The Nay of the Chacoli

The Basque provinces demand observance of protected geographical status for their lousy wine, but Burgos fights back with a costly study centre project that will prove that they make lousy wine too. ¡Viva la crisis!

It was traditionally and sensibly realised that txakoli was one of the least attractive features of Spain’s north coast. That amiable buffoon Sir John Talbot Dillon in his Travels through Spain, which borrows extensively from William Bowles’ Introduction to the Natural History and Physical Geography of Spain, writes of the Lordship of Biscay that:

They have six or seven sorts of grapes, of which they make the Chacoli wine; all spots are not equally favourable; however the vineyards are numerous about Orduna and Bilbao, and form the principal revenues of the country gentlemen; but as the prices are fixed, and no foreign wine can be introduced nor sold by the publicans, while their own vintage is selling, they are more eager to increase the quantity than meliorate its quality, for which reason it is in general bad; besides, they make their vintage too early, which gives a sharpness to the wine, and deprives it of body; and being unskilful as well as careless, mixing the rotten and sour grape with the rest, Chacoli is a very poor wine. Their whole vintage will not suffice for four months consumption, and the deficiency must be made up from the province of Rioja, which occasions a saying, “That all the iron of Biscay is swallowed down in foreign wine, by the natives.” Even Englishmen and Germans, are people of great sobriety, compared with many Biscayners, yet drunken men are seldom seen in the streets, because they are accustomed to eat heartily in these drinking entertainments; both men and women breakfast, dine, eat in the evening, and sup very plentifully; and yet enjoy excellent health.

The not so amiable Edmund Burke glosses that into an assault on Dillon’s nation:

The manners of the Biscayners, and the ancient Irish, are so similar on many occasions, as to encourage the notion of the Irish being descended from them. Both men and women are extremely fond of pilgrimages, repairing from great distances to the churches of their patrons, or tutelary saints, singing and dancing till they almost drop down with fatigue. The Irish do the same at their patrons. The Guizones of Biscay, and the Boulamkeighs of Ireland, are nearly alike: at all these assemblies, they knock out one another’s brains, on the most trivial provocation, without malice or rancour, and without using a knife or a dagger. In both countries the common people are passionate, easily provoked if their family is slighted, or their descent called in question. The Chacoli of Biscay, or the Shebeen of Ireland, makes them equally frantic. In Ireland the poor eat out of one dish with their fingers, and sit in their smoaky cabbins without chimnies, as well as the Biscayners. The brogue is also the shoe of Biscay; the women tie a kercher round their heads, wear red petticoats, go barefoot, in all which they resemble the Biscayners, and with them have an equal good opinion of their ancient descent: the poor Biscayner, though haughty, is laborious and active, an example worthy to be imitated by the Irish.

But we’re not going there today.

Production – previously generalised along the north coast – seems to have declined in the 19th century, basically I think because it became increasingly easy to get better booze cheaper elsewhere. Contemporary quality has improved somewhat, but it’s still pretty bad, even when drunk in large quantities. All of which makes it quite difficult to understand why the Burgalés and Basque provinces have got themselves into the initial phases of a trade war over the right to be known as the producer of legally quaffable anti-freeze (links: Ignacio Ruiz Quintano):

Talking last night we figured that German direct rule based on Mallorca might just work. Let’s give it a whirl, for fuck’s sake.

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Last updated 29/12/2010

This post pre-dates my organ-grinding days, and may be imported from elsewhere.

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