grape variety all of its own. What is clear is that they are all genetically similar enough to share common characteristics.
The grapes are small both in bunch and berry and are mid ripening for starters and result in highly acidic wine.
|Image of Hondurrabi Zuri from http://en.costavasca.org/our-txakoli/getaria-txakoli|
What did I drink?
I've had Txakoli before so knew what to expect but was nervous about convincing my friends into it. Its highly acidic with some minerality and salinity. The spritz makes it tingly rather than fizzy so it can be an acquired taste.
I think it’s a good summer drinker, light and generally low in alcohol (usually around 10%) and was good enough for the friends in that they called for a second bottle- can’t get more of an endorsement than that I guess.
Of course there is something appealing about the theatrics of wine poured from a great height into a glass and the petillance to it also gives it more of a sense of occasion than a common old still wine.
That said it is not a complex grape and the wine it produces is not particularly sophisticated either. It's often described as being served and drunk like a Spanish version of cider. This is reinforced by the local practice of drinking from what look like half pint tumblers rather than wine glasses. It's ultimately a glugger designed to accompany tapas and pintxos.
At first glance, Txakoli has some definite similarities to Portuguese Vinho Verde- the colour for starters. Both Txakoli wines that I tried had a green hint to them. The significant acidity, minerality and spritz are also comparable. There seems to be some subtle difference between those wines hailing from by the sea where cooler winds Atlantic winds and humidity prevail compared to the hotter more Mediterranean wines from inland. The inland wines are a little more full bodied compared to the more steely sea breeze wines.
The second version that I tried was an Aquirrebeko Bodega Berroja from Bizkaia. In all honesty it was just ok. Perfectly drinkable but rather "generic white wine" in nose and palate with nothing to make me want to wax lyrical about it. For a tenner its perfectly well made and would be a decent wine for a barbecue or with a plate of prawns but it would be the food singing rather than the wine.
Both wines are for drinking now and are definitely not keepers.
Where can you buy some?
M&S are doing a Txakoli from Alaia (in Getariako) by the case here at £10 a bottle
Pure Spain have the Txakoli Egea Enea from Baizkaiko for £13.
I bought the Aquirrebeko tasted above from Lea & Sandeman for £10.
The story behind the #WineGrapeChallenge can be found here
Inspiration for these blog posts and the #WineGrapeChallenge is taken from the book "Wine Grapes" by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Dr José Vouillamoz. You can buy a copy here.