Txakoli (& kalimotxo)

10 March 2010

Romería, José Arrúe (1977). Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao.

“El tercero era un tal Txomin Oronoz, alias Txordo (cerjijunto), un silente navarro de Elizondo, el experto en explosivos. Era adicto al kalimotxo, innoble brebaje cuya paternidad o al menos bautismo se atribuye al sediento poeta bilbaíno Gabriel Aresti.”

Alacranes en su tinta, Juan Bas (p. 188)*

Kalimotxo, (that innoble brebaje, Bas calls it — more on his weird, weird little novel tomorrow), is one of those things you discover quickly: the Basques, you’ll be told, drink (the person telling you pauses here, scandalized) wine and coca-cola together. Yes, true: In the midst of some of the best wine country in Spain, Bilbao’s youth adulterate their plonk with litres of coke, apparently since 1972, when during fiestas in Getxo (in the origin story, it was still called Getcho then), a massive quantity of wine spoiled somehow & to save the party, it was mixed with gallons of Coca-Cola so that nobody would notice.

Truth is, though, mixing cheap red wine with whatever’s at hand is kind of a Spanish national pastime (see: tinto de verano). In Aragón & parts of Navarra they call it cubata del pobre — ‘poor man’s cuba libre.’ Elsewhere in Spain, the spelling is knocked into castillian orthography & it’s called calimocho, or sometimes rioja libre. It tastes about how you’d think. The sallow 15 year-olds who are its primary consumers are called kalimotxeros.

Txakoli is a different story altogether — it’s a local white wine, very dry & acidic & served cold, didn’t even have a denominación de origen until about twenty years ago (some types were only certified eight or nine years back). Before that, it was all homemade. “Now,” a teacher from my school told me, “they even make it with grapes!” It used to be like battery acid, she said. You needed a stomach made out of steel to drink it.

But these days, it’s gone & refined itself — there was an article in the local paper about a big tasting in Madrid, it’s become trendy like Argentinian malbecs were a couple years back. There’s three main regional varieties, some of which (I drank this kind in San Sebastían) are kind of frothy, almost fizzing. In bars, they pour it into flat-bottomed glasses from a great height, or you drink it at village fiestas out of a porrón, which is this glass decanter with a spout that you hold about three feet over your head.

That’s, at least, what I did on Sunday afternoon, at the going-away party for a Basque bartender-friend who’s studying in Poland for three months. Look closely at the left part of the Arrúe painting, at the guys with the accordion & the guitar & (probably, although I can’t see it) an alboca — that was more or less the scene in Plaza Nueva three days ago: virtually everyone I knew in the city trooping through the streets of the Casco Viejo, playing traditional Basque music, dancing, drinking txakoli (an excellent accompaniment to fried seafood), drawing a crowd, little kids running alongside us.

When I get my hands on some good photographs I’ll try to tell you all about pintxos.

_______________________

*Translated: “The third was one Txomin Oronoz aka Txordo (“Unibrow”), a taciturn Navarrese from Elizondo whose specialty was explosives. He was crazy for kalimotxo, that bastardized concoction fathered, or at least baptized, by that thirstiest of Bilbao’s poets, Gabriel Aresti.”

(This has to be some kind of joke that I’m not getting — one of Bilbao’s most famous Basque-language poets was a kalimotxero? If you say so, Juan Bas.)

A note on Basque spelling: tx is pronounced ch, and knowing that gets you a long ways towards being able to read it out loud.

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