To work behind the stick at a typical pintxos bar in San Sebastián requires a very certain skill set. There, it’s expected that a call for txakoli—the region’s bracing, just-fizzy, wine—be accompanied by a dose of showmanship: Holding the bottle practically at arm’s length, high above his or her head, a bartender will pour a long stream of wine into a wide-mouthed, flat-bottomed tumbler glass, held near the waist a few feet below.
Traditionally built on the high acid, native varietals hondarrabi zuri (a white grape that makes up the majority of plantings in Getariako Txakolina D.O. located about 20 minutes by car from San Sebastian) and hondarrabi beltza (a red grape used in the production of red wines and rosés), txakoli has always been known for its bracing acidity and mild effervescence, something that historically occurred naturally in the bottle following fermentation in neutral barriques.
However, it wasn’t until the establishment of Getariako Txakolina DO, the oldest appellation in the region (which also includes Bizkaiko Txakolina, located near Bilbao, and Arabako Txakolina, located further inland), in 1989, that the style was redefined through the use of stainless steel tanks and a streamlined production method aimed at preserving the wine’s now-famous effervescence.
Today, at top wineries like Ameztoi, the wine is fermented in stainless steel, capped to preserve natural (not forced) carbonation and chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling—a step that retains the wine’s sparkling character. While Ameztoi’s flagship bottling remains its white Txakolina, its the winery’s Rubentis rosado—a blend of hondarrabi zuri and hondarrabi beltza co-fermented for nearly three weeks—that has become a breakout hit in the U.S.
Herewith, a look behind the scenes at how txakoli is made at Ameztoi.