Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Vintage Guides

The other day I received a gift from my bank in the form of a 2007 pocket diary. As usual the introductory pages are packed with all sorts of information including International holidays, dialling codes, maps and travel tips. This year however, they have added a wine vintage chart (albeit only for French wine regions).

Of course every wine drinker will understand the importance of a vintage and how it can influence quality, but in some cases I think that too little information can be a very dangerous thing. However well intentioned, the level of detail is always going to be very limited, and therefore prone to some misleading generalisations. For example, it is simply impossible to claim that every wine from Bordeaux, Alsace or whatever region, in a given vintage is outstanding, average or even poor. There will always be exceptions........

I understand of course, that such a chart is only intended as a guide, but it is a shame to think that some perfectly good wines might be overlooked just because a tiny chart only gives the vintage two stars. (In a similar way journalists have been known to unwittingly write off an entire vintage at the stroke of a pen).

In addition to this comes what I call "the honesty factor". I recently remarked upon a similar vintage chart compiled for Spanish wines - nearly every wine from every region was classified as good, very good or exceptional (not one poor wine in sight!) I will leave you to draw your own conclusions from this.........

Another installment from the McCarthy's soapbox series

Monday, December 18, 2006

Happy Christmas!

Angela and I wish all our friends and customers a Happy Christmas and a Healthy and Peaceful New Year.

Thank you for your support!

(And don't forget that Albariño is excellent with Turkey)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Restauradores Magazine - December 2006

The best Spanish wines of 2006

Bodega Castro Martin Albariño 2005 - Primary aromas of ripe white fruits, with tropical notes and hints of freshly cut grass. It's attractive and fresh with excellent balance between fruit and citrus acidity.

Courier Mail, Queensland Australia

Reign of Spain
by Ken Gargett
November 13, 2006

"The good news is that in coming years, we will see many more sensational wines from Spain and also many exciting efforts made here from these emerging varieties.

Albarino was so poorly considered that in Jancis Robinson's seminal Vines, Grapes & Wines (1986), it is dismissed in half a line. Now, a rising star, good ones offer much of the character of riesling but, in accordance with the winemaking techniques used, are richer with a more seductive texture and often delightful peachy overtones. Castro Martin 2005 (AU$25) has limey and sea-breeze notes and is in the zippy, leaner mould. Delicious."

(English readers please note that I edited out any mention of cricket!)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What value Gold?

I have to admit that I have mixed views about the true value of wine competitions, not because we don't mind winning the occassional gong, but more because the award system itself is often wide open to abuse. I will explain.....

From experience I believe that it is very often the most obvious, young, full-bodied and over-extracted wines that are put forward to win awards. In the case of white wines this can be the wine that is laced with new oak, or one that perhaps retains a suggestion of residual sugar. Entries with any degree of structure, elegance, complexity or even bottle-age can quite easily be lost or overpowered simply because they are not fully understood, or their true underlying potential is not recognised. Of course these more 'commercial' styles have their place in educating the novice wine consumer, but on the other hand there should always be space for some award winning wines of subtlety and refinement too.

My second concern is that wine competitions have now become very big business – 1,000’s of wines submitted, with each bottle commanding a substantial entry fee, that can, in some cases, result in a generous profit for the organisers. At times, it must be said, there has also been an "over generous" quota of medals and certificates awarded (regardless of overall quality), simply to keep producers satisfied, justify the fee, and promote continued support.

Finally, there is the problem of the 'doctored sample'....... Organisers of wine competitions invite producers to send their samples, and it is only human nature that a cellar would wish to submit their very best bottle. This being the case, some unscrupulous wine makers reserve a special tank or barrel of wine that is used exclusively for this purpose, and has nothing to do with the quality of the wine that ends up in your local wine shop. In this way, not only are the judges duped, but also the poor consumer is being cheated out of his bottle of the genuine award winning wine.

In saying all this I must emphasise that this is not sour grapes (pardon the pun), as we have been lucky enough to win our fair share of awards over the years. I guess that what I am trying to suggest is that medals and certificates can be misleading, and do not necessarily guarantee consistent or even outstanding quality.

I can assure you that an odd gold medal will not make our own wine taste any better than it already does! For us at least a great bottle at a reasonable price means so much more.
Footnote: By coincidence this article from the New Zealand Herald was posted on 2nd December 2006, about 10 days after I made this entry.

Another installment from the McCarthy's soap box series

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thinking of the poor winemaker.........

A thought for the weekend…….

"Sometimes when I reflect back on all the wine I drink I feel shame. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the vineyards and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn't drink this wine, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, "It is better that I drink this wine and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver."

Friday, November 03, 2006

Seguin Moreau select Casal Caeiro

Only the very best........ Seguin Moreau

The French barrel makers Seguin Moreau have something of a reputation in the wine world, and can be found in many top Burgundy domains, as well as the cellars of some illustrious names, such as Antinori in Italy for example. They can also be found in the humble cellars of Bodegas Castro Martin too!

Indeed, these barrels did not arrive with us by accident - a few years ago Angela and I travelled to Vinitech in Bordeaux to visit Seguin Moreau and make some tastings with them. In this way we could select exactly the type of oak, grain and level of toasting best suited to our wine. Since then we have gradually added a few new barrels each year (on a rotation basis) until we now have 100% Seguin Moreau.

