Monday, August 31, 2009

'Operacion retorno' - the BIG return

It was only a day or so ago that I mentioned the traditions of our region, and the fact that rightly or wrongly, there are some habits that just don't change no matter how little sense they appear to make.

Today's topic is the timetable of holidays - not just here in Galicia, but throughout Spain, France and one or two other European countries........ The mass exodus (and return) that takes place during the month of August, wreaking havoc on roads, as well as at many local and international airports.

In Spain this is compounded further by an even bigger curiosity - the apparent obsession with 'quincenas'. Simply explained, the Spanish tend to take their breaks in fixed, fifteen day (quincena) blocks, either from 1st to 15th August, or 16th to 31st August. These fixed dates appear to be widely accepted by all, and it is rare that a traveller would journey either earlier or marginally later to avoid the rush.

Of course there are many compelling and perfectly logical reasons behind the big August break, but it does also have a few drawbacks.

In a business with a production line for example, it makes perfect sense to switch off the machines and send employees away for a month, thus getting the entire holiday allocation out of the way in one fail swoop. In addition, it is also extremely convenient if you have children at school and you are therefore obliged to go away during school holidays (albeit at greatly inflated prices).

In the case of a large, centrally located city such as Madrid, it is more a case of escaping the suffocating heat, which often exceeds 40°C at the height of summer. So yes, there are many good reasons for shutting up shop in August.

On the flipside, possibly the most serious downside to closing a business in August is the enforced disruption in supply to customers - obliging them to stock up on your particular product in advance of the closure. In the case of Castro Martin we do not close our doors at all, except that during the harvest period we ask our cusