In the south of Euskadi, in the Cuadrilla de Laguardia-Rioja Alavesa, some extraordinary wines, in body and flavour, are produced. Bordered to the north by the walls of the Sierra de Cantabria and the Sierra de Toloño, separating it from the rest of Alava, and to the south by the river Ebro, this is an area of top quality vineyards.
The majority of the wineries are clustered around Laguardia. In Elciego, the Marqués de Riscal winery boasts a ‘City of Wine’ designed by the Canadian architect Frank O. Gehry, featuring a wine therapy spa, hotel and exclusive restaurant. The building has become an international icon and highlights the beauty of the old Marqués de Riscal winery. The twilight reflections on the metallic exterior of the hotel are an impressive sight and to celebrate their beauty, what better than a great wine from Rioja Alavesa. There is plenty of accommodation available in the area, ranging from small hotels and charming country cottages to the more luxurious, to suit every taste and budget.
All are perfect for enjoying the rich wine culture for a few days and, of course, always accompanied by delicious Basque cuisine. Just a tip: as well as tasting all the wine you can, visit the Villa Lucía Wine Centre in Laguardia to discover more about the culture of wine. The guided tour finishes with a short 4D film (yes, it will also awaken the five senses) in which an imp called Vinfo leads you on an adventure based on wine, wine history and curious facts.
Cider production in Euskadi goes back to time immemorial. Basque cider is mostly made on the farmhouses in Gipuzkoa from the apples harvested in the area.
In the sagardotegi-dolare (cider house-press), you can enjoy a cider accompanied by one of the tastiest menus you could ever imagine: cod omelette, fried cod with green peppers, t-bone steaks, Idiazabal cheese with quince jelly and nuts and cider al txotx.
The word txotx is belted out when the cider is ready to be poured. During the meal you have to get up to serve yourself cider from a kupela, or barrel fitted with a spout which is opened to pour the cider from a height so that it splashed on the rim of the glass with force. Ideally, there should be a height of some 50 centimetres for the granillo (endogenous carbon dioxide) to come out and give the cider the best aromatic flavour. Getting up and going to fill your glass is a good way of keeping an eye on how much you are drinking. Even so, after a visit to a cider house, the best thing is a siesta.
Basque cider is more acidic than other ciders and is drunk at lower temperatures, so it not only tastes good but is also refreshing. Each new harvest of cider is drunk from January to the end of April, but bottled cider is available all year round and is one of the most popular local beverages. So much so, that it even has its own museum, Sagardoetxea, the Museum of Basque Cider in Astigarraga. Want a tip? Get talking to the cider master and the other diners. Cider house conversations are renowned as being the place to make new lifelong friends.
There is no other wine quite like it as it has its own strong personality. The green grapes used to make Txakoli have been grown for centuries on the slopes overlooking the Cantabrian Sea. Sometimes they even on the cliff-tops, and in out-of-the-way maze-like vineyards, except in Alava where they grow in drier regions.
Two native varieties of grape, the Hondarrabi Zuri and the Hondarrabi Beltza, are the main strains used to make this wine. The latest pressing and fermentation technologies are used to produce Txakoli. The resultant wine is slightly sparkling, and has an exceptional flavour that breaks on the palate, leaving a fruity taste in your mouth, perfect for drinking on its own, and also recommended with fish or vegetables, to suit taste.
There are three Designations of Origin to taste: D.O Txakoli de Getaria or Getariako Txakolina; D.O. Txakoli de Bizkaia or Bizkaiko Txakolina y D.O. Txakoli de Álava or Arabako Txakolina.
Want a tip? Visit a Txakoli winery at night. Or have a glass at a winery with views across the sea on the cliff-tops of the Basque Coast. Laughter can be heard all over the vineyard. It is no joke: this is a truly happy wine.