On a recent visit by the Seguin Moreau 'technician', he tasted our Vendimia Seleccionada Barrica and was very impressed, and we later sent him a sample bottle. As a result they have now asked if they can show our wine on their stand at Vinitech this year, and of course we did not say no!

Imagine, a French barrel maker showing a Spanish white wine in the heart of French red wine country...... Bordeaux.

Spain Gourmetour (Sept-Dec 2006)

Review by Henrik Oldenburg, Denmark

Winery: Bodega Castro Martín
Wine: Albariño
DO: Rías Baixas
Type: White wine
Elaboration: 100% Albariño

In my opinion, Galicia is for the modern Spanish white wines what Priorato is for the red wines. The wine region north of Portugal has specialized in the white grape Albariño, used as Alvarinho for the best Vinhos Verdes in neighboring Portugal. It is a grape which provides freshness and acidity to the wine – the rest depends on the producer.

This producer is a family business, founded in 1981. Like so many other growers in Galicia, they only possess a few hectares, so they have to buy most of their grapes from other growers. They must have reliable neighbors, for the wine is crispy and challenging, with prominent acidity, but also with a discreet, gentle sweetness which gives a unique balance. The wine comes from the best corner of Galicia: the Rías Baixas.

Matching recommendation: It is no coincidence that this wine is produced in an area with some of the best seafood in Spain. Drink it cooled with lobster, crabs, prawns, mussels – or with anything else that calls for acidity and dry freshness.

Henrik Oldenburg is a master of art and literature, but has written approximately 40 books on wine and food since 1977, among them the world's largest book on Port and the first book on wines from the southern hemisphere. For his annual Oldenburgs Vinguide he tastes 8-10,000 wines every year. He is the publisher and editor of the Danish gastronomic magazine Smag & Behag and a member of the Danish Gastronomic Academy.

Footnote: Castro Martin is one of only six wines (red and white) selected from the whole of Spain

Click here to see the original article

Friday, October 20, 2006

Parker on Wine: Elegant Albariños

Albariño is one of Spain’s great gifts to the wine world. These crisp, floral wines rarely age well, but they’re reasonably priced and go nicely with food.
by Robert Parker
Albariño comes from a cool, wet viticultural area known as Rías Baixas, tucked away in the Galicia region of far northwestern Spain. Its lush landscape is marked by rías, fjord-like inlets that come inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Albariño is the only Spanish wine known by the variety of the grape. If these wines were tagged as others from Spain, they’d be called Rías Baixas.
Albariño wine is a light- to medium-bodied, fragrant, floral white that shows remarkable flexibility with food. Its sharp acidity allows it to pair especially well with seafood, which also happens to be the mainstay of the local cuisine. The wine rarely ages well, so readers should be buying the 2005’s, which are just being released. Here are some of the better examples:
Bodega Castro Martin - 88 points - $20
Aromatically demure, Castro Martin’s albariño explodes on the palate with melon balls, spices, salty minerals, and flowers. This light- to medium-bodied white is satin-textured, expressive, and sports a lengthy finish. $20
Visit or

Footnote: I just thought that I would add a comment to put this article into perspective:
Only six albariño were actually mentioned as "better examples", and although 88 points might not appear to be the highest, please remember that most of Parker's 90+ scores are awarded to red wines. The highest mark acheived in this selection was 92 points, with only two wines above 90 points - our wine was 4th......
I would also like to challenge the great guru's assertion that Albariño does not age well - see my blogs of 31st July and 26th August.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A blatant bit of pre-Christmas selling!

Our smart new gift boxes

Yes, it's that time of year again - My wife Angela is busy stuffing envelopes with her 'best ever' Christmas wine offer, whilst my mum probably already has the brussels sprouts on the stove in anticipation of our Christmas lunch (a very English joke - apologies to any foreign readers).

Seriously though, we have already started to prepare some Christmas orders for shipping - indeed one pallet of Albariño is destined for Australia, and might well be enjoyed on the beach with Christmas lunch - strange but true!

So, here comes the sell...... At the top of this blog is a photo our fine new three bottle gift packs, and in keeping with our image of quality products, they would make a very presentable Christmas gift. (Albariño is highly recommended with Christmas, or even Thanksgiving turkey, not to mention your seafood appetiser). These gift boxes come with a semi-matt wipe-clean coating, and you can find further details on the packaging page of our main website, or if you prefer just drop us an e-mail.

What is it they say? Hurry now while stocks last!!!

Friday, October 06, 2006

It's official - we have wine!

Fermenting must (photo taken at the start of fermentation)

I questioned myself the other day, at what point do I stop writing about grape 'must' and start writing about wine? Well, I now have the official answer.....

Apparently it is all to do with density - as the sugar is converted into alcohol the density drops, and then, at the point that the density is less than that of water, it becomes wine rather than 'must', or so I am told.

