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!