Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Old Vines - Understood via Txakoli

There are terms in wine that, for me anyway, can take on meaning simply because I hear them so often. Do I really understand, though? Maybe. Perhaps I just compile shades of meaning from the many contexts in which I hear the term used to form an understanding, an understanding that might not reflect the actual importance of the idea. To truly learn something, there is no substitute for hands-on experience.

Old vines is one of these wine terms, and the other night I had an experience that adds an important new layer to my understanding of why old vines are important. I was hanging out with my pal Dan Melia at Txikito, a Basque influenced tapas bar. We ate things like fresh peas with minted goat's milk and roasted tomato sauce, squid ribbons with pine nuts, crispy beef tongue, and fried silver fish with poached egg and arugula. We drank a bottle of one of my favorite white wines in the world, Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina. Although still relatively obscure, you've probably drunk or at least read about Txakoli, the lightly carbonated and refreshing wine made in Basque country, near the sea.

Although I have enjoyed every recent vintage of Ametoi's Txakolina, 2010, the current release, strikes me as a classic version of the wine. It's is not so much about fruit, more about minerals and sea air, a vague undercurrent of something like raw lentils. There is a sneaky intensity here too, something deep in the core of the wine. The wine is absolutely delicious and completely refreshing, and probably way too drinkable for its own good. The bartender at Txikito poured the wine in what I know now is the traditional style, in a high arc to aerate the wine, and through a little cap inserted into the bottle with two holes to control the stream.

We were having such a nice time, and the wine was so good that although we finished our bottle, we decided to have another glass before leaving. At the last minute I decided to try a different wine, the 2010 Uriondo Txakolina. Dan stuck with Ameztoi, and comparing these wines was illuminating.

Ameztoi's vines are in the Getariako appellation near the town of San Sebastian. Uriondo is a newer producer whose vines are in the neighboring appellation of Bizkaiko. Both wines are imported by the intrepid André Tamers of De Maison Selections, and based on the high quality of his selections in general, I would happily try anything he brings in. There are differences in terroir here about which I am ignorant, but the differences between these wines was rather stark. The aromas and flavors of the Uriondo veered towards lemon and cream and the texture was fuller. The wine was fine, although not special, and I thought the Ameztoi towers above it in quality.

We were wondering at this when Dan looked at me and said "This is the power of old vines. With really old vines you get physiological ripeness at lower potential alcohol levels, and you retain freshness and purity, you retain the essence of the wine."This makes a lot of sense to me. Ameztoi's vines are at least 80 years old, and the wine shows a great fineness of texture and clarity of aroma and flavor. It is merely 10.5% alcohol, and wonderfully fresh. The Uriondo vines are probably much younger, although I don't know for sure. But this wine was without the fineness, the articulation of the Ameztoi, and the alcohol actually jutted out a little bit at only 11.5%.

I suppose a better comparison would be Ameztoi's wine with a young vines version of the same wine, something that I doubt is produced. Still, it was an interesting experience that advanced my understanding of old vines - it's not just about taste and structure, it's also about what is physically possible in the vineyard.


TWG said...

The rosato (Rubentis) of Ameztoi is now young vines (three years) after the destruction of the prior vineyard by way of highway construction.

Clopoll said...

Would much rather read about old vines Txakoli than this morning's jobs report. Let's all move to Bilbao. jobs there, either. Let's just drink wine all day.

Dan said...

I should hasten to add that I know absolutely nothing about the vines or the vineyards at either of these two estates. The only thing I know about Ameztoi's Txakolina is that the bureaucrat responsible for water-delivery to my Brooklyn apartment refuses to consider Hondarribi Zuri a viable substitute.

I was riffing on BG's Ameztoi stats and my own experience with old-vine Mosel Riesling (courtesy especially of Ulli Stein's St. Aldegunder Himmelreich vineyard).