As at today's date the fermentation is slowly reaching it's conclusion, as the sugar is almost completely converted into alcohol (and CO2). Typically, when the sugar concentration is around 2g per litre or less then the wine is deemed to be completely dry, and the fermentation finished. For most palates a 'residual' sugar of less than 5g per litre is actually quite difficult to detect, but more than 5g can give the impression of a slightly richer wine (the average consumer can easily be seduced by this hint of sweetness). However, one of the downsides of this can be a potentially unstable wine as the remaining sugar can trigger a secondary fermentation in the bottle (done deliberately in the making of Champagne). Of course, in our region, an off-dry wine would simply not be typical of Albariño.

We are still not able to relax during the fermentation, this is a very critical time for us, as we constantly monitor and adjust the temperature according to the level of activity in the tank and the changes in density. If we simply allowed the fermentation to run out of control then we would most likely end up with a fat, flabby wine with a very short shelf life - the exact antithesis of what we are looking for, and nothing to do with Albariño.

Monday, October 02, 2006

2006 - a vintage of two halves

The paddy fields of Galicia

I think I wrote in one of my previous posts that the 2006 harvest was the earliest ever for our Bodega, and also that one of the factors that helped us to decide the start date was impending bad weather. With hindsight I can truly say........ what a good decision!

Unlike last year, the latter half of September has been very, very wet and if we had picked on the same dates as in 2005, then we would have had real problems. The sad thing is that there are some Bodegas still trying to pick even at today's date, a nightmare scenario for any grower or winemaker. No doubt there will be some variation in quality this year - in effect a vintage of two halves - those who picked before the rain, and those who picked after.

In our own Bodega our wine continues to ferment slowly under strict temperature control (I have to find out the exact point in it's vinification that you stop referring to the grape juice as 'must', and start calling it wine - no doubt Angela will know) and the only problem that we have encountered recently is to our power supply. It would seem that when our own bodega and our nearest neighbouring bodega are functioning at full capacity then the local transformer has difficulty keeping up, and we suffer occasional power cuts - so much for 21st Century technology (perhaps the Spanish should allow the Germans to buy their power generating Company after all!)

Footnote: The word "paddy" is derived from the Malay word 'padi', meaning rice.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The great closure debate

So what is the best type of wine closure?

To be truthful I am a bit bored of writing about picking grapes, so I thought I would have a day off, and write about something much more contentious..... corks and closures! This has been singularly one of the most divisive subjects in the wine industry for a very long time now.

The natural cork industry has lost about 22% of it's market share and is fighting back with new fangled ideas such as ROSA (Rate of Optimal Steam Application) and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction to eliminate cork taint (please don't ask me to explain either of these, but suffice to say that they certainly sound very impressive!) At the same time there are many different accusations, claims and counterclaims flying around, and to be honest it's actually quite difficult to know who to believe.

There is no doubt that screw-cap has made a very big impression, (especially in white wines) to the extent that it is now actually quite difficult to find a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that does not use Stelvin. (Stelvin is a brand name, the 'Hoover' of the screw-cap industry, often used to describe the closure itself). Here at Castro Martin we have been asked by a few of our more progressive customers when we are going to start with Stevlin, and my reply is always the same; "one step at a time please".

After several months of testing back in 2002, we opted for a synthetic closure, and like any type of product, I think I should explain, there are good examples and bad examples. In the case of synthetics there are two main types, extruded and moulded - as the name implies a moulded closure is made in it's own individual mould, whilst extruded are made as one long continuous 'sausage' and then sliced into individual closures. Moulded tend to be more solid and impervious, whereas extruded can be better placed to mimic the behaviour of a natural cork.

We have opted to use one of the best synthetics on the market, and this is not, as some might assume, a way of saving money - it actually does not! The Nomacorc 'classic' that we use performs exactly like a natural cork - we do not suffer any premature oxidation (as experienced with some other synthetic brands), and we never have to worry about cork taint. Indeed, only yesterday, we were visited by two top Australian winemakers, and they were completely blown away by a bottle of 2002 that I opened for them.

I rest my case m'lord....

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Gordon, the storm that never was.....

OK, I admit it, I didn't take this photo

Today we battened down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Gordon (or at least his tail), as he tracked his way across the Atlantic after his Caribbean sojourn. By order of the local government all schools are closed, government offices closed, health centres closed (let's just hope no one is injured), but we stop short of boarding up the windows of the Bodega.

At 7am I am out on the terrace of my home securing the sheeting on my garden furniture that I have stacked carefully in a sheltered corner. The wind is gathering pace as we brace ourselves for the onslaught, and at 8am the rain comes down - it looks as though the forecast of mayhem might be realised.

Then, an hour or so later it all suddenly disappears, almost as quickly as it didn't really arrive! By 10am the wind has pretty much stopped, the sky clears, and by lunch time the sun is out. To be honest we experience more severe storms in winter, and so we are left scratching our heads and asking what all the fuss was about? The only beneficaries appear to be the children, enjoying an unexpected days holiday - FIESTA!

Meanwhile, back at the Bodega we are all very busy - some working on the big clean up, trying to rid us of the dreaded grape must that sticks to everything, and spreads everywhere on the soles of your shoes. Others are busy with the wine-making operations - seeding the tanks is all but finished, and many are happily fermenting under strict temperature control.
So far so good, but let's see how the 2006 wine develops.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Day 8 - It's all over now

Angela and her able assistant

Day eight was merely what I call a 'mopping up exercise', mostly waiting for our suppliers to gather the last few grapes from their vineyards. Simple as this may seem, it's actually quite complicated owing to the capacity of our presses.

