December/January 2016 2017
The SOMM Journal
planet grape by Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis
BASQUE PINTXOS TAKE IT UPSCALE
Tapas, simple bites such as cured meats, chorizo sausage, olives, or fried seafood have their origin in Southern Spain. One story claims that King Alfonso X stopped in Cadiz to rest from a long journey and ordered a glass of sherry. It was a hot, windy day. The innkeeper covered the glass with a “lid” or “tapa” – a slice of ham – to keep out the sand. Covering the sherry also kept out fruit flies, so the practice soon became the norm. Tapas are often complimentary with the purchase of drinks.
Pintxos (“pinchos”) on the other hand are from Spain’s north, from Basque country. Fisherman who visited the old part of San Sebastian to drink wine and cider used toothpicks to “pinchar”, or hold together the anchovies, tuna and pickled vegetables they brought along with them. The first legendary pintxo was the Gilda, invented by a wine salesman and named after the sexy Rita Hayworth character. He took a toothpick and skewered together an olive, an anchovy and pepper and history was made.
Both tapas and Pintxos are informal ways of eating while drinking, and both share the custom of the hunt. Tapa hunting, “tapear,” like Pintxo hunting, “txikiteo” is all about socializing after work, stopping at 6 to 7 crowded standing room only bars in the long hours before dinner. Pintxos are more upscale, made with gourmet ingredients, are meant to be consumed with three bites, and are never free.
Another gastronomic expression of the Basque culture is the Txoko. San Sebastian Food’s Senior Guide & Events Manager Lourdes Erquicia, explains, “In San Sebastian, we have 185,000 people and 60 Michelin stars. We are crazy about food. We have Txokos, cooking clubs, equipped with professional kitchens and we bring fresh food from the market and prepare a meal. Everyone puts money in an envelope and into a box. Fifteen years ago there were no politics, religion or women allowed. There is a line painted on the kitchen floor. Women are now allowed in but can’t be members, so they watch while the men do all the work. Txokos were not only our gastronomic clubs, but they were the only place in the city Basque could be spoken since Franco made the Basque language illegal. In 2015 San Sebastian Food and Beronia opened a cooking school, Beronia Txoko, within the grand Hotel Maria Cristina in the heart of the city (www.sansebastianfood.com).
Crisp whites from nearby Rueda, such as the light, zesty and dry 2015 Beronia Verdejo Rueda DO, $12, Gonzalez Byass, and lightly oaked reds, such as the mid-weight, lightly chewy and dry 2012 Beronia Rioja Crianza DOCa, $15, Gonzalez Byass, produced just across the Sierra Cantabria mountains, are typical of the wines paired with both Tapas and Pintxos. They are light, accessible and inexpensive, just the ticket to showcase the real star – the food.//