Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Albariño, Savagnin or Traminer?

The Rias Baixas denomination is pretty much unique in Spain, as it is probably the only DO in which the name of the grape variety is better known than the name of the denomination itself. For example, nearly every wine consumer will know Rioja or Ribero del Duero, but how many would dream of asking for them by using their varietal name - tempranillo or tinto fino?

Of course one advantage is that Albariño is perhaps a little easier to remember than the rather complicated DO name of 'Rias Baixas' (plus slightly more staightforward to pronounce). It also ties in more closely with the concept of 'new world' wines where wine selection is simplified by use of the varietal name.

Now, growers around the world have not been slow to latch on to this opening, and as Albarino becomes more fashionable, so we have witnessed new plantings popping up all over the globe. Undoubtedly it is not simply a question of plonking the vines wherever you think fit, as there are many other considerations to take into account, not least of all climate and soil (each single factor having a considerable influence on the quality and style of the end product). Then, of course, there is the actual clone of the Albarino vine itself, as in keeping with many other grape varieties, there are quite literally hundreds of variants available.

And so, finally, I have come to the point of my story - Australia.

The Australians have been showing great enthusiasm for Albarino for some time now, as witnessed first hand on our recent trip to Sydney and Melbourne. Not only are they importing wine in the finished, bottled form, but many local winemakers have been avidly planting vineyards with what they believed to be Albarino grapes....... and thereby lies the problem.

Before the days of DNA testing, vines were more or less distinguished by their physical attributes, leaf shape etc, and for the taste of the wine that they produced. However recent DNA analysis has revealed that the original vines imported, screened and sold by the Australian CSIRO (government research organisation) are not in fact Albarino, but are actually the less fashionable Savagnin grape from the Jura region of France - and also identical to the Traminer grape variety. Confusing?

This is a disaster for the Australian growers who have invested in this work, as part of the very reason for embarking down this road was simply to capitalise, quite understandably, on the growing market for the Albarino grape. Now they are banned completely from using the name.

For a slightly more informed explanation of the story, try this link to Jancis Robinson's article in last weekends Financial Times.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

A bit of 'housekeeping'....

I have always believed that a good website or blog is essential in this day and age as people spend an increasing amount of time surfing the web, in chat rooms (or maybe these have been replaced by twit rooms?), and shopping online for their groceries.

Without being too critical I think it is fair to say that the website of our denomination (Rias Baixas) was a little outdated, and not very functional. However, I am pleased to announce that a brand new website has now been launched. It's not that you will find too much new, cutting edge information, but at least the new site is a little easier to navigate and more pleasant to look at (apart from the rather annoying banner at the top of the page which is constantly moving about, distracting the eye, rather like an ad for free bingo!) Anyway, if you have a second, then do take a look.

Secondly, in this small 'housekeeping' blog, I just wanted to mention that we have changed our bottle slightly...... same shape, same size, same weight, just a slightly different colour. You may recall a long time ago I had a little moan about the difficulty of sourcing the exact colour and quality of bottle that I wanted - well, this new bottle is not quite perfect, but it is a small step closer. Don't panic though, it is not a dramatic difference, but if compare you the two together you will notice that the new bottle is a shade more dark green than the dark brown of the current one.

Lost in translation:
Nothing to do with these posts, but just something that made me smile. I was reading the Spanish blog of my favourite local restaurant Pepe Vieira, and, feeling a little lazy on a Friday afternoon, ran the blog entry through some translation software..... I really have to go and eat there, the menu sounds delicious:

Brandada of codfish, cream of sprocket wheels with apple emulsion
Vieiras cleaning rods with apple and files

Yum, yum!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tanks roll in to Ribadumia

It is a little while since I last updated progress on our tank repairs, especially as we have just enjoyed (?) a five day Easter break here in Ribadumia. I say Ribadumia because, in keeping with the vagaries of Spanish holidays, not everyone in Galicia had the same length of break. Indeed, we once again experienced the rather odd situation in Pontevedra, when one side of the river (that divides the city where we live) was on holiday, whereas the other side of the river was not. Anyway, as usual I digress....

To be honest I have stayed away from our tank room (perhaps more than I should), as it is simply heartbreaking to see the absolute chaos that exists in our normally well-ordered cellar. Fortunately, the cellar is divided into three seperate tank rooms, and as the work is only taking place in one of the three, we are more or less able to contain the amount of dirt and dust generated by the work.

In the last couple of days however, we seem to be making real progress as the new/repaired tanks are re-assembled (the top half, and cooling jackets are completely new - see photo). My own estimate is that nearly three quarters of the work is now complete, and order is slowly being restored. Indeed, on one side of the cellar we now have a complete row of restored and rejuvenated tanks, which I have to say look rather resplendent.

Hopefully, within the next few weeks I will be posting a photo of the completed work, or at least once our own guys have had an opportunity to give the place a serious deep-clean.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Yodelling at your TV screen!

Virgin Active launches their gym exclusively for pets!

On 1st April each year people with possibly too much time on their hands design ways to deceive the innocent (in Spain this is actually known as the 'Day of the Innocents', albeit it does not fall on April 1st). With every year that passes the stunts become more sophisticated, and have increasing amounts of money thrown at them in order to make them appear more credible to the unwitting.

