Never Be Ashamed of Ordering the Cheapest Wine on the Menu


As soon as I left the French vineyards, I dreamed of Spanish wine. No more big reds heavy in alcohol and residual sugar, transparent legs dripping down the inside of my glass. I yearned for whites––young, green, and herbaceous––local to the Spanish coast to which I was headed.

The drive from Bordeaux, France to Getaria, Spain, a fishing village south of San Sebastian, took only a few hours, but it was littered with enough tolls to make it drag. A peach tart sat on my knees and shards of flaky crust dotted my fingers, lap and lips.

We flew past Biarritz and skipped over San Sebastian in order to make our 1 p.m. lunch reservation at three Michelin star Akelarre. The rugged, winding road felt familiar, like Big Sur, the part of California I miss most when I long for the West Coast. I swiveled back and forth to take in the ocean and the hills, two key elements that form the terroir of Spain’s Basque region.

The restaurant was mostly windows, and felt like a tree house––a fancy one with white tablecloths. We chose our tasting menu and picked the wine. I zeroed in on the only region that mattered and pointed to a local Txakoli. “This one, please.” I wondered if they would judge me for picking the lowest priced wine on the menu. I decided not to care.

Three hours later, when I surveyed the bill, it was clear which was the bargain: Lunch, 500 euros. Wine, 35 euros. At any local market, or more casual food situation, that bottle of wine would have cost anywhere from five to 10 euros. Over half of the Txakoli produced is exported to the United States. In 2015, that was over 300,000 bottles. I love this wine like water. It’s light, refreshing, effervescent, and minerally. It’s not sweet. It’s never left me with a hangover. It’s cheap!

Later, on the farthest point of the rocky shoreline that hugs the small town of Getaria, I found a small local bar. Home to one of the primary Txakoli wine appellations, Getaria is neither off-the-beaten path nor mobbed by tourists.

The bartender lifted his arm up high, tilted the bottle down and poured––splashed actually––a small amount of Txakoli into a wide-bottomed, flat glass. Three ounces for three euros. The rustic version of aerating and decanting gives the wine the slightest prickly fizz; it’s an old-world habit for a humble wine.

It doesn’t taste quite as humble when I track it down in New York, but if I close my eyes I can feel the mist back in Getaria.

Originally published for Roads & Kingdoms.