We have two Vaslin/Bucher pneumatic presses, one with a minimum capacity of 3.000kg and the other with a minimum of 4.000kg, and to load less than these quantities risks serious damage the press. So if we are left with an odd 1.000kg at the end of the last day, then we have a problem. The last few hours therefore, are spent anxiously trying to calculate the outstanding kilos and how this will dictate the loading of the last few presses. It's actually quite a tricky puzzle - like sudoku with grapes.

Anyway, the picking is over for another year, and now the serious work starts in the bodega with our vinification. We can be thankful that we have harvested in generally good weather, and that every grape has arrived at our door in a perfectly healthy condition. It's now in the hands of Angela, her very able assistant..... me!

P.S. Did you notice me slipping in another song title?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Day 7 - A race against the weather

Fran - Hero of the pressing room
As we pick the last grapes from our own vineyards, we are keeping a very close eye on the skies above us. Today is much cooler and overcast - probably the first day that is not 't-shirt weather'. The local forecasts are predicting a changeable scenario over the next few days, and naturally we want to get our fruit safely inside the bodega, so Herminda and her team have switched into overdrive.

Looking around the Salnes valley (northern part of the denomination) there are quite a number of our neighbours who have not even started to pick yet, so I can only imagine that either they do not follow weather predictions, or that their grapes are not as mature as our own. Believe it or not this is actually quite an unusual phenomena, as the sight of one bodega picking usually starts a cascade around the region. However, this year the start date within our local area would appear to be spread over a period of three or four weeks, and it will certainly be interesting to taste the resulting wines to see if there is a marked difference between the early and later harvested wines.

As the tanks in the bodega gradually fill up with must, so the indoor workload starts to increase - racking continues, and the seeding begins.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Day 6 - On the home stretch

And the prize for "cheesy grin of the week" goes to......Angela Martin
The famous Feijoo family - no, not a circus trapeze act, but one of our oldest and our best grape supplying family - and I do mean family - there are presently three generations actively delivering grapes to the bodega! Pictured above with Angela is Benito, delivering with his grandson on their tiny tractor (Angela is the one with the glasses). Benito's son (not pictured) is built like a bull and unloads cases three at a time from their other, larger tractor. To give you an idea, three cases comes in at 60kg dead weight, and each load they deliver can be up to 1,000kg!
So, it finally looks like we're on the home stretch as the back of this year's harvest is broken, along with my own. We are racking more of the musts, and Angela is glued to her laboratory chair (probably with grape juice), analysing the musts of every single batch of grapes that enters our door. She seems very content playing with her chemistry set whilst we men do all the physical stuff. I'm sorry, did that sound sexist?

Monday, September 11, 2006

It's just another manic Monday!

Is this art, or simply just an under-exposed photo?
And there was me thinking that Monday would be a quiet day - in the end we were so busy that I decided to rename the title of today's post....
I mentioned only yesterday I think, that the weekend was our busiest period - well, I lied - today was every bit as busy, and the volume of grapes entering was pretty much on a par with Saturday and Sunday. In addition to all this we have also been 'racking' the clean 'must' after a period of 'settling', so in some ways our workload was actually that bit bigger.
On tasting the clean juice, the 2006 is very sweet and concentrated, and it would appear that the acidity might be just about perfect, and therefore we may not need any malolactic fermentation for this vintage. Anyway, early days, and we will not be making any definitive decisions at such an early stage.
I should also mention that today we had a sharp mid-morning shower that lasted less than an hour - barely enough to penetrate the canopy (bearing in mind that with the pergola system bunches hang mostly under the vegetation). So no damage done to our precious albariño fruit.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Day 4 - Weekend Grape-O-Mania

Grape reception - spot the difference (no prizes)
Any weekend is always the busiest time during harvest. For the majority of our suppliers growing grapes is not a full-time occupation, and so at the weekend they take full advantage of their free time to call in family, friends and even distant acquaintances to collect grapes. Consequently we are inundated with grapes carried in all shapes and sizes of vehicle. (We do however prohibit caravans, and the entry to our grape reception is actually booby-trapped and can detect a chemical toilet from 5km).

Seriously though, we have worked around the clock, and kept grapes moving through the cellars at a rapid rate. The photo above was taken at one of our peak moments on Saturday evening - believe it or not there are actually four people working behind these pallets loading grapes that have just arrived into the presses. Pretty much every grape so far has been pressed within two hours of arriving, and many much less than this - if possible they go direct.

By the end of the weekend we should have 'broken the back' of this year's campaign, and should be past the halfway point, simply because of the weekend volumes..... and who said that Sunday was a day of rest!

P.S. I lied about the caravans..... it's actually only 4km!

