The best way to understand the culture and traditions of a place is to travel to the region. No amount of reading or searching for information on the internet will give you the kind of insight, that only travel can offer.
It is for this reason that attending events such as IWINETC assume importance, especially if you are interested in wine and culinary tourism.
The 11th edition of IWINETC held in March 2019, took me to the beautiful Basque Country in Northern Spain, a region that I had very little prior knowledge of.
It exposed me to the cities of Bilbao (home to the architectural icon, the Guggenheim Museum, designed by Canadian-American architect, Frank Gehry), Vitoria-Gasteiz (awarded the title of European Green Capital in 2012), San-Sebastian (the culinary capital of the world with its countless Michelin-starred restaurants headed by innovative chefs), the charming picture-perfect town of Laguardia close to the stunning wineries of Rioja Alavesa in the Basque province of Alava, such as Marqués de Riscal, Ysios, Bodegas Baigorri famous for their Tempranillo-based red Rioja wines; the indigenous wine of Basque Txakoli and the delicious pintxos (bite-size snacks served in bars all across the Basque country).
Most of all it introduced me to the deeply-rooted Basque tradition of Txotx, pronounced as Cho-ch, a ritual which completely fascinated me.
Txotx is a call to action or a toast that began in the cider-houses (Sagardotegis) of Spanish Basque Country.
It is also followed in some Txakoli wineries of the Basque region, mostly in the province of Gipuzkoa.
This is how the highly-entertaining ritual of Txotx (in which the cider/wine is poured directly out of the fermentation casks) takes place.
The host opens up his barrel room to the public, mostly for large groups and parties.
A tap is placed about head-height in the barrel using a txotx (small piece of wood). When the tap is opened by the host, a thin stream of cider/wine gushes out of the barrel.
He shouts “txotx” and everyone who wants cider or wine, depending on where you are (a cider-house or a Txakoli winery) brings their glasses to the barrel, tilts it near the ground and then moves it to the source as demonstrated in this video that I took while visiting Gaintza Winery, located in the fishing village of Getaria.
Since the cider/wine is poured from such a height, it adds more fizz and also allows for optimal oxygenation, resulting in an improvement in the taste.
An important thing to remember is to pour only a very small amount (just enough to fill the bottom of the glass), since one can make several trips to the barrel room throughout the course of the meal, to taste wine/cider from different barrels.
I experienced the ritual of Txotx at the Gaintza winery, where we enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Lazkano family. We were served traditional Basque food that focussed on the exceptional local produce of the area. The meal, which included a delicious cod-omelette, ended with cheese, quince jelly and nuts. We even had to crack & shell our walnuts, another first for me.
The entire culinary experience took place in a warm and friendly environment.
If you wish to replicate this experience, make sure to include the Spanish Basque Country in your next travel plans.
By: Lavina Kharkwal.