Spain in the News

From Time Out Chicago: March 9-16, 2006
By David Tamarkin

"White Hot: A blonde bombshell from Spain invades Chicago's wine lists"

Warning: Trying to pronounce txakolina could result in spitting all over the sommelier. Luckily, holding up the wine list and simply pointing to the name will work just as well. But for the record, it’s pronounced “choc-o-LEEN-ah,” and in the Basque region (where France meets Spain), it’s as common as water. The (usually) white, (sometimes) effervescent table wine isn’t quite as popular in Chicago yet, but it seems to be getting there.

Txakolina owes its increasing popularity to Chicago’s obsession with small plates, and, by extension, with Spain. In Basque territory, txakolina is the most common accompaniment to pinxos- the bite-size, open-face sandwiches served in bars – and it’s drunk casually from tumblers. In Chicago, on the other hand, you’re more likely to see it in a wine glass, and sometimes poured from a porron, the ceremonious long-nosed pitcher that is used at Nacional 27 (325 W Huron St between Franklin and Orleans Sts, 312-664-2727). And while txakolina is being paired with small plates, like those at Del Toro (1520 N Damen Ave between Le Moyne St and Pierce Ave, 773-252-1500), it’s also being poured at upscale venues like copperblue (505 N Lake Shore Dr, Lake Point Tower, Illinois Ave entrance, 312-527-1200) and Avenues (108 E Superior St between Rush St and Michigan Ave, 312-573-6754), where sommelier Aaron Elliott, who picked out a few bottles during a recent trip to Spain, has deemed it “the next summertime patio wine.” Details about txakolina only make the wine seem more exotic. First of all it’s made from two grapes that most Americans have never heard of: hondarribi zuri, a white, and hondarribi betlza, a red varietal that’s used for its juice, not its skins (hence the wine’s white color). Then there’s the Denominación de Origen (DO) factor. On a wine list, txakolina will typically be listed as Arabako, Bizkaiko or Getariako, designations for various parts of the Basque region. You could spend an entire night at Haro (2436 S Oakley Ave between 24 th Pl and 25 th St, 773-847-2400) – which carries four txakolinas, including at least one from each DO – dissecting the differences between each region, but that would probably bore the hell out of your dinner companions. Moreover, it would go against the very nature of the wine. Txakolina is not a wine to be analyzed, evaluated or studied; it’s just young, crisp, citrusy and ever-so-slightly-bubbly grape juice. Its only purpose is to be drunk with food and without fanfare, which is exactly what you’ll want to do with it – now that you know how it’s pronounced.