Pit-stop in Vitoria to Meet Friends

Today was the last day on the road trip. After a rest at the Parador in Santo Domingo de La Calzada, we made our way to Vitoria-Gasteiz, a mid-sized town in the Basque Country. We didn't really plan to visit this place a destination, but we thought it would be a good meeting point for a few friends that we had planned to meet. They were already in San Sebastian for Christmas, so it was easy enough to get here. It was the second last stop before going home (last stop being Frias) so we were looking forward to relaxing a little bit.

Vitoria-Gasteiz is another medieval town in this mini road-trip of ours. Its a grungy town, with a lot of street art and old world architecture intertwined. Basque country is a pretty popular tourist destination, but whenever people visit this region, San Sebastian is usually their primary destination, so Vitoria is a little bit off-the-beaten path destination. There are plenty of things to do here, but with time being short, we decided to walk around Virgin Blanca Square, and then visit the Artium Museum, a modern art museum where they have a collection with works from some of the most important Basque and Spanish artists.


We met our friends around noon, just in time for some 'txikiteo' - if you didn't know already, 'txikiteo' is a Basque tradition similar to a pub crawl, the focus being mainly on drinks and pintxos/tapas. The Basque Country is one of the areas with the most bars per capita, so it seems fitting that this tradition started here. Our friends also brought their daughter along, and even though she seemed to not be too happy with the camera, I managed to get some snaps.


A Taste of Porrón

A porrón is a traditional Spanish wine vessel, used to store and drink wine. It is no mistake that the word, pronounced “pour-OHN,” contains the word pour, because that is exactly how you drink from it. It resembles a cross between a wine bottle and watering can; the top is narrow and ends in a spout. Since it is also used to store wine, the top usually has a cork or a stop - its almost like wine ready-to-go. To drink from it, you tilt the porrón with the spout pointing at your mouth really fast, drink and then tilt it straight really fast again. The wine jets out really fast from the spout, so you never have to touch it with your lips. You really have to do this with no hesitation whatsoever, otherwise you can expect to have a lot more wine on your shirt than in your mouth. It is a festive device meant to facilitate communal activity, so you pass it around in a group and drink together - a little bit like how the Native Americans used to pass around the smoke-pipe around the fire. Its an awesome ice-breaker in a big group and a lot of fun. It’s nearly impossible not to not enjoy a porrón pour, unless of course, you're George Orwell.

Porróns mainly hail from Catalunia and Aragon, but they can be found all over Spain. They were designed originally to take the place of wine skins or bota bags and made with ceramic, but at some point switched to being made with mouth-blown recycled glass. This vessel originated in the middle ages and was used when there weren’t enough glasses for the guests. The design has a logic as well - It’s shaped this way so that the wine will have minimal contact with the air, which quickly ruins it. Porróns are most commonly filled with regular wines, either white or red, but are also used to drink Cava. Because you ingest a mouthful at a time, young wine is most suited for the porrón.

Porrón drinking is a pretty old tradition - and even though the ritual remains a symbol of Spanish sociability, as well as fine evidence of the country’s characteristically unpretentious approach to wine - being an old tradition in a modern world, it is dying. The young generation in Spain don't really drink from a porrón much, and if you go into a regular bar and ask for a porrón, they may look at you funny. I first saw a porrón being sampled by Anthony Bourdain while he was traveling through Northern Spain, and ever since then I've been wanting to try it. So my last trip to Spain, Cristina's Aunt Mili and Uncle Alejandro decided to take us out to an off-the-beaten path place, Bar Ruiz. This was really out of the any tourist zone and embodied what I would think would be like to drink at one of these places. The patrons were all local, and they all knew each other. The place was no-frills, but had a soul, like it had seen many things. It didn't pretend to be anything other than what it was. The only food you could get there is embutido, or charcuterie and cheese. We ate a bunch of chorizo, salchichón and manchego and enjoyed the experience of drinking from a porrón.


Some places to drink porrón in New York City:

157 E. Houston St.
(between Allen and Eldridge)
New York, NY

El Porron Restaurant
1123 First Avenue (btw. 61st & 62nd Streets)
New York, NY