Day 3 - Galicians in the Mist

Early morning mist on day 3
As Susie Barrie reminded us in her new wine book, Galicia is still a quiet rural backwater of Spain, and in common with many other smaller European wine regions, can sometimes be a little removed from the rest of the wine world.
It is at harvest time that I am reminded of some of the 'New World' v 'Old World' differences. I will explain......
In the weeks leading up to our harvest we have been busy on "grape watch" in our vineyards, constantly monitoring all aspects of the grape maturity, trying to anticipate the optimum time for harvest, and organising the bodega accordingly. The other factor that influences the picking date is of course the weather, and again, we monitor this very closely (using at least four or five different sources and correlating all the information). To a 'New World' winemaker this would not seem out of the ordinary, but here in Rias Baixas I am surprised to say that I have seen little evidence of this slightly more scientific approach.
From what I have witnessed so far, it would seem that many others simply appear to select a convenient date on the calendar (often weeks in advance) with scant regard to grape maturity. In fact, I heard a "chisme" (local gossip) that one bodega had actually delayed the date of their harvest because their banqueting facility was booked for a wedding at the time they had planned to start picking! Can this be true? Maybe we will never know.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Vendimia 2006 - Day 2

The new toy for collecting grapes
Now don't get worried a new mini-tractor does not mean price increases - what it actually means is that we have a friendly local tractor dealer who has loaned us this new toy for the harvest. I have no doubt that he will be trying to sell it to us at the end of the campaign (heavily discounted I hope, as it's now second hand!)
It's day two of the 2006 harvest, and the weather is a bit overcast and sultry, but thankfully still dry - I probably shouldn't have said that! The grapes are flying in, as Herminda and her team swoop through our vineyards - we have more than 35 people picking for us, and for those of you who don't know Herminda is the head honcho, and I for one, wouldn't argue with her.....
Herminda the human road block!

The grapes are in perfect condition, and the grape must is sweet with a beautiful floral perfume - I'm sure that it will make a cracking wine, and that 2006 will be an excellent vintage for us. Actually this reminds me of a producer I once knew (but who will remain nameless) who used to claim that every vintage was the vintage of the century - all I will say is that this harvest looks like the best so far this year.....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The harvest starts here!

To let you know, our harvest is starting today - at least one or two weeks earlier than normal. I am not quite sure if this is a record for our Bodega, but I will let you know, when I have more time.

The weather here today is perfect, dry, with clear skies, and not too hot. I will do my best to update this site as we go along, and give more information about the grapes and must as it comes to hand. In fact, at 11.30 am the first grapes have just arrived.....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Discovering Wine Country

Several months ago we were visited by the English author and journalist Susie Barrie. She was busy researching a new book about the wines of Northern Spain - but not just any old book, an idea specifically targeted at "finding great wines off the beaten track". During her exploration Susie spent a few hours at our Bodega, tasting, asking questions and generally familarising herself with our region and denomination of origin.

The finished book itself is great, and higly recommended if you are visiting the Northern half of Spain - clear, informative and easy to read, and also on the plus side, we got a very nice mention:

An Englishman abroad

Galicia is still quite a rural place and if you don’t speak Spanish then getting around, using websites, arranging visits, and even ordering the right food can be challenging at best. So when the fun of it all has momentarily worn off, I’d suggest that you drop in on Bodegas Castro Martin, where you’ll find the most down to earth and friendly of English welcomes awaiting you. Andrew McCarthy’s story is the stuff of fairytales and as such it definitely merits a mention. He first visited Rias Baixas as an English wine buyer in 2001 and came to Castro Martin in search of top quality Albariño wine to sell in the U.K. As it turns out he got more than he bargained for, because he found not only the wine he was looking for but also a wife in the form of the delightful Angela Martin, winemaker and daughter of the Bodega’s founder.

In 2002 they introduced a superior wine, Castro Martin, to the range. The new wine is made entirely from grapes grown in the Bodega’s own vineyards and is wonderfully elegant with a rich lemon meringue pie nose and juicy lemon concentration on the palate.

Don't take my word for it - buy a copy! Published by Mitchell Beazley the book is called Northern Spain by Susie Barrie, with a cover price of £12.99 (Of course this can be found quite a bit cheaper at Amazon)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Cold stabilization & the tartrate story

Does your wine have dandruff?

Let me start by saying that our wine does not, and should not, have a problem with tartrate crystals! I just thought that I would talk about tartrate because it's a topical subject for us at the moment - I shall explain why.....

When a wine is chilled (in your fridge for example), it can precipitate tartrate crystals - they can look pretty nasty, like sugar or even glass crystals, but in reality they are completely harmless. They are in fact potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartare (as found in baking powder) and if you find any in your wine it is still perfectly safe to drink - just pour it with a little more care, decant it, or perhaps use a strainer!

OK, so how do we prevent this? Well, actually, we don't - we make it happen in the bodega to ensure that it does not happen in your glass. This is done by passing the wine through a large freezing unit at a temperature of about -5°C, and then holding it at this temperature in special thermal tanks for between one and two weeks. The clean wine is then drawn off (racked) leaving the crystals at the bottom of the tank.

By the way, the reason that this is a topical subject is because the refrigeration equipment in our Bodega used for this process recently broke down, and cost us an arm and a leg to fix. So if you spot any one-legged wine makers hopping around, don't worry - they're quite 'armless! (sorry)

Friday, August 18, 2006

It's raining 'gatos y perros'!

