Don’t knock it, a wine snob’s worst fears: The Kalimotxo

The Kalimotxo is truly a delicious thing, writes Lauren Gee


A wine connoisseur I am not, which may be a timely disclaimer before hurtling head first into the joys of a cheap red mixed with coca cola, but brazen in the face of any judgement, my steadfast endorsement of this overlooked drink and its long-awaited seat at the table of British drinking culture, will push you to revise any misconceptions you may have mistakenly harboured. Why? Because the Kalimotxo, in the words of John Torode, “is truly a delicious thing”. 

Hailing from the Basque region, the Kalimotxo is a cocktail that has flown under the radar here at home, a novelty in the face of Brits’ wanton desire to consume anything and everything over a certain percentage. But moving beyond the murky waters of intoxication, the Kalimotxo is a drink I am truly sad I hadn’t discovered earlier in adult life, the perfect picnic accompaniment, beach refresher and summer dinner party teaser. Never mind this millennial obsession with Aperol Spritzes (which I do love), with their petrol tang and radioactive hue, this dark and unctuous concoction that resembles a red velvet cupcake in drink form, is a fizzy delight, that more than its sugary high, offers surprising and comforting depth with the acceptable hit of pure indulgence. 

Grab a handful of Brits and ask them what happens when you mix red wine and coke and despair and disgust will be a few of a kaleidoscope of reactions tainted in cynicism, and depending on levels of snobbery, quite possibly rage. But for a culture that unashamedly matures its taste buds on alcopops and dented dark fruit tinnies, in school fields pooled with vomit and teenage angst, we quite frankly don’t have a leg to stand on. The Kalimotxo is deft in its balancing act, embracing the adolescent nostalgia of warm ciders whilst dodging all the bad (and there is a lot) which comes with it. 

It is at this intersection of spontaneity, frivolity and fun, that this drink has a deserving place

It was a grey day in Amsterdam by way of a bunch of Spaniards that I was first introduced to this elusive drink, traipsing down the aisles of a garishly lit supermarket aisle after a friend from Granada. As she flung things excitedly into our trolley for a dinner with friends, shouting back at opportune moments to pick between the very un-Spanish array of cheeses and salamis on offer, things became interesting as we stopped in the wine aisle. Watching her choose the wine, it seemed clear to me that rather than going off of percentage, it was a case of picking the carton with the most bodged photoshop design on its packaging, the winner quite possibly dating back to the seventies with its pixelated grapes and looping font. After settling on what appeared the worst of the bunch, we moved swiftly to the fizzy drink aisles to pick up litre bottles of home brand cola, my silent curiosity was instantly ignited. Getting back to the house to find out it really wasn’t anything more than a fifty-fifty ratio heaped with ice, I laughed to myself at the elaborate cocktail I had concocted in my head... Cocktail shakers, a rogue herb, a pretentious syrup of some kind… but none of the sort! My first sip was quite simply an utterly joyous moment, one which undid the very little I already knew and perhaps would ever want to know about wine. 

This dark rouge drink, the colour of vintage cinema seats, has the same allure as a Guinness, but with a fizz that ushers you out of a wooden paneled pub with sticky carpets to something far more adventurous, celebratory and sunny (even in the depths of a grey winter). As someone not always in favour of sweet drinks, this remains a sticking point, but with a few cubes of ice, it is something I am happy to overlook. So, move past an image of drunken teenagers and peeling fake ID’s and the Kalimotxo is an accessory to an image of true sophistication, if embraced with the irony and lightheartedness with which it is intended. 

The best way to define the Kalimotxo, is as the friend we all have, the one who begrudgingly drags you on a night out you had no place being at, with only a fiver to your name, yet quite miraculously gives you one of the best nights of your life, filled with chance encounters with kind strangers, generous drinks all paid for, the best kebab you have ever eaten and perhaps the most magical happening of it all (if you are anything like I am), waking up with all your belongings in spite of having no recollection of the journey home. It is at this intersection of spontaneity, frivolity and fun, that this drink has a deserving place and remarkably the drink’s very origins too pay homage to this spirited characterisation, where in 1972 at the Old Port of Algorta in Getzo, the organisers of St. Nicholas festival came across some wine-related difficulties. In their enthusiasm to make it a generously stocked event, the some 2,000 litres of red wine they had bought unbeknownst to them had gone bad and in a courageous effort to remedy this mishap, the Kalimotxo was born. It’s 1:1 ratio, the only solution to the spoiled wine bought in vast quantities, and just like the friend who manages to turn the drab, mediocre and depressing around with humour and grit, the Kalimotxo too holds that same saving grace decades on. 

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