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What our expert thought of Bengoetxe, Getariako Txakolina




about this wine About this wine
 
Unless you’ve been to Bilbao you won’t have tasted Txakoli.  It’s produced in three tiny DOs (Denominación de Origen – the Spanish equivalent of the French AOC or Italian DOC).  This wine is from the biggest one, Getariako Txakolina DO, which at just 84 hectares is smaller than some individual Bordeaux châteaux.
 
It isn’t just the miniscule production that makes Txakoli rare outside the Basque country: few outsiders know how to pronounce the Basque labels and with all those ‘X’s, even fewer are willing to take a guess.  “Waiter, I'll try a bottle of the Tuzza… the Zakko… never mind, I'll have the Chablis.”
 
Actually, Basque is probably easier for English-speakers to pronounce than French or Spanish.  The key thing to remember is that ‘x’ is pronounced ‘ch’ as in “chair”, and ‘tx’ is almost exactly the same sound, just like the English ‘tch’.
 
There’s one more reason for Txakoli’s rarity, and that’s the enthusiasm with which the Basques themselves consume it.  If you have been out partying in Bilbao then you’ll have seen the process in action.  It’s called el txikiteo, and is a bar crawl with a food focus.
 
The bars all serve pintxos, little slices of bread with a topping or two skewered to each one with a toothpick.  They’re arrayed on the bar on big plates, and designed to be eaten standing up.  You keep the toothpicks as a tally of what you’ve consumed and are charged for them at the end.
 
The pintxos are washed down with txakoli, poured theatrically from a height into flat-bottomed glass tumblers.  The stuff is positively frothy: not as much as champagne but about as much as cider.  It’s pale, dry, very sharp, and perfect with pintxos.  It’s also very light in alcohol, between 9.5% and 11%, which is just as well as a group of friends on a txikiteo may well visit ten bars before the kitty runs out.
 
This one isn’t quite like that!  For a start, it’s not fizzy.  Txakoli’s bubbles are not the result of a second fermentation as in true sparkling wine, but are still-dissolved carbon dioxide from the first one.  To maximise the frothiness, producers ferment the juice really quickly with cultured yeasts, then force-filter the wine to clear it so it can bottled really young before the CO2 escapes.  Many also inject CO2, even though that’s against the DO rules.
 
This Bengoetxe takes a different approach and is close to being a natural wine, in sharp contrast to the high-tech process used for most Txakoli.  The vineyard is organically farmed, which is unheard of in this very wet region.  It helps that it’s further inland, dryer, warmer and higher than most.  Winemaker Iñaki Etxeberria lets the grapes ripen fully: at 12% this is much stronger than typical Txakoli.
 
The grapes are destemmed and crushed, then left to cold soak at 10°C for 24 hours to extract aromatics and complexity, before being gently pressed.  The resulting must undergoes a long, wild-yeast fermentation in small 3000 litre stainless steel tanks at 16°C.  This is necessarily slow because it takes a long time for the wild yeasts from the grape skins to multiply.  The wine is then aged on its lees for almost a year with no batonnage (lees-stirring), allowing it to clear naturally before being bottled “sur lie” without fining or filtration.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
A year’s lees-aging has allowed the dissolved CO2 to escape almost completely.  There aren’t even a few bubbles on the side of the glass.  The wine isn’t pale either; the colour is a medium lemon.  Riper grapes have more colour in their skins, and 24 hours is a lot of skin contact even at 10°C.
 
There’s a fascinating and quite pronounced nose of sharp lemon peel, with a floral note of chamomile and a pungent grassiness like hay and hops – perhaps even a whiff of petrol.  All that is wrapped in a strong stony leesiness.
 
On the palate it’s bone dry and razor sharp, with intense grapefruit and green apple flavours, and a suggestion of sea spray.  Initially light-bodied, it puts on some weight in the mouth but never loses its purity and focus.
 
On the long, mouthwatering finish the acidity makes the corners of my jaw ache a little, and the fruit is joined by a hint of bitter almonds.
 
Assessment
 
This may not look like typical Txakoli, but the racy acidity, salty minerality, and green apple and citrus flavours are all here and turned up to 11.  There are interesting similarities with other light, dry wines from the Atlantic coast: the floral nose and zingy citrus acidity are rather like Vinho Verde, while the salty minerality is reminiscent of Muscadet.
 
That amazing nose is one of a kind, though.  It has more of that leesy, natural-wine quality – wet stones and damp plaster – than any other wine I've tried.  In many wines that would be off-putting yet here it really works.  It combines seamlessly with the chamomile flowers and that intense grassy, petrolly note, which is something I've only detected before on old Australian Semillon – one of my favourite styles.
 
This wine is as thrilling and focussed as a stripped-down racing car: fierce intensity, sharp edges, clean lines, and not an ounce of excess weight.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium lemon. No spritz.
Nose

Intensity medium+

Aromas sharp citrus (lemon peel), floral (chamomile), grassy (hay, hops), petrol, stony lees

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness very dry

Acidity high

Body light+

Intensity high

Flavours citrus (grapefruit), green apple, sea spray
Finish

Length long

Flavours as palate, stony, bitter almonds
Other notes
Unoaked. Strongly leesy - very “natural wine” style.


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