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Delhi Wine Club
Tasting Basque and Rioja Alavesa Wines from Northwest Spain

Posted: Friday, 19 May 2017 14:29


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Tasting Basque and Rioja Alavesa Wines from Northwest Spain

May 19: At a delightful private and exclusive dinner hosted recently by Xabier Arruza, a visiting native of the autonomous Spanish Region Basque, one could discover two delicious and unique Txakoli (Chacoli) white wines from Basque along with four red wines from Rioja Alavesa, one of the three sub-regions of Rioja and a part of Basque, paired with dishes from Pluck Restaurant at Pullman Aerocity, making it a unique evening any connoisseur would love to be a part of, writes Subhash Arora

Click For Large ViewTry reading a label from a wine bottle from Basque- Ameztoi Primus Circumdisti Txakoligetariako Txakolina DO! Not an easy task as we sat down drinking this delicious white wine from Basque, and trying to decipher the label.

Have you heard of a white grape called Hondarrabi (Ondarrabi) Zuri or the red- Hondarrabi Beltza? These are two indigenous grapes of Basque, the northern-most region of Spain, known for Guggenheim Museum  in Bilbao and Michelin star Restaurants in San Sebastian-world's biggest 'gourmet food court' known for the highest per capita Michelin star restaurants.

Together the blend of 95% white and 5% red makes a light, acidic, refreshing wine known as Chacoli (Txakoli). Made in a few villages including Getaria, this wine has Getariako Txakolina DO (Denominación de Origen- the equivalent of DOC in Italy. Primus indicates it is the higher quality level wine from Ameztoi winery. The wine has a special characteristic of some tiny bubbles intentionally left in the bottle by the producers to tingle on your palate.

Called Txakolí (Basque for Chacoli- a special wine that would do wonders for Indian palate), the evening started with two wines, the first one Aretxaga being dry and lighter on the palate while Primus Circumdisti being more concentrated, less dry and with fuller body, seemingly more of a food wine, These were the two white wines served at this delightful evening at the Pluck Restaurant at Hotel Pullman where the additions and variations in the Menu by the Exec. Chef Ajay Anand's team keeps amazing the guests.

Regarding Chacoli, Xabier clarified 'we use only the word “Txakoli” in Basque. There have been several discussions about the name and the exclusivity of its use, as some regions around Basque Country wanted to use it too, with the Spanish name “Chacoli”. Finally the EU decided : “The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market and the General Court of the European Union ruled that the terms chacolí, txakolina or txakoli only indicate a characteristic of wines and a type of traditional wine production, and cannot be used as a trademark with exclusive use by a particular geographical area. However, the same judgment of the EU court recognizes that such terms can only be used under the recognized appellations of origin for that type of wine, and the use of Terms as a commercial designation for wines without a designation of origin.” So as the exclusivity for the use of the name belongs to the Basque Country, we only used the Basque version – Txakoli or Txakolina.'

Wines from Rioja Alavesa (Basque)

Which wine lover does not know or love Rioja?! But how many know the 3 sub-regions- Rioja Alta, Rioja Baja and Rioja Alavesa- the small area which is part of the Basque and makes some delightfully delicious Rioja wines. Four special wines from this area made the evening hosted by the man from Bilbao- Xabier Arruza An Affair to Remember. Organised by Arun Varma, a long-time member of the Delhi Wine Club it was also attended by Carlos Jimenez, Chief Economic and Commercial Counsellor and Jose Antonio Obregon Sanchez, Agricultural Counsellor who represented their country at the special wine tasting.

The outstanding wines were all based on terroir-based 100% Tempranillo unlike most Riojan wines from the other two regions where Garnacha and Graciano and a few lesser known varieties like Mazuelo are also added in the blend. To some extent these grapes are used in Rioja Alavesa wines too.

BAI Gorri di Garage 2013

Click For Large ViewRed wine made from the grape variety Tempranillo, sourced from old vines (over 60 years old) at an altitude of 650 m. Limited production, estate-grown in vineyards in Rioja Alavesa.

Berry selected, with Long maceration and fermentation with indigenous yeasts in wooden barrels. Natural extractions by gravity, malolactic fermentation with 24 months ageing in new French oak barrels. This complex and elegant wine was intense dark cherry red in colour with bouquet of fresh black fruits and notes of minerality. It impressed with its freshness and elegance and long finish. The interesting connotation in Hindi context also helped lighten up the atmosphere at the table.

Crusoe Treasure 2013

Not many people have had the fortune of tasting wines aged under sea-water; a phenomenon that started about 12 years ago and carried out by a few enthusiastic winemakers throughout the world including Spain, US, France and Greece. According to this Spanish producer who claims he has an underwater winery but in reality has the ageing cellar which has been created 20 meters under the sea.  After fermentation and part maturing in wood for 6 months in a winery on the ground,  the bottles are packaged in palates in special cages and lowered in the sea . This cellar gives a dark and quiet atmosphere at constant cool temperature for 12 months, the ageing gets faster and the wine is more rounded and naturally has more mineral properties. A great example of wine being important to a connoisseur more than just what is in the glass. The visible ageing under water as seen on the bottle makes it a joy for any wine aficionado.

It was quite well-rounded, somehow lighter on the palate with distinct and pleasant minerality and ripe tannins with hints of liquorice and truffles. Pity, there was no bottle aged above water so one could do a comparison. It’s only after tasting that one realised it should have been served before the full bodied BAIGorri.  For details, please click

Bodega Valdelana Centum Vitis Rioja Crianza

Click For Large ViewAnother variant of 100% Tempranillo from Rioja Alavesa this deep coloured, full-bodied wine had intense perfumed nose with a generous whiff of red fruit. But before we could sip it, there was a deviation- apparently a surprise; thin wafers of 22 carats gold flakes sprinkled over in the glass. While it helped create a buzz around the table and discussion about gold flakes being a regular part of the luxurious Indian cuisine and giving it a majestic feel, it failed to impress as a component  of wine. To Arab Sheikhs it might be a symbol of luxury, to others it may be consumed as novelty factor or a stamp of uniqueness and rarity while to others it may be a mark of snobbery or interfering with the natural wine making process.  In any case, an experientialist connoisseur’s delight!

Gloria 2008 Ostatu Rioja Alavesa

Continuing with our tryst with Tempranillo, Rioja Alavesa and Basque, we were served the wine with a nudge since the owner claims this wine may be used with dessert also. It was full-bodied, rich wine - well concentrated and fruity with plenty of red fruits on the nose and the palate; the well-balanced wine has excellent structure and a fabulous match with the lamb and Risotto. It did not go too well with aubergines that would be an excellent match but the tomato base was a bit too acidic for the wine. A perfect example where a wine can do wonders when well- matched with food. One wondered which dessert would match, barring some chocolate based dolce.

Each and every red wine tasted during the recent evening was a gem with its own personality and characteristics even though the grape was the same. It made me salivate for more Chacoli and red wines from Rioja Alavesa. It may be a while before we see these wines in India; due to their limited production they would not be for everyone. But they are truly connoisseurs’ delight and worth travelling to the region for exploring more of them.

While giving credit for the event to Pilar Angula who is behind the gastronomical project “Basqvium – Travel, Food & Culture", he said she could not be present and as such it was being launched during his visit. The evening was a part of the Launch.

Subhash Arora

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