Botas are wineskins that are an ancient way to transport wine and are still used today in Spain. Botas were used by shepherds and travelers in bygone days, but today you’re likely to see them worn at festivals, bullfights and soccer matches. Traditional, high quality botas are made in small artisan workshops from cured, hand-sewn goat skins. The interior is coated with pine pitch for water-proofing. They are normally cut in a teardrop or kidney shape. The end has a small hole to squeeze the wine through and a screw-on top attached to a short cord, so it is not lost during merrymaking! Botas also come with a longer cord so you can sling them over your shoulder and keep your hands free.Boteria is the word in Spanish for the fabricators of wineskins or botas de vino. Traditionally, botas were made with goat skin, but in the last few years some producers have started using calf skin because the hide is thicker, making the bota easier to decorate on the outside.
The bota pictured was purchased at a small, inconspicuous storefront of a well-known artisan bota “factory” in Burgos, Spain. It is typical to see some kind of ink drawing stamped on botas. You’ll notice that this one has a drawing of the Gothic cathedral of Burgos.
When and How to Use a Bota
Whether you are going hiking, camping, to a football game or on a picnic a bota will keep the wine cool and can be passed around and shared with a group without bothering with glasses. Simply take off the top, hold the bota slightly above eye level, tilt your head back as you gently squeeze the bag and a thin stream of wine will come pouring into your mouth. If you don’t have great aim at first, don’t worry! It does take a bit of practice to develop your bota-drinking skills, but you know what they say, “Practice makes perfect!” So, “Practice, Practice, Practice!”
Traditional vs. Plastic Botas
Pine pitch has been used for centuries to seal the inside of the bota. The pine pitch gives the wine a particular flavor, which some people do not care for. It also requires some maintenance, and carbonated beverages and other liquids should not be used with the pine pitch.
In the 1980's latex botas were brought to the market, and gradually sales of the traditional botas lined with pine pitch have faded away. Plastic botas, or those lined in plastic (latex) are more practical because they don't need any maintenance, and can store any type of liquid, not just wine.
Where to Buy a Bota
If you are traveling to Spain, you’ll see botas everywhere, including the airport gift shops, but these will mostly likely be poor quality botas made for tourists. To find a quality bota, ask the hotel staff, tour guide or bartender where you can purchase a good quality, traditional leather bota. (According to a 2009 article on http://www.soitu.es, it is estimated that there are only 12 to 15 bota producers left in all of Spain.)
If you are in the USA, you can purchase botas at large import retailers, sporting goods stores, small gourmet shops and Spanish food stores, as well as on the internet. Read the description of the bota carefully before purchasing.