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Txakolina is a wine produced in Basque country. It is pronounced choc-o-LEE-na. In Spain, the daunting Basque spelling is often replaced with the more phonetic chacolí. There are many varieties of the wine, but the most common characterization is a light, fizzy white. The unifying characteristic of all of the varieties is that they are made primarily with the grapes native to Basque country: the white Hondarribi Zurri and the red Hondarribi Beltza.
The wine has regal roots in Basque tradition. It was originally the drink of Basque royalty, preserved for only the highest echelons of society. Txakolina was drunk in celebration of milestones; when Juan Sebastian del Cano returned to Basque country as the first man to circumnavigate the globe, the wine was served at the celebration of his homecoming.
Modern Txakolina comes in three denominations of origin. The most common is Getariako Txakolina, from the Getariako, or Guetaria region. This is the source of the general conception of the wine. It is a highly acidic, fizzy white wine. Getariako producers embrace the historical significance of the wine. The largest winery, Ameztoi, still prints a portrait of del Cano on its labels.
A second denomination is Bizkaiko Txakolina. This region has more variety in its wines — it even produces some reds. The growers and winemakers try to recapture the historical character of the wine, which was primarily red until the 19th century. A disease devastated Basque vineyards, and growers began replenishing the fields. Basque officials took advantage of the turnover to encourage a shift from red to white production to avoid competing with surrounding regions.
Arabako Txakolina is the third denomination. It was founded in 2003 by 12 local grape growers. They blend their Hondarribi Zurri grapes with three French varieties: Gros Manseng, Petit Manseng and Petit Courbu.
White Txakolina dominates Basque country, where it is drunk in tapas bars. The wine is known as a good pairing for seafood. Basques are devoted to the wine, drinking the whites even with meats that are traditionally paired with heavy reds.
De Maisons Selections imports the wines to the United States, the only other major market for Txakolina. It imports mostly white varieties, but also imports nearly all of the red and Ameztoi rosé that is produced because Basques heavily favor white varieties. In 2009, De Maisons imported 111,000 bottles of the Basque wine, up from 1,200 bottles in 2001.
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