The cool and wet climate of Green Spain stretches from Galicia on Spain’s northwest coast to that portion of northern Spain that includes the Basque Country.
Visitors to Galicia in Spain’s northwest corner could be forgiven for their confusion; they may hear a bagpipe or two on festival days. An immigrant colony of Celts from well before the birth of Christ remains a vital part of Galician culture, and the seasons can seem to be lifted straight from Ireland or Scotland. Part of the fame of the region is based upon the ninth–century discovery of what are believed to be the remains of St. James, interred in the town of Santiago (St. James) de Compostela. Since the tenth century, pilgrims have walked from their hometowns in France, Germany, and Italy along the Camino de Santiago, ending their journeys at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The busy ports north and south on Spain’s coast reveal more than sightseers and sun-seekers; vast fishing fleets have operated here for millennia, and wine production can be traced back as far as 5,000 years ago.
The cool and misty climate necessitates a focus upon earlier ripening grapes, especially white varieties. In this wettest part of Spain, pergolas prop up about half of the vines of Rías Baixas; they can be found where excessive moisture necessitates air flow underneath the vines to combat disease pressures. For the winemaker, the advantage of this sort of climate is that with the right confluence of sunshine and coolness, aromatic varieties are virtually guaranteed to be, well, aromatic.
Here are a wealth of autochthonous grapes that are found nowhere else in the world, and Green Spain’s millennia–long, continuous wine culture has allowed these grapes to develop and adapt. The world only recently has discovered one of them—Albariño—which has achieved a place of prominence. But other varieties such as Godello may soon demand a bit of the spotlight.
As befits the damp, cool climate of Basque Country, the character of the Txakoli wines here is sharp and taut, with none of the richness that marks much of Spanish wine. Wines of this style can be splendid with shellfish and many seafood dishes; not surprisingly, the Basque people have always been known as superb fishermen, and some of the most important chefs in the world are found in this region as well. Basque chefs—Martín Berasategui, Juan Mari Arzak, and many others—helped birth the Spanish food revolution.
The Txakoli DOs of Basque Country can look unpronounceable—Euskera is a unique language surrounded by Indo–European Romance languages—but the wines are very bracing and delightful on a warm summer day. As with other regions of relatively short summers and almost constant high humidity, grapes tend to be tart and unripe, and such austerity in wines is typical when growing conditions are so challenging. Txakoli, with its flavors of tangy citrus and green apple, turns that sow's ear into a silk (or at least thirst–quenching) purse. Perhaps it is that the Basque people have endured more than most, and seem to take the challenges in stride; indeed, they have doubled the wine grape acreage in the last decade. As with Rías Baixas, viticulture relies upon sea breezes, occasional sun, and lifting the grape vines high enough to mitigate the disease pressures.