Monday, May 25, 2009

Spam - don't you just love it?

I am not sure which amuses me more - the fact that the senders of Spam and Phishing mails think that you are stupid enough to believe them, or the fact that there are actually people who do believe them. (Of course there those who respond just out of mischief, with websites dedicated to the humorous exchanges of correspondence between them, but this is not my point).

If you, or someone you know, suddenly inherits $30 million, would you seriously send out blanket e-mails on the internet inviting complete strangers to share in your good fortune? I think not. It's as good as saying "you don't know me from Adam but I want to give you lots of money, and all you have to do is send me all your bank account details"!

On top of this you have the strange use of English (even though the sender has an English name, claims to be a native speaker, but oddly enough lives in Nigeria), not to mention the dodgy addresses and peculiar arrangements for tranferring money. It's all just a bit too far fetched.

I must confess that I am very often tempted to reply myself, but merely to ask if they really think that I am terminally stupid!

Recently, I have received a new variation on the $30 million mail, which is perhaps a little less ambitious. It claims that the sender has tasted our wine and is desperate to buy some for his or her forthcoming wedding/birthday/barmitzvah or whatever. They start by saying that they are currently on holiday, which I guess might be to disguise the fact that their e-mail address does not match with the fact that they claim to be American. (All of the versions I have seen so far claim to be American, but usually with a very odd or suspicious name, coupled with an appalling grasp of the English language). Despite being 'private' individuals they tell us that they have all the shipping and documentation organised, and that all we have to do is leave $30,000 cash in a brown envelope, behind the dustbins outside Kings Cross railway station......

OK, so the last part is not true, but as you can imagine, the payment method that they suggest is never straightforward, and I rather suspect would entail sending them all my bank account details.

Sure - no problem!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It's an ill wind....

So, after months of heartbreak, anguish and general disruption, we are finally almost 100% fully operational again. Trying hard to look at the positive side for just one moment I believe that we have probably emerged from this catastrophe slightly better equipped than we were before.

In repairing the tanks we have taken advantage of the opportunity to upgrade our equipment slightly, all of the modifications designed to benefit our wine both in the short and long term.

Firstly, the new cooling jackets (the original cause of the accident) have been improved, and we are told that they should now give us better and more efficient control of the temperature in our tanks. It is difficult to see from this photograph, but the ribs of each jacket have a greater circumference than before, thus allowing a more efficient flow of cooling fluid around the cellar. This claim is as yet untested as we still await for the tanks to be connected.... so fingers crossed.

In addition, we have also completely replaced the lid of each tank with a brand new closure that is apparently more airtight than the previous version (those removed were the originals from 25 years ago).

Every tank now has a 'manhole' to allow full access for cleaning, and the final touch is a new 'non-drip' tasting tap on the front.

I am not saying for one second that we are happy with what happened at the end of last summer (the logistical problems of moving wine around have given us both sleepless nights), but at least we have reaped a few small benefits from the whole experience.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sanidad or Insanity?

Hello, Mr Angry here! Well, where do I start?

I have worked in the Food & Wine business for the whole of my working life (more years than I care to mention), and being in this industry breeds a healthy respect for issues of hygiene, health and safety. Indeed, behind my desk proudly hangs a certificate confirming my own membership of the Royal Institute of Public Health & Hygiene.

We have an 'open-door policy' to inspectors, not only because we are obliged to, but more importantly because we have nothing to hide, and actually take great pride in the appearance and overall cleanliness of our Bodega. OK, we will never be perfect, but we certainly strive toward that goal.

A few days ago a couple of inspectors arrived from our local Xunta, and whilst I know that we are obliged to respect them, I'm afraid that on this occassion I will make an exception.

It has always been my understanding (mainly from my experiences in the UK) that there should be at least some spirit of mutual co-operation between an inspector and the local propietor. In addition, I believe that they should at least be seen to behave in a fair and reasonable manner (unless of course they uncover a serious danger to health and/or well-being).

So, the two men made their inspection of our business, and upon completion informed us that we would have to replace the entire ceiling of our pressing room, and that the work would have to be completed within a month or they would close our cellar. Indeed they added, seemingly with great glee, that they had already closed two other cellars earlier that week!

Now, you should take into account that our pressing room is only used once a year, for a period of about 10-14 days during harvest, and that it is completely isolated from the rest of the cellar. It has the original ceiling which was constructed 25 years ago, and it goes without saying that it does not really pose any immediate risk of contamination to our wine making process.

In my opinion, any reasonable person might have said "please have the ceiling replaced before your next harvest, and we will come back in August to re-inspect" - but no amount of reasoning appeared to change their stance, and their gun was pointed squarely at our temple. We even tried to plead poverty, citing the global recession, and that we needed to preserve our cash reserves, but they stubbornly insisted... 30 days or face closure!

I can only assume they were having a bad day, or pehaps their boss had told them that they had not achieved their 'business closure' quota for the month.......