Too much heavy rain could cause serious soil erosion
After more than a week of smoke and fire, the whole of Galicia collectively breathed a sigh of relief as rain started to fall. Ironically, by this time most of the fires had either been extinguished or brought under control, but this was not before approximately 80,000 hectares of land had been reduced to ashes.
The only fear now is that too much heavy rain could cause heavy soil erosion, although we are assured that there is already a regeneration plan in the pipeline - we shall wait and see.
From our Bodega's perspective we were actually quite happy to see a bit of rain. Despite our precious Albariño grapes being completely healthy at the moment, prolonged dry periods can result in very small, thick skinned and slightly shriveled fruit - concentrating the flavour, but simply lacking in juice. A day or two of rain at this point is therefore quite welcomed, provided of course, that it does not persist.
The last few weeks before picking will be focused on the cellar - testing equipment, and generally making sure that everything is clean and ship-shape. Like a good boy scout our motto has to be "be prepared"........

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Let the fireworks begin..... or should they?

Fireworks are an integral part of every Fiesta

Today is a National 'Festivo' in Spain, and, as usual, the holiday was heralded by the familiar early morning explosion of fireworks (this can be from 8am - which is a bit early for this country!)

Bearing in mind the entry on our blogsite of yesterday, and the tale of the devastating forest fires around Galicia, it suddenly occurred to me...... I did not list fireworks as one of the possible causes of forest fires.

In Spain, where every type of outdoor fire is strictly controlled, but mostly banned completely during the summer months (official permission is required from your local town hall), I find it difficult to believe that the same authorities continue to allow the indiscriminate launching of fireworks simply to mark the beginning and/or end of a public holiday.

In my humble opinion this would seem to be at best, a little irresponsible, and at worst, bordering on the criminal!

Another installment from the McCarthy's soap box series

Monday, August 14, 2006

Galician forest fires - update

The image speaks for itself
Many friends and customers have asked me how we have been affected by the fires that have been raging in Galicia for more than a week now. I thought I would write a little report, and include a few dramatic pictures.......
A day or two ago there were more than 120 separate fires still burning, and more than half of these were out of control. Fortunately only four people have died so far, but of course thousands of hectares of forest and scrubland have been destroyed, and it will take years for the region to recover. Only a small number of vineyards have been burnt (luckily none of ours have been touched), and this should have no significant effect on the harvest.
An already difficult situation is being compounded further by the weather - hot and very dry (the prerequisite of forest fires as one would imagine), but made much worse by strong gusting winds, that only serve to fan the flames and help them spread even more quickly.
The puzzling factor is that the police believe that perhaps 90% of the fires have been started deliberately, and, as at today's date, 27 people have been arrested - one woman actually carrying an oil lamp and matches. Of course some of these people are simply ill, but the vast majority are accused for wildly differing reasons. These include: land reclamation for farming or building, revenge against neighbours, drug smugglers attempting to distract the police from patrolling the coastline, and even ex-firemen who did not have their contracts renewed (the latter is a very long and complicated story). Anyway, these are a few of the theorectical reasons, but no doubt we will have to wait before we discover the real truth.

Many fires are difficult to access

A village is threatened

The aftermath

Thursday, August 10, 2006

On "the air" in Canada - On the water in Coruña

Angela 'on deck' in La Coruña
Earlier this week we braved the smoke and flame (quite literally) to make our way north to the port of La Coruña, on the "Costa de la Muerte". With motorways closed, the usual hour and a half journey took more than three and a half hours, picking our way through many small, often fire stricken villages. I am sad to say that we actually witnessed the sight of some poor folk making futile attempts to save their homes and property with only garden hoses at their disposal.......
The reason for this traumatic journey was that we had been invited to conduct a tutored tasting on board the 154ft Polish Barquentine 'Pogoria' - part of the Tall Ships Racing fleet. Naturally we considered this to be quite an honour, which is the reason that we did not postpone the trip (not to mention that 150 invited guests were awaiting our arrival). I should also mention that the province of Coruña has been left largely untouched by the raging fires, which appear to be confined mainly to the south of Galicia.
Eventually, fully wired up with microphone (that could probably be heard around most of the port), Angela did a fabulous job of introducting two of her most prestigeous 'babies' - Castro Martin and Casal Caeiro Vendimia Seleccionada Barrica.
Wonderful wines, tasted in a magical setting.
To learn more about the Tall Ships and the excellent work that they do training young people, why not visit their site

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Two held as Spain battles fires

Desperate times... fighting an inferno with a garden hose.

Spanish police have arrested two suspected arsonists in the north-western Galicia region, where 64 forest fires are raging.

Three people have died in the fires, many of which are near houses. Hundreds of firefighters have been deployed, along with water-bombing aircraft.

Officials said the situation was "critical" around Rianxo.

The Spanish authorities say most of the fires, raging since last week, were deliberately lit. Many were started on wooded slopes near residential areas.

The fires have engulfed several thousand hectares of land.

News from the Bodega: We are shrouded in smoke, some local roads have been closed, we have fire fighting helicopters and planes buzzing overhead, but we do not appear to be in any immediate danger - I hope!

Monday, August 07, 2006

Tasting, Fiesta or Drunken Orgy?

It is probably quite dangerous, and certainly not politically correct, to be critical of one's own Denomination of Origin, but here goes.....

Every August in Cambados (the spiritual capital of Rias Baixas) we celebrate the Annual Albariño Festival. This year, for the first time in many years, Bodegas Castro Martin was conspicuous by its absence. The main reason for this is actually quite sad.

