Wines from Euskadi – the Basque Country
With just a few days left before the peloton heads toward Madrid, each stage becomes more important for the riders contending for the lead in the General Classification. Sunday’s race starts at a slow pace, with more bumps than hills for the first 100 km, but then amps up quickly with an ascent of the Cat 2 Alto del Torno. An intermediate sprint stage follows, just before the highlight of the day – the Cat 1 climb up the 1,230 meter Alto de Sotres. Will Nairo Quintana give us a show today, breaking apart the peloton on yet another stage-ending and leg-crushing climb? He hasn’t been at his best in the Vuelta this year but, that said, no one else seems to have the will to dominate the mountain stages either.
Our riders depart from the seaside village of Comillas (photo, left), on the western coast of Cantabria, situated right at the tip-top of Spain. It is a stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, and is also home to some breath-taking modern architecture by the likes of Antoni Gaudí (below), Martorell, and Domenech I Montaner.
It is gorgeous countryside to be sure, but this area also gets more than its share of rainstorms, which blow in from the Bay of Biscay. Great for vacationing perhaps, but a bit less ideal for wine production. While the climate is a real challenge for winemakers, there is a small coterie of fearless grape growers who persevere nonetheless. The Basque region is quite close to our race route today, and the fierce independence of the inhabitants carries over into their dedication to wine production.
There are three DOs within the Basque territory (known locally as Euskadi, and in the rest of Spain as El País Vasco.) Getariako Txakoli, the largest of the three, lies on the coast west of San Sebastián and produces mostly white wines made from Horidarribi Zuri grapes and a much smaller quantity of light red wines from Horidarribi Beltza . The second DO, Bizkaiko Txakoli, just outside the city of Bilbao, produces a similar style of wine, but often from the grape Folle Blanche. The third and smallest of the DOs is Arabako, near the town of Vizcaya. Here, wines can be made from both of the Horidarribi grapes, as well as Gros and Petit Manseng, and Petit Courbu.
Forget about trying to pronounce the names of the grapes; most of the wines are similar in style, which means young, light, and the slightest bit fizzy, not unlike a Vinho Verde from Portugal. They are natural matches with the coast’s abundance of seafood, and make good apéritifs on a sunny Labor Day weekend. Look for wines with the word Txakoli on the label (right). If you don’t have luck finding a Spanish version of the wine, check out the French section. The Basque territory technically includes land in both Spain and France, and a similar white wine is made in the southwestern corner of France. Enjoy the last few days of summer in style, and as always, Viva la Vuelta!