If I ask you to mentally picture a Basque, it will probably come to you an image of a man dressed in white and red, drinking some wine from a wine skin. Well I guess it is mostly true. The outfit is correct, especially on festive days, but the wine skin (we call it “bota”) is more of a myth. We do not use them on a daily basis but most of us have one at home. We normally use them on the weekends when we go hiking.
But the question is, is the origin of the botas Basque? I would love to say yes, but I am afraid that would be a lie. If we go back to ancient Greek literature we will find that in the Odyssey, Homer explains how Ulysses gets the cyclops Polyphemus drunk with wine coming from a wine skin. Also, according to the Bible, Noah, once the Universal Flood ended, he planted some vines and made wine from their fruit. Then he drank the wine from a wine skin, got drunk and danced naked in his tent. To find out the consequences of his hangover, you might need to read the Bible. If we come to Spain we can find many references to wine skins in our literature, especial mention requires “Don Quixote” (Cervantes 1605) where we find Sancho Panza, the character who represents human values and sins, always wearing a wine skin full of wine as a symbol of gluttony.
As you can see the bota has been around for a long time, the issue is that here in the Basque country we still use them. The universal Basque stereotype, dressed in white wearing a red beret and drinking from a wine skin, has to do a lot with the way Ernest Hemingway described us in his first novel ”The sun also rises”
How to buy a bota
You will find all kinds of “botas” in Spain, some are made in China, cost 5 euros and if you are lucky, they might last for one day. Others, the originals, that will cost between 30 to 50 euros. The real ones are called “Botas ZZZ” and the are about to turn 150 years old. From the very beginning this small family run business became the locals’ favorite botas. They have always used the highest quality products and they have worked everything by hand, in fact they still do all the process by hand.
In the inside of the traditional bota they apply a juniper resin in order to make it liquid resistant, this technique requires some maintenance on the users’ side. It will need constant care throughout the year. At least once every 15 days you have to rinse the bota and refill it with liquid as otherwise it would dry out and become useless. My recommendation is that if you are not going to use the bota at least once a week, you shouldn’t buy the ones covered with natural resin, you should buy the ones with latex.
Today ZZZ has adapted to modern times and as they know we do not have time to take care of the bota, they came out with the great idea of covering the inside with a very thin layer of latex. This way the “bota” is always ready and you do not need to take care of it at all, it will always be perfect.
Size wise I recommend buying the 1 liter one. The reason is that most of the wine bottles come in 750 ml so it fits perfectly.
There are 2 different shapes in “botas”, the basic one, and the one that looks like a teardrop, I personally prefer the basic one because to me,it is easier to drink from it without spilling wine on your shirt.
Old style “wine skin”
The real “ZZZ Bota”
How to drink from a bota!
Hold the tummy of the bota with your left hand, open the lid, grab the neck of the bota with your right hand, brink the tip close to your mouth, and with the arms barely flexed, lift and tilt the bota, then gently squeeze the lower part, once the wine touches your mouth, extend your arms. To finish the drink, you bring the bota back close to your mouth and relax the pressure in the lower part, then you slightly twist the bota and lower it.
Salud my friends!