I’m all right really.
Yes, my feet ache and my hands hurt from my endeavours in the garden, and my back’s playing up a bit, but the evening’s warm enough to sit on the terrace with a glass or three of pitarra, so yes, I’m all right.
Just about every Spanish region has its local drink of which it’s fiercely proud. In Asturias it’s cider, and very good it is too, especially in the heat of summer. The Catalans are proud of their Cava, and very nice too. The Basque Country and Cantabria have a sparkling wine called txakolí which I’m sure is excellent, but since I refuse to drink anything I can’t pronounce even when sober, you’ll have to try that for yourself.
In Extremadura the local speciality is pitarra. Available in both reds and whites, this soft, easy-drinking wine has for generations been home-produced, chiefly for the consumption of the grape farmer and his workers. None of the chemicals used in modern wine production are employed, the grapes being simply trodden and left to ferment in terracotta pots or tinajas.
Ask an Extremeñan why it’s not marketed further afield, though, and you’re likely to be met by an uncomprehending frown. Why would anybody buy ours? Why wouldn’t they just make their own?
The process is a very manual one, the fermentation taking place in modest-sized, open pots where the fermenting liquid is stirred daily using a wooden paddle known locally as a bazuqueador. Once the skins, seeds and so forth have sunk to the bottom of the vessel – after around twenty days – the fermentation is complete, and the wine can be racked, which happens in the coldest months of December and January.
It’s nearly all home made; there are now just one or two small bodegas producing the stuff for commercial distribution, but it’s all very small-scale and, if anything, a little bashful.
This is a shame, as the wines are great. Great for drinking, that is, not for talking about. I’m not sure how pitarra would stand up to examination from a true wine buff, tasting notes in hand, seeking top notes of pine ad herbs or a characteristic long, aromatic finish. Around here he’d more likely be punched for having spat it out.
But then, look at France and it’s Beaujolais Nouveau; awful stuff in my experience, but once the spin-doctors have done their thing it manages to have the British pseudorati queuing thirstily around the block for its overpriced yearly arrival, despite its top notes (armpit and Harpic) and its characteristic finish (usually early and undignified).
If you want to try pitarra (and I recommend you do) you’ll probably have to travel to Extremadura, unless you can find some of the small amount produced in the neighbouring regions of Castilla la Mancha or of Andalucia (where you may have some luck around Córdoba).
For those who care about such details, the grape varieties usually used for the whites are alarije, pardina, cayetana, macabeo, borba and pedro ximénez and the for reds bobal, garnacha and cencibel (tempranillo).
For those who don’t, it’s around a quid a litre from most local shops and service stations.