It is hard to believe I am finally here in the Basque Country. I’m tempted to say that I’ve waited a long time to get here to Euskalherria to start my fieldwork, but that wouldn’t be a completely accurate statement. I could even say with some certainty that this year’s work and life in the Basque Country will represent both a reduction and culmination of my life’s interests and experiences, however, that would be limiting to the extensions of those same interests which lead me here: languages, culture, wine, travel, food, diversity, and making connections with people around the world. So, before sharing the amazing experiences I’ve already had while studying here, I would like to highlight those which were had before my arrival to the Basque Country this January.
Knowing I would be conducting fieldwork here for a whole year, I wanted to take advantage of the time and opportunity to travel to South America with my father. In 2014, I spent an amazing time learning about the production and wine-making process in Casablanca, Chile. With so much Basque heritage there, I was delighted to discover that the Basque diaspora still held its roots firmly planted in this South American country. Finding the popular Basque wine called Chacoli was an adventure I won’t forget (see previous blog to read more about Chacoli in South America), discovering the ways in which a culture can change and be maintained across the globe. But before returning to Chile, my dad and I checked out some Basque culture in Argentina.
I had come to know of a Basque restaurant from a man who had wandered into the Center for Basque Studies before my departure. He told me about his family and how one of them had started a restaurant in Buenos Aires. I mentioned I’d be heading there soon, so he gave me the information to find Leiketio. The food and drink which combined aspects of both Basque and Latin American cuisine were amazing. However, the most satisfying part of the meal was being able to use the little Basque I had acquired from the previous summer to speak to a server who had recently moved from the Basque Country.
My second encounter with Basque culture in South America happened after my dad had returned to the US, and I had moved on for my second visit to Chile. I was in the beautiful, historic town of Valparaiso, listening to music and enjoying the warmer weather when a couple had passed me speaking Basque. I started talking to them and found out they were the band Niña Coyote and Chico Tornado (and very well known I might add in the Basque Country! See below for a clip of their music). Also turns out the family of one of the members lived on the same street that I currently live now here in Euskalherria!
Just goes to show that si, el mundo es un pañuelo! Hau bai mundu txikia! It’s a small world!
I hope to keep making these cross-cultural connections over the next year here. Stay tuned for more adventures in fieldwork from here in Euskalherria!
The main building, Villa Lucía. Picture taken from the center’s website.
If you are planning a trip to the Basque Country and one of your interests is the great Rioja wine of Araba, Rioja Alavesa, then an excellent starting point is the Villa Lucía Thematic Center of Wine. The center is located in Guardia/Laguardia, Araba, in a mansion that belongs to the family of the renowned neoclassical fabulist Félix María de Samaniego (1745–1801).
The museum. Picture taken from the center’s website.
Visitors to the center can take an interactive tour of the wine-making process, visit the center’s museum and library, take part in an enogastronomic gymkhana–a fun way to find out more about food and drink by playing group-based games revolving around guessing the different aromas and characteristics of wine as well as trying to create your own pintxos–or just taste different grapes and take a crash course in wine tasting. There is also ample room on this country estate to stroll around its gardens (with over 200 plant and flower varieties) and have a drink and a meal or a snack while planning your visit to this fascinating and historic part of the Basque Country.
A view of the gardens in the grounds of the estate. Picture taken from the center’s website.
For more information, click here.
According to a recent report by Granconsumo.tv, the Basque Country and Andalucía have earned the highest growth rates in wine exports from Spain during the first quarter of 2016. The Basque Country experienced the biggest growth in sales ( 4.7 million euros) and Andalucía in production (1.4 million liters).
This phenomenon is interesting because overall wine exports in the Spanish regions have declined in both sales and volume due to steep price increases. Castilla-La Mancha, Extremadura, Valencia, and Murcia have all experienced a fall in sales and production. According to the report, the strategy to focus on added value has made the products of Basque Country and Navarre more competitive, hence mitigating the impact of price upsurge.
This time around in our series on Basque terroir, I’d like to thank María José Cortés Lamas for her article, “What Makes the Basque Violet Onion so Awesome?” which serves as the inspiration behind this latest post. I was aware of the fact that Zalla, a town in the Enkarterri/Encartaciones region of Bizkaia some fifteen miles west of Bilbao, is a producer of Bizkaiko txakolina wine, but I knew nothing of its renowned red onions.
Sliced red onion, one of nature’s great joys. Photo by Agon S. Buchholz, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Onions, of course, are one of the most ubiquitous vegetables in the world, coming in all sizes, shapes, and colors. The onion is most frequently a biennial or a perennial plant, but is usually treated as an annual and harvested in its first growing season. Red onions in particular are high in flavonoids.
The red (or purple or violet, depending on your point of view) onions of Zalla are especially mild and sweet. As noted in the abovementioned article, for star Basque chef Eneko Atxa, of Azurmendi restaurant fame, they can be the key element to producing the classic red Bizkaian sauce (bizkaitar saltsa/salsa vizcaína). And, of course, as is only right and fitting, the Enkarterri Fest food festival, held each fall, gives pride of place to the red onions of Zalla.
