Passing the Bota


Have you ever tried drinking out of a bota bag? The Basques make it look easy, but believe me, it’s harder than it looks. My brother and I had botas when we were kids. They weren’t the “real” ones made of goat skin sealed with pitch but a modern version with a plastic liner. We mostly used them to carry water on hikes but sometimes Mom would let us fill them up with grape juice and practice drinking Basque style. There were rules, though. We had to wear our worn out clothes and take the botas outside — yeah, we got grape juice stains everywhere.

This weathered painting on the side of the famous (or infamous) Winnemucca Hotel shows the basic technique for drinking from a bota. At arm’s length, you squeeze wine from the bag into your mouth without spilling. With wine, there probably comes a point where the longer you practice, the harder it gets!

Once you master drinking from a bota, you can attend any traditional Basque affair with confidence. In case you haven’t experienced one firsthand, Basques really know how to party. There’ll be eating, drinking, and dancing with gusto. And everyone is super friendly. It might be helpful to know a few Basque phrases, like Zer moduz? (How are you?), or Zatoa pasatzen? (Can I have a pull off your bota bag?) With practice and luck, you’ll fit right in. And if someone tells you, Nire amumak zuk baino mila aldiz hobeto dantzatzen du, (My grandma could dance you under the table,) don’t take it as an insult. Considering the Basque grandmas I know, it would just be a statement of fact.