The relationship of people and wine is clearly different depending on the geographic region. In Spain, as in other Mediterranean countries, wine is a beverage very close to the lives of people, day by day, something that has its origin in Western civilizations. The image of a bottle of wine on the table at lunch or dinner time has been normal since we were children and, perhaps, precisely for that reason wine is considered in southern Europe more as a food than an alcoholic beverage.
I remember my grandparents providing their kitchen with wine in the same way they did with bread, vegetables or meat. I remember my grandfather appearing right before dinnertime with those big bottles of wine purchased in bulk: he bought them directly from the winery in litres. He arrived there with those bottles filled with wine, a low but acceptable quality one, to accompany their lunch and dinner.
On the table it was served in a porrón, a jug, a very curious glass container, no more than eight inches high, with a remarkable bulging belly, a long spout pointed end where the wine came out and a neck which my grandfather held in order to pour the liquid directly into his mouth. The beauty of the porrón is that it can be shared among several people without the need for glasses. The invention of porrón is Spanish, so do not run to buy it at Ikea because you will not find it in their kitchen items section. My grandparents shared this strange contraption during their meals and I even tried to use it. It was not easy to figure out where the jet of wine would finish, and on more than one occasion I ended up with a face full of the precious liquid.
My grandfather also used to store his wine in a bota, a teardrop-shaped container made of goatskin. It was always hanging on the kitchen door, and it always accompanied him during his hunting days, slung on his shoulder, as if it were a water canteen. On cold mornings my grandfather went to the mountain in search of rabbits or partridges and it was a good way to get him warm. I squeezed the tummy of the bota to see if it was full or not. He used to keep it always full, said the wine was cured in it and that it was a way to keep the leather moistened. He drank from it in the same way he used the porrón. He held it up and squeezed the wine jet into his mouth.
But it wasn’t only the porrón or bota that were used in Spanish houses. If something can surprise foreigners it is that it is not usual in our towns to drink wine in glasses (goblets), but rather in low or flat glasses. Across the country they get different names as chatos or txikitos in the Basque Country. Don’t be shy, if you are traveling around Spanish towns and enter a bar, ask for a glass of wine, they will serve you a small glass of house wine, surely. You will be also impressed by the price. A while ago, Luke and I traveled to a small town near Madrid, Morata de Tajuña, during its festivals, looking for some famous chocolate palmeritas which we had heard about. At lunch we ordered some chatos that cost us 50 cents each. We stared each other contentedly. Those chatos were a yes-to-life.
In Spain it is usual to make a stop at mid-morning in bars or taverns to consume a small amount of wine and put something in the stomach to kill the bug that stings around noon and which has to be calmed down if you want to hold out until 2 or 3pm; that is when you have lunch in Spain. It seems curious that the aperitif time in Spain is at high noon and not in the afternoon, as the Italians do. But please, pull yourselves together: just get in, ask for a tortilla tapa or whatever comes from the kitchen bar and a glass of wine. Enough. We will continue our activity after that. A glass of wine will not get you drunk. You will be able to continue your activity without problem.
If you stop to eat the famous Menú del día, the daily menu, consisting in two dishes, dessert and a drink, you will notice that a glass of wine is included in the price, that can cost from 9 to 15 euros. In some places they will even leave a bottle of wine on the table. Yes, the waiter will leave it there and you can serve as many drinks as you want. For real. You will not be charged for the whole bottle. We are not used in Spain to serve in fraschette as they do in Italy, in quarters or half a littre. Or bottles or glasses or in clay jars, also very popular.
You’d be surprised by amount of wine we consume in this country and yet maintain a very restrained rate of alcoholism. Wine is consumed in Spain with a naturalness that makes it look like an alcoholic beverage. But it isn’t, really. In fact it’s not surprising that many nightclubs do not even have wine on their drinks menu, and of course, you will never find it in discos. Wine, like I said before, is more related to the table and food, as if it is considered part of nutrition, rather than a product related to fun and leisure.
It is so related to our culture that we call Spanish Wine, Vino español, not only to our wine but also to the act of drinking as a social act, for example after an event, an exhibition or any celebration where you want to make a toast. It’s what is called in other countries a ‘cocktail’.
As you can see, what we can learn from the way the Spanish people drink wine is that normalization of wine at home leads to a more responsible use of it.
In theory 😉