Why Txakoli is Taking North Carolina by Storm

© Ruth Brandin

By Deanna Gonnella Posted June 08, 2016

Black Twig Cider House owner and Basque enthusiast Mattie Beason gears up for the ninth annual Txakolifest.

Who doesn't love a good bar crawl? Throughout the Basque Country, the locals call it txikiteo, and it's a centuries-old tradition of wandering from bar to bar with friends drinking the night away. By including the specialty tapas of each bar visited and washing it down with a short glass of the local wine—Txakoli—the Basque have elevated your ordinary pub crawl to an art form.

Txakoli comes in white, red, and rosé versions, but the most widely available and lauded are white. Low in alcohol, high in quench-factor and bottled with a slight spritz, these wines are perfect as summer sippers and pair effortlessly with everything from cured meats and hard cheeses to fried and fresh seafood. They're even better served from a porron—the traditional carafe-with-a-spout used to pour from upwards of three feet (depending on the skill of the pourer) directly into the glass (or your mouth). The ritual is said to enhance the pétillance of the wine, but it doubles as an impressive show for your friends.

Inspired by a trip to Basque Country, where he was taken by the food, drink, and communal traditions of the region, Mattie Beason of Black Twig Cider House in Durham, NC, launched an entire festival celebrating them. Now in its ninth year, Txakolifest, as he calls it, will take place this Sunday, June 12th, with local vendors, chefs and culinary artisans joining forces for an indulgent day of eating, drinking, and raising money for the Urban Ministries of Durham Community Shelter.

Food & Wine caught up with Beason to find out how he got North Carolinians so excited about Txakoli.

Where did the idea for Txakolifest come from?
MB: From my love of the Basque Country, first and foremost. The wine, the food, the cider... I love pretty much anything from that area if it has to do with consumption, so why not throw a party based on that? It's perfect for summer, since the wines are mostly white and pink and as refreshing as you can get! Our goal was to infuse North Carolina with the Basque spirit, so we have lots of Txakoli, lots of porrons, lots of cider, and plenty of food.
 
What are some of your favorite Txokolis?
My favorite, as well as the crowd favorite, is the Ameztoi Rubentis. Anything from Ameztoi is fantastic. I love the Gorrondona red made from Hondarribi Beltza. And Uriondo is delicious and refreshing as well.

2015 Ameztoi "Rubentis" Rosé Getariako Txakolina ($22)

2015 Doniene Gorrondona Tinto Bizkaiko Txakolina ($28)

2015 Uriondo Bizkaiko Txakolina ($19)

Txakoli is not the most popular wine; how do the people of Durham respond to a whole day spent celebrating it?
The people of Durham are pretty worldly when it comes to most things, especially food and drink. And Basque people love to have a good time. They celebrate every day with food and drink like nowhere else in the world in my opinion. Who doesn't enjoy a celebration? Durham is no different; put wine in a porron, put cider streaming out of a barrel, shuck oysters on the half shell, serve lots of other Basque treats, and just watch the fun happen. 
 
Then in September, you're having your first annual Txotxfest, celebrating local and international ciders. It's the first of its kind in the Southeast. How are you gearing up?
For Txotxfest, we wanted to make sure to include the biggest cider houses on the East Coast, so we reached out to Wassail in NYC and Anxo in D.C., and they're both joining and bringing the largest cider representation to the Durham area to date. We're also brining in regional cider producers, such as Bold Rock from the Blue Ridge Mountains, Urban Orchard from Asheville and Bull City from our hometown in Durham. It'll be a great introduction to the region, range, and growth of cider—not to mention the great pairing potential with all types of cuisine and the fun, communal aspect of the txotx—toasting with the local cider straight from the barrel.

Detailed event information, including partners and schedules can be found on Black Twig's website. Get tickets here.

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