Originally the Fiesta was quite a "gentile" event, an opportunity to taste, to enjoy, and possibly even compare the wines of the region. It has always been accompanied by a certain amount of pomp and ceremony - the induction of Knights and Dames of Albariño, a prestigious wine competition, the attendance of local politicians, an odd celebrity, and always rounded off with a huge gala lunch and prize giving (regrettably none of the ceremonies are open to the public).

The backdrop to the official events is the Fiesta itself, which runs for a period of 4 days - lunchtimes, evenings and most of the night...... and thereby lays the problem.

One of the more unsavoury phenomenon that has emerged in Spain over recent years is that of the "Botellon" - basically organised groups of young people buying alcohol from shops and off-licences to drink in pre-arranged public locations, such as parks, squares, beaches etc. Of course this type of wild (and often under-age) drinking exists in many countries, but in Spain it is possible to find children of 12-14 years old drinking until 2 or 3 in the morning (and the older ones possibly all night).

So what does all this have to do with the Albariño Festival? Well, for me at least, it is perhaps just the realisation that the event seems to have lost its true meaning and direction, and is in danger of just becoming an excuse to legitimise heavy, all-night drinking.
Tasting? Wine appreciation? Forget it!

It is probably true to say that my view this year has been somewhat tainted by the events that unfolded on the penultimate night..... On Saturday evening a person that we know was at the Fiesta enjoying a quiet wine with friends, when suddenly, from nowhere, she was hit in the face by a flying wine glass, at this point you really do start to call into question the value and future of the Albariño Festival itself.

We prefer to encourage only responsible drinking, and implore you to enjoy our Albariño in moderation!

An installment from the McCarthy's soap box series

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Website update

Our web designer, James Radford ( has asked me to announce to the world that our revised website is now up and running.

Under normal circumstances we would update our site much earlier, but this year we wanted to wait, to include the new designs of our Avian brand....... the advantage of this is that we have been able to add the very latest up-to-date press, including the 2006 guides.

You will note that we have not done too badly!

Monday, July 31, 2006

Casal Caeiro - Barrica "del Mundo"

Our Vendimia Seleccionada Barrica 2003 has just been picked as the best Albariño in "El Mundo" (not the whole world - just the Spanish newspaper!)

In a recent tasting of 35 different Albariños from around our region, our Barrica emerged as the very top wine. Indeed, the panel actually went on to comment that they had tasted this very wine exactly 12 months ago, and they agreed that it had improved since their last tasting.

Many people believe that Albariño has to be drunk young, and does not improve with age - my view is a little different......

For me, an unoaked Albariño can still be quite "angular" immediately after the harvest (which is why we do not rush to bottle our wine). Depending on the vintage it can take up to 12 months to lose this edge, which is why I think our Albariño starts to peak in September - a year after the harvest.

Obviously, the small amount of Barrica that we make (just over 4,000 bottles) is quite different, and can continue to improve three or four years after the vintage.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Castro Martin "on air" in Canada

Vancouver, Canada
The clear fm wine bar with Mark Davidson
(Vancouver’s leading wine educator)

July 24th 2006 – SEDUCTIVE WHITES
"Step outside your comfort zone this week with a wine that’s a little off the beaten path.

Wine store shelves are full of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, and rightly so, but don’t you just want to get wild once in a while, and be seduced by something new?

The first wine this week is sleek, racy, and thrilling to drink – Albariño is the grape variety responsible, and I’ve been having a (not so secret) affair with it for years. The Castro Martin Albariño is from Northwest Spain, and it’s so zippy, delicious and easy to drink that it should be banned! Crisp acidity, vibrant peachy fruit, and every time I drink it, it whispers, “Mark, what are you doing? Where are the Fresh Oysters?”………"

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The original Mad Fish wine?

Happy, mad or just plain angry?
Galicia is an area steeped in tradition, and still enjoys a Fiesta of one sort or another nearly every day of the year (peaking in summer and nearly always heralded by loud fireworks thoughout the day and night!)
Of the numerous local fish and seafood festivals the seaside resort of Portonovo celebrates the skate festival - and it goes without saying that this is nearly always supported by the local wine - Albariño.
During a recent summer clearout of our archives I stumbled across this jolly label, with a rather sinister looking characature of a fish. Could this be the origin of the Mad Fish label?

Friday, July 14, 2006

The truth behind the rumours.....

It's all about wine!

After days of deliberation, and the opinions of every conceivable language and lip reading expert (including M. Chirac himself), the truth behind the Zidane assault has finally come to light.

Apparently the Italian defender Materazzi told Zidane that, following a recent comparative tasting, he considered Italian wines to be superior to their French counterparts.

No wonder Zidane was so offended!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It's official - Albariño is hot!....

Albariño is "flying" in London

According to "Wine Trends" (what's hot and what's not) in last week's Daily Telegraph, Albariño is fast becoming one of the UK's most popular white wines - and don't forget that many wine aficionados think that London is very much a trend setter when it comes to world wine consumption. To quote the article.....

"The current hot spell seems to have helped the fortunes of Albariño too. I've always enjoyed this Spanish white, but have never seen it on so many lists. It seems to be everywhere at the moment: is it going to be the new Sauvignon Blanc?"