Now, I'm not admitting that I have too much time on my hands, but I have to confess that I did find the time to make my annual contribution to the myriad of online jokes. I am sure that those of you who read my post of April 1st will have realised that something was amiss - it was hardly a very sophisticated effort!

Whilst we would like to believe that there is actually some medicinal benefit to drinking Albarino, we can only truthfully advise moderation and responsible consumption of our wine. Of course it may well assist with your digestion, and hopefully stimulate your enjoyment of a particular meal, but that is about as far as it goes.

My own favourite prank this year was the Xbox 'Alpine Legend' yodelling game, complete with website and television advertising. To see the top ten online April Fool's jokes click here.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Recession - does your Company need to sell?

The little soapbox logo/photo that I sometimes use when I have a moan could not be more appropriate for today's post....

You may or may not recall that a month or two ago I wrote about the price of carton, and how the value of re-cycled paper had collapsed - as our own cartons are made from 75% re-cycled paper I sort of anticipated that the price might drop accordingly. Of course, it did not, and this left me with an overwhelming feeling that we were now simply subsidising the brand new state-of-the-art factory recently built by our carton supplier.

Since I arrived in Spain several years ago I have been very happy with this company, as they are often our only supplier that delivers when they say they will, and I would be very reluctant to change them - "If it ain't broken, then don't fix it", as they say. However, for the reason that I explained earlier I thought it only appropriate that I should at least shop around and compare prices.

The salesmen of two other large carton manufacturers (one local and one part of a large group) could probably not believe their luck when they received our unsolicited call inviting them to quote. And so, a few weeks ago they arrived at the bodega, spent an hour discussing our requirements, took samples of our existing cases and then disappeared never to be seen again!

Is it just me? In a recession wouldn't you think that they might be keen to get the new business? Not so, our phones, faxes and e-mail have all remained silent. Now it could be (although it is highly unlikely) that they don't want our business, but if this was the case, you would think that they might at least have the courtesy to tell us.

As you may have guessed I am not impressed, but believe me, I have an even better example!

A few years ago I treated myself to a very nice German car (the brand is not really relevant). Perhaps two months ago I had the car serviced, and whilst hanging around in the showroom where I bought the original car, I picked up the brochure of their latest model. I was completely seduced by the beautiful glossy pictures, and very tempted...... I looked for the salesman, and even went as far as having my old car valued as a possible trade-in against the new model. Obviously there was no way that I would part with such a large amount of money before at least seeing the new car, but no problem I was assured, they could get one from another showroom to show me, and possibly even test drive. Wonderful I thought - and guess what? - two months later I am still waiting for their call!

Now, this particular German manufacturer endured a staggering 63% sales drop in the third quarter of 2008, which has continued in 2009, dropping a further 9% in March alone. Now I have to confess that I don't particularly like pushy salesmen, but in the current market I am sure that the German parent company would be completely mortified if they only knew of such blatant indifference.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Angela and I do not employ salesmen and cover the work ourselves!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

The 'Pontevedra Paradox'

Barely a week passes these days without some expert or other telling us that we should eat this, or not eat that, as is may or may not be bad for our health. Indeed, sometimes the apparent contradictions can be quite stark, and often very confusing for the consumer.

Of course doctors and scientists often work around the clock to help develop new drugs or discover the 'miracle cure', when sometimes natural health enhancers can actually be something that we already include in our regular diet.

From around the world we see apparent examples of how eating habits can affect our longevity – the Japanese for instance, who eat a low fat diet that includes fish and rice etc, often living to a ripe old age as a result. A littler nearer to home there are cases such as Scotland, which has one of the highest rates of coronary heart disease on the planet – is this be down to the amount of fried food they consume, or could it just be genetic?

Anyway, now for some much more significant news about health and diet……

Back in 1992 a French scientist coined the expression the ‘French Paradox’, which indicated that drinking red wine in moderation was actually good for you (although the boom in consumption was not actually seen until a little later). The 'paradox' was that the French seemingly enjoyed a very low rate of coronary heart disease, despite including high levels of saturated fats in their diet. This was eventually attributed to their custom of consuming a glass of red wine with nearly every meal, and was therefore assumed to be beneficial.

In recent weeks Italian research also claims that red wine increases the female libido. See this Decanter article for the juicy details (and then nip down to your local supermarket to buy a bottle for the wife!)

And so to white wine - From new research in Massachusetts we now hear that some white wines (again taken in moderation) can actually stimulate sensory receptors in the brain, thereby increasing our capacity to process information.

Don’t ask me how or why lesser known varietals were included in the study, but apparently there is a specific enzyme in the Albariño grape variety that singles it out as being particularly effective! This is down to a chemical reaction that apparently takes place between the deoxyribose sugars that exist in human DNA and an enzyme in the wine, which results in heightened activity. Hands up everyone who even begins to understands that!....... Perhaps this could explain why we can sometimes feel a little euphoric when we have had one glass too many? (But this is just my own idea and not a part of the official research).

So now we sit back and wait for the world to react (and the orders to come flooding in), assuming that this new theory is not eventually contradicted by yet another expert.