Cod Bizkaian Style in the characteristic red sauce. Photo by Tamorlan, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A quick note on Bizkaian sauce: According to Hasier Etxeberria, author of On Basque Cooking (free to download here), “This particular kind of sauce is equally suitable for meat or fish. In ancient times, this was our most exported recipe: the vizcaína or Bizkaian.” He goes on to discuss this sauce and offers a detailed recipe (pp. 63-65).
As I was wandering through my Facebook, I came across a post by Mikel Garaizabal, enologist at Mendraka Winery. For anyone that knows me, I’m a little obsessed with Basque wine–in particular, Txakolina. Although I have not visited the Basque Country in over 10 years, and what I did see of it was only San Sebastian, I hope to visit these fields during my upcoming trip there this summer. This video covers the grape varietals used in producing Txakoli, and even goes into detail to describe the terroir with picturesque views with the ocean in the background, the cycles according to season, and the green hills on which these vines thrive. Take a look below and check out the Bizkaia Denominacion de Origenes.
Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to keep up on the news that is slowly coming out of the Rioja region in regards to the wishes of Alavesa producers. Whether its a world-renowned restaurant in New York, or just personal taste, many wine lovers tend to think that the Alavesa sub-region of Rioja produces the best wine in the country. Like many wine-producing regions of the world, some Alavesa producers would like to differentiate themselves as a sub-region, distinct from the rest of the bigger Rioja DOC (Denominación de Origen Calificada, Qualified designation of origin). Those in charge of the DOC have been, until recently, firmly against any additional labeling of sub-regions. This stand against differentiation was ultimately what contributed to Artadi, a well-known wine-producer, to leave the Rioja DOC and go off on its own. However, interestingly enough, it appears that the DOC has now agreed to help support the sub-regions in labeling to distinguish themselves from the larger Rioja DOC.
This currently leaves Artadi outside the DOC on its own, but its director, Juan Carlos Lopez de LaCalle, stated that they have had more demand for their wines since the secession, because they are receiving support form people that like the change.
It will be interesting to see what the other Alavesa bodegas do in the near future – can’t help but hear The Clash in the background “Should I stay or should I go now?”
Charlie Arturaola is a Uruguayan wine expert who starred in El Camino de Vino, and is also the star in the a new independent film directed by Nicolás Carreras and produced by Lino Pujia. In the film, Charlie plays a wine taster that has lost his palate and who goes in search of getting it back. This story takes place between Italy and the Basque Country as Charlie hunts down his lost senses. For a short clip of Charlie in the Basque Country, watch:
Check out the movie coming soon at:
Per and Britt Karlsson are contributors to Forbes and have taken on the business of wine. Recently they have written an article about the famed Rioja region (look back on previous blogs for more new on Basque wine) in Spain. The two contributors are telling the story of one of the most well-known and prestigious wineries in Spain: Baigorri. Baigorri is located in the Rioja Alavesa region in the Basque Country. While the famed reds of the region tend to focus a lot on grapes such as Tempranillo, Garnacha, Graciano, and Cariñena, according to the Karlsson’s, the University of Logroño is trying to revive some of the 23 grapes that the region used to boast. Maturana Tinta is one of the grapes that they are hoping can make a comeback.
In the article, Matthias Lange, the PR manager says, “Here we have two meters of clay and pure limestone below…The roots pick up minerals down there”.
If this is true, according to other events happening in the Rioja region, would this give the Alavesa/Basque region a case to at least label its bottles differently, focusing on the grapes and terroir in which it is grown?
For the whole article by the Karlsson’s check out:
Map courtesy of winefolly.com
Most everyone that knows me knows I have an odd obsession with the Basque wine Txakoli. However, while I find great identity for the Basques in this wine, there are other types that are more internationally known for their deliciousness. If you are an oenophile of any sort, you probably are familiar with the Rioja wine-making region of the Basque Country. The wine region is the oldest and arguably the most prestigious in the Iberian Peninsula, and is designated as a Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa), which basically means that the wines produced in this region are protected, regulated, and known for their high quality. There is only one other region in Spain with this high of a rating (DOQ as translated), and that is given to the region of Priorat in Catalonia. Within the Rioja wine-growing area, there are three sub-zones: Rioja Alavesa, Rioja Baja, and Rioja Alta. The Alavesa sub-zone just north of the Ebro River is in the Basque Country, and this may or may not be one of the reasons influencing the desire there to be distinguished from the rest of the broader Rioja region. There has been no decision or ruling on what will happen in the future yet, but it seems to be an ongoing topic in the news. For a recent article (in Spanish) on the issue, check out:
Ostatu, roughly translated as “tavern” is a producer in Rioja Alavesa that has been reported as one of the wineries wanting to differentiate itself from the wider Rioja DOC region. Photo courtesy of cellartracker.com