"We have seen a definite move towards lighter alcohol and more aromatic whites this year...... Albariño is flying out."

What can I say, except perhaps, long may it continue!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

They came from outer space!

David wears the latest Zidane head protector!

Ask any decent vigneron, in any country around our great world of wine, and every single one will tell you that quality begins in the vineyard. They will also probably tell you that they don't spray, or at the very least, they only spray when absolutely necessary. Well, I'm afraid to admit that the same applies here in Galicia, where the warmth and humidity of our 'Atlantic Maritime' climate obliges to intervene on occasions.

It goes without saying that when we do have to take action, we always ensure that we use the most ecologically friendly methods possible (including pheromone traps to confuse and disperse harmful insects). Having said all that, no right-minded grower is going to allow his crop to rot before his very eyes, which is why we reluctantly have no alternative but to spray.
Jokes aside for a moment, the above photograph shows our vineyard manager David, spraying in his protective gear. Do spare a thought for him - the air temperature on this day was 30°C (86°F) ........ hence David does not have a weight problem!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Progress in the vineyards

Young Albariño fruit in our El Pazo vineyard

I'm afraid that some ugly rumours have been circulating relating to the gap between recent posts and the start of the World Cup football. I have to reasssure you that this is, of course, purely co-incidental!

However, I confess that between matches I have been asked by some customers about the progress of the 2006 vintage, and when I answer that everything is going well, I am always afraid that I will be tempting fate. However, despite the early summer being a little cooler than 2005, we still appear to be on track for a very healthy and generous harvest.

At this moment our team are in the vineyards thinning the canopy to optimise the amount of sun that penetrates through to the fruit. This is actually a careful balancing act, as, believe it or not, grapes can actually suffer from sunburn if they are over-exposed. Perhaps a light spraying of Ambre Solaire factor 15 might be the answer?

Seriously though, despite my recent silence, there are actually a number of new and exciting happenings in the pipeline. As soon as they come to fruition you will be the first to know.....

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Weather - The Great British obsession!

Weather from the good old BBC

I often have to remind myself that we are, in fact, an agricultural business, and that like most other "farmers" we have to keep one eye fixed firmly on the weather. As we all know forecasts can be notoriously unreliable, especially in our corner of Spain (where we are often skirted by weather systems scurrying across the Atlantic on their way to soak the shores of the UK).

As previously mentioned, we have already experienced our fair quota of rain this Spring, and the month of May, until now, has been largely cool and changeable. Not the best weather for the growing vines, and indeed we have already been obliged (reluctantly) to spray against mildew.

Yesterday, on my daily visit to the BBC weather site I spotted something quite unusual - a fairly dramatic change anticipated over the coming days. Yesterday for example, the daytime temperature was a mere 17°C, today it has risen to about 25°C, tomorrow is forecast to be 33°C, Saturday 35°C and Sunday 37°C (albeit that this has since been revised down to a mere 35°C!). So, within the space of 5 days the temperature is expected to double!

To be honest a long dry spell will be more than welcome, especially in view of the flowering, anticipated during the coming weeks.........

Time for a chilled Albariño and the factor 15!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Big Hair Day!

Angela - As seen in Cocina y Vino - Venezuela

Far be it from me to make fun of my wife by posting a funny picture on the Internet, but here goes.......

Joking apart, Venezuela is one of our best export markets (which might have something to do with Angela being born there). Our partner there is one of the very best importers, and they do a great job promoting our Albariño.

Naturally, we get some excellent press for Casal Caeiro, the latest being a six page article in one of Venezuela's top food and wine magazines - Cocina y Vino, about Angela, the bodega and our wine. My Spanish is by no means perfect, but Angela assures me that it is one of the best articles she has ever read about us. For me, I just like the picture!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Campsa Guide 2006

Another wine guide, another accolade......

If I´m honest I have to admit that our Casal Caeiro Vendimia Seleccionada Barrica is a wine that I often forget to promote - I put this down to the fact that I have never been a great aficionado of oak, and more especially in white wines. I´m an unoaked Chablis man.......

Having said that, when I taste it, I am always pleasantly surprised by our Barrica. Angela and I have worked very hard to produce a wine that is well balanced - the natural fruit of the Albariño being complimented by a hint of oak, and ensuring that the subtlety of this delicate grape is not overpowered.

In addition, we have also invested in some top quality oak to further enhance and refine the finished product. After visiting Bordeaux for a comparative tasting with the renowned barrel producers Seguin Moreau, we finally selected their fine grain Allier oak, with a medium toast.

Our Barrica wine is fermented in stainless steel tanks, and only then is aged for an average of 5-6 months in 225 litre barrels (one third of the barrels are replaced each year). During the ageing period we taste regularly to chose the optimum moment to finally bottle the wine.

This year our efforts have been recognised by the Guia Campsa 2006, with our 2003 Barrica being awarded 90 points - don´t just take their word for it - you should buy some and have a taste for yourself!

Along side this in Campsa comes our (unoaked) Castro Martin 2004 which also emerges with 90 points. This does not mean to say that our two other wines are in any way inferior, it is simply that they were not reviewed in this year´s guide.