España Verde, or Green Spain, is the name given to the lush region of Northern Spain that extends from the border of Portugal on the west, to the border of France on the east. The region includes Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and parts of the Basque. It is called Green Spain for the lush, moist environment that the Atlantic creates in this area. Rolling pastures and vibrant forests speckle the region, much different than the rest of Spain. The climate more closely resembles that of Great Britain and the west coast of France.
Because of the cool weather, the focus for grape growing here is on white, earlier ripening varieties. The most famous grape is Albariño from Rias Baixas in Galicia—and growing in popularity are the Hondarrabi varieties (of Txakoli fame, keep reading for the scoop) from the Basque Country.
As summer is winding down, with summer produce being harvested, these are the wines we want to drink with tapas and pintxos (Basque for a small snack, typically eaten in bars). Pan con Tomate is the ultimate, garden-fresh pintxo. All you need is bread, good olive oil, a ripe tomato, garlic and sea salt. Words do not do this Spanish snack justice.
Albariño is the main grape coming from Galicia in Northwest Spain. The resulting wine is definitely a crowd pleaser; it is a tropical fruit basket on the nose (reminiscent of a dry Riesling), but the hint of salinity will always take me to Rías Baixas. The coastal landscape of Rías Baixas is irregular, marked by a series of jagged inlets and shallow fjords known as “rias.” The name Rías Baixas literally means “lower rias.” The five distinct subregions that make up Rías Baixas differ according to their topography and proximity to rivers and the sea.
In the vein of “what grows together, goes together,” Albariño is always amazing with food plucked from the nearby Atlantic. Cod, cockles, prawns, tuna, anchovies, oysters, etc. are simply wonderful matches with whatever fresh vegetable is available. Because of the acidity and brightness of this wine, it is also fantastic with spicy fare.
Txakoli has also been growing in fame over the last decade. Txakoli is the name of the wine, with Hondaribbi Zuri and Hondaribbi Beltza being the grapes. These are small clusters of white and red grapes that grow together in the hills of the Basque. Salt water literally crusts on the outside of the grapes, so the saltiness you taste in the wine is real, not imagined. You will see Txakoli as both a white and a rosé.
I remember tasting this wine for the first time and immediately was transported to the sea. I introduced this wine to my family at a dinner at Gramercy Tavern in 2009. It was paired with soft shell crab and heirloom tomatoes—I will never forget the feeling that washed over me like waves at the sea shore.
Txakoli is typically served as an aperitif with very small pours, from high up above the glass. Traditionally, this accentuates the slight effervescence in the wine. It also has been a trend as of late to pour the entirety of the bottle into a “porron.” This is a Spanish-style decanter with an unusual shape. The next (and most important) step is to pass the porron around at your dinner party and pour it directly into your mouth. It’s basically the grown-up version of a beer bong.
Speaking of beer, well cider actually, the naturally fermented (from native yeasts on the apple skins) ciders from this region are a far cry from Angry Orchard. They are bone dry, sour, low in alcohol and utterly delicious—PURE FUNK—served at all the local bars and sagardotegi (aka cider houses) in Northern Spain. These ciders love to be paired with pintxos and would be perfect for the first cool nights of September and a bonfire.
No one parties like the Spaniards, and San Sebastián is the hub of Northern Spain for most of that action. In addition to fantastic beaches and nightlife, it has more Michelin restaurants per capita than any other city in the world! San Sebastián, also known as Donostia (in Basque language), is a mere 12 km from France and a popular tourist destination for the French and the Brits. A flight from Paris to San Sebastián will cost you around 30 euro.
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Granbazán farms 17 hectares of Albariño vines in Val do Salnés, the sub-region of the Rías Baixas which is centered around the town of Cambados. Val do Salnés is the site of the oldest Albariño plantations. It is also the coldest and wettest of the five sub-regions. The average temperature for the year is 55°F and it rarely exceeds 85°F, even in the hottest part of the summer. Grapes are trained in the traditional pergola fashion and soils are based on granite with alluvial topsoil.
ALBARIÑO ETIQUETA VERDE, RÍAS BAIXAS 2017 : $20 btl
ALBARIÑO ETIQUETA AMBAR, RÍAS BAIXAS 2016 : $25 btl
Wine does not have to be complicated. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Julian and Maia Ulacia’s simple but functional winery above the small fishing port of Getaria, a few kilometres along the coast from San Sebastian in the heart of Basque country. This 6 Ha estate has been family owned since the 1940’s.
TXAKOLI DE GETARIA BLANCO 2017 : $20 btl
Bereziartua is a traditional Basque apple cider produced since 1870 by the Bereziartua family. Sidras Bereziartua Sagardoak is located in Astigarraga, a town which has been famous for its cider production for centuries. Cider was taken so seriously here in the 14th century that anyone who broke a cider barrel was condemned to capital punishment. Today, they just focus on making one of the most distinctive expressions of apple cider in the world.
MARCHETTI STYLE CIDER : $10 btl
See you next Sunday. Kevin Hart
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