Friday, April 20, 2007

Rias Baixas - Wine styles

It's true that there is a lot of snobbery in wine drinking, and we are probably all guilty of a bit of name dropping, or using the odd oenological phrase to demonstrate our knowledge. One such phrase that is sometimes used, and often abused within the wine world is the French expression
'Terrior' - and this does not simply mean soil or region as our dictionary might suggest.

In the world of wine 'terroir' can refer to any number of elements - not simply region and soil, but it can also include aspect, climate, grape variety and even the wine making technique itself. In addition to 'terroir' we then have the term 'microclimate', which can be used to narrow a vine growing region down to tiny areas or even individual vinyeards.

There is no doubt that these varying physical conditions will have an influence on the fruit (even if the same varietal), and will therefore modify the resulting wine. And after all, most wine makers worth their salt will explain that at least 90% of quality is created in the vineyard.

Within the Rias Baixas denomination, there are literally hundreds of different microclimates (which is really as a result of the way in which our tiny vineyards are distributed). However, at the risk of making sweeping generalisations, there are actually two main criteria that tend to produce distinctly different styles of Albariño. These are climate and soil.....

Although our denomination stretches barely 100km (60 miles) from North to South there can be quite significant differences in the weather, with the South being up to 1° or 2°C warmer. The South is also considerably drier - especially the inland areas of Rosal that do not enjoy quite the same refreshing maritime influences. Away from the sea summer temperatures can actually be several degrees warmer.

Rias Baixas North (sub regions - Valle de Salnés & Ribeira del Ulla)
As one would imagine the wines from the cooler Northern zones are usually not as heavy, and have marginally lower alcohol than those from the South. They have the steely, zesty, almost salt like qualities, tight structure and 'nervosity' often found in cool climate wines - in other words many of the attributes normally associated with the Albariño grape variety. This style is also influenced by the high concentration of granite in the sub-soil of the area that can provide an extra touch of minerality to the quality of the wine.

Rias Baixas South (sub regions - Soutomaior, Condado de Tea & El Rosal)
The additional heat of the South also provides extra sugar, and therefore alcohol - the resulting wines tend to be a little more full bodied and slightly heavier. It could be said that this fuller style is in some ways a little atypical of Albariño, and might not be the choice of the purist (I sometimes compare this to the differing styles of Chablis available from France). The sandy soils and alluvial deposits from the Miño river on the Portuguese border do not give the same mineral structure as the Northern wines, and they can sometimes be softer with lower acidity.

Of course, the wine making technique of each individual cellar will have a huge influence on the quality and style of the finished wine. And in addition, there are also cellars that buy a 'mix' of Albariño grapes from different sub zones in order to balance their wine, and perhaps add acidity where it may be lacking.

As I have said many times before, tasting is purely subjective and in the end it is your own tastebuds that will help you decide the style of Albariño that you prefer.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How much filtration is best for your wine?

Our traditional 'Kieselguhr' filter

One of the great conundrums of wine making is deciding precisely how much filtration your wine requires before bottling. Too little can leave the wine cloudy and possibly unstable, too much and you have a highly polished wine with little or no flavour. Purists may even argue that wines should be bottled without any filtration at all - commercially however, this would be a dangerous decision to make, or at the very least, something of a calculated risk.

In our Bodega we have two types of filter - a Kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) filter, which uses a fine powder of siliceous earth to absorb particles in the wine. In more traditional cellars this is probably the most widely used system - it is not overly agressive and still leaves the wine clean enough to bottle with a reasonable degree of safety.

Our more modern, 'membrane' filter

The second type that we have is a 'membrane' filter, which as the name implies, uses a physical barrier through which the wine passes, rather like a very fine strainer. The level of filtration is determined by the density of the filter (or filters) used, and this is measured in microns. The finer the filter, the cleaner the wine - but also, possibly, the more bland the wine....

So, deciding the level of filtration is a fine balance - producing a wine that retains character and some body; but a wine that will remain bright and stable in the bottle.

Making a fine wine is not as easy as you might think!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Time to come clean......

Well, did you wash your hands on April 1st?

I recently recommended a virtual visit to the Bodega using Google Earth, and as I think I mentioned at the time, this is really quite impressive.

Slightly less impressive was the Prolafiol 'virtual tasting' that I recommended a couple of days later..... on April 1st! So, for those of you who did not understand the concept, then please allow me to explain:

Prolafiol is actually an anagram of April Fool, which I'm afraid means that this was just another example of my strange English sense of humour. I therefore apologise to any of my readers who may have spent hours scrubbing their hands and frantically rubbing the screen trying to extract wine odours. (Well, maybe there were just one or two people, you never know).

Actually, here is Spain, they do not 'celebrate' April fool's day on April 1st, but they do have a similar day of practical jokes on December 28th that is known as the Día de los inocentes.

To be truthful, I can't see my wife Angela planning any dastardly jokes, but don't say that you haven't been warned!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Time = Money!

Juan (Señor Gadget) demonstrates the new equipment

Much of the investment that we make in the Bodega is to do with improving the quality of our wine, but not always..... As I have said in previous blogs, the pruning and tying of vines is a back-breaking job, made even more so by our 'Pergola' system of training. Anything that we can do to make the job a little easier is therefore welcomed by our staff.
This year we have made a modest investment in a new gadget for the vineyard which carefully ties the shoot of the vine plant to the training wires (it leaves a precise space around each shoot so that it does not become constricted during growth). The chore of tying vines to the wires is now infinitely quicker than before, and so we are able to save time, and perhaps a few pesetas, for other important jobs in and around the Bodega.

Cold stabilisation (note the 'frosted' metal tube)

In earlier blogs I have discussed the process of cold stabilisation (chilling the wine rapidly to approximately -5°C to precipitate the tartrates), and over the last months we have invested here too.

The machine that we use is a little old but very high quality, and far too expensive to discard completely, so we have given it a thorough overhaul - a completely new and much more efficient compressor that allows us to pass the wine more quickly than before - saving time and energy, but more importantly, reducing the time that the wine is exposed to possible oxidation. Our local contractors have been working on this overhaul for nearly six months now, and so hopefully, after so much time (and a substantial financial investment), we will finally start to benefit from the results.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Visit with Google, now taste with Prolafiol!

If you tried the virtual visit with Google Earth recommended in my last post, and were astonished by the technology, then you really have to try this one to believe it.....

Prolafiol® tasting technology has been around for one or two of years now and we are delighted that (after much pressure from our local D.O.), they have finally added Albariño to their list of noble grape varieties. We invite you to try this unique virtual “tasting” experience – Please start by double clicking on the image to enlarge and then follow the instructions carefully:

Hands must be perfectly clean before starting (do not use perfumed hand wash)

1. Click box in lower right corner to activate Prolafiol tasting.
2. Using finger tip very gently rub selected coloured box
(Warning! Excessive pressure may damage your screen)
3. Finger tip should now reveal trace odours of chosen grape variety
4. Repeat process for next selection (using different finger)

As with any new technology there have been problems depending on your operating system (for example, I have been trying to establish if it works with new Windows Vista). If you need any advice just drop me an e-mail.

Happy (virtual) tasting!