Hidden Spain: Tiny wine regions

Bodegas Astobiza, Okondo
Bodegas Astobiza, Okondo

Paella, sangria and siesta – Spain is a country whose stereotypes overshadow its true personality. The same happens with its winemaking tradition, which is all too often summed up in three words: Rioja, Priorat and Cava.

The reality is that Spain is composed of 17 regions, all of them so culturally different that they have their own languages, traditions and people groups. Spain’s wines share the same uber-regional markers, with grape varieties and winemaking styles shifting along with DNA and dialects.

The denominacio?n de origen, or DO, is how Spain designates its official wine regions, a distinction that got its start in 1932 with the Second Republic’s Estatuto del Vino. This early edict recognised 19 regions and served as the basis for the DO designation’s creation in 1970.

Now there are 70 DOs, many of them among the wine world’s most famous names. But some of these DOs are less than 500 hectares in size and are nothing more (and nothing less) than hills and mountains where grape-growers cultivate local grape varieties not found anywhere else on the continent, and winemakers produce wine using techniques practised for centuries.

The ideal way to explore Spain’s tiny DOs is by car – they often lack the budgetary support that the bigger wine regions translate into public transport, wine routes and village-centric tourism.

That said, be prepared for spectacular, pristine landscapes, whether they be the scruffy, olive-hued mountainsides of DO Binissalem in Mallorca or the hairpin mountain roads of the 1,200m-high Alpujarras in DO Granada.

The joy of Spain’s smallest wine regions is as tangible as the wine itself – the winery tours are often conducted in person by the winemakers, which makes for extraordinary personal stories. And there is the chance to taste Spain’s wildly varied regional cuisine, paired, of course, with wines that exude terroir.

Whether 200ha or 20ha, Spain’s smallest regions are bursting with a richness of winemaking, culture and flavours that is just waiting to be enjoyed.

DO Arabako Txakolina

Caserío Iruaritz

For centuries the Valle de Ayala, home to the DO Arabako Txakolina (also known as Txakoli? de Alava in Basque, or Chacoli? de Alava in Spanish), was virtually forgotten by all except its Basque inhabitants. Sandwiched between the historically important Castilla y Leo?n and the industrial Bizkaia (Biscay), its peaceful rolling hills and pine tree-lined mountains are mainly planted with vines of Hondarrabi Zuri (also known as Courbu Blanc in the French Pays Basque), a grape that has been used to make Txakoli wine across the Basque Country for centuries.

Txakolina, as it is called in the Euskera language, was a rustic wine until the first Txakoli DO (Getariako Txakolina) was formed in 1989, a move that was quickly followed by a refining of winemaking processes and a leap in quality.

The Alava (Araba in Basque) region founded its own DO in 2001. It differs geographically from the other Txakoli-producing areas in its landlocked nature, resulting in slightly rounder, less salty and more mineral wines than those of its counterparts. There exists a Txakoli Route (see spain.info) linking wineries, local tourism offices, lodging and restaurants, which is a good way to begin to plan a trip through the valley. However, in this tiny DO, just about everything is 10 minutes away, and it’s a joy in both sunny and (more likely) cloudy weather to coast up and down the A-624.

Head for the town of Okondo to Bodegas Astobiza, where Xabier Abando continues a family tradition of growing Hondarrabi Zuri grapes with an eye to refined, over rustic, wines. The guided visits, available through the winery or the local tourism office, offer you the chance to stroll through the micro-parcels responsible for Abando’s hand-harvested single-vineyard Txakoli. Concrete egg fermenters, employed to make as low-intervention a Txakoli as possible, are a rare sight indeed in the…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/wine/hidden-spain-tiny-wine-regions-512811/

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