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wine and Food - problem dishes, part 2

I deliberately used this photograph to remind you that food served as an appetiser, amuse-bouche, tapas or whatever you chose to call it can just as easily influence the taste of your aperitif wine.

Simple salted foods including cashew or peanuts will certainly modify flavour, as will olives (except that a nice glass of a bone-dry chilled sherry, such as a fresh Manzanilla, might save the day). Cooked olives however, as part of casserole or sauce will probably require a full bodied red wine, such as a good Rhone to support the richness.

In a similar way, artichokes have to be treated with great caution - the bitter, phenolic flavours of globe artichokes can and will make many wines taste decidedly odd, although a clean white wine with fresh acidity, such as an albariño, is a possible option (dependent on how the dish is prepared). I mention preparation simply by way of a reminder that it is not always the raw ingredient on it's own that will decide the suitability of the wine you have selected, but just as importantly, the way that the dish is cooked i.e. the sauce or seasoning that has been added.

Also pay particular attention to oily or smoked fish - fresh, aromatic white wine should certainly help to give a lift, but please be aware that a good wine might be 'tainted' by a strong smoky flavour.

Cooking with fruit (fresh or dried) may once again play tricks with your wine. Fruit used in savoury dishes does run the possibility of making a dry wine taste thin, tart or even completely flat. So take care, and if in doubt, experiment at home before you invite your guests to dinner (a good excuse for a tasting, as if it were needed).

Dessert is a whole different subject..... There are many obviously good selections that can be made - sweet, fortified wine such as Australian muscat is the perfect choice with chocolate, in the same way that it can stand up to a palate-numbing ice cream pudding. I am sure that I have also seen Albariño as a recommendation for dessert, but this was probably made by someone desperate to sell wine (no, it wasn't me!)

Finally, I will mention cheese. Now the traditionalists will say that you need a good Bordeaux to go with your cheese, or possibly a port with your Stilton, and who am I to argue? The only thing that I would say is that there are many styles of cheese, in the same way that there are many styles of wine - some work, and some don't.

Sauternes with your Roquefort should be delicious, and a Sancerre or Pouilly Fumé will go very nicely with a goat's cheese. Indeed, I once ate in a restaurant in Sancerre where the menu was made up entirely of goat's cheese dishes, and by the end of the meal I had grown a small beard and developed the ability to balance on tree branches. OK, so the latter part is not true, but the wine suggestion does work. And last but not least, Albariño can also be served with goat's cheese, more especially those with a tart, sharp flavour.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Wine and Food - problem dishes, part 1

I have been threatening for some time now to write about food and wine recommendations and/or parings etc, and today is the 'first in the series'. I thought I would start by highlighting some of the more difficult foods to match, that are perhaps best avoided, not just with Albariño, but possibly with any type of wine.

The most obvious are the highly spiced dishes that incorporate curry or chilli spices. Before I moved to Spain I had always believed that the Spanish enjoyed the odd hot dish or two, and that in the South there would be recipes influenced by historical connections with North Africa. Not so - the Spanish use hot spices very sparingly in their cooking, and in reality have a very low tolerance to piquancy.

Several years ago I was fortunate enough to participate in an experimental tasting of different wine styles and spicy Asian foods. Whilst we discovered one or two wines that could just about stand up to the heat (such as an aromatic Sauvignon Blanc for example), most wines, red or white, were almost completely overpowered. This being the case, it would certainly be a waste of money to invest in a fine, subtle wine only to have it blown away by the food on your plate. My advice therefore, with strong Chilli or Curry..... stick to beer!

OK, so that's one or two of the more obvious dishes out of the way, so now for a few things that you might not immediately realise could spell disaster for your favourite tipple.

Making good wine is really a question of balance - balance between the basic elements such as fruit, acidity, tannin etc. We spend a lot of time, not only prior to picking, but also in the making of our wine to make sure that there is no single element that dominates another, and that the end product is well-balanced. In this way you will soon understand why the following foods can have a big influence on your wine.

Any food or condiment with a high acidity such as vinegar, will certainly have a detrimental effect - the addition of acetic acid in a salad dressing for example, could not only ruin the balance, but will make many red wines taste sour and volatile. If you must use vinegar try to find one that is a little more mellow.

For the same reason an excess use of lemon juice can also throw your wine out of shape. It rather depends on how dominant the lemon flavour is, and how much acidity is already present in the wine. On our website I have suggested that Albariño might support a lemon sauce or other sharp flavours, but I will qualify this by saying that it is a question of degree - don't be too heavy handed with the lemon squeezer! Oh, and by the way, lemon and red wine? Probably not a good idea.

Slightly less obvious is the humble tomato, or tomato as we say here in Europe (old joke, or old song actually). Once again it can be the acidity that does the damage, more especially to ripe and fleshy red wines. Having said that Italian red wine, that can have a slightly elevated acidity, may help to solve this problem. It is possible that Italian reds have actully evolved like this over time, to help deal with the oil and tomato so used widely in the national cuisine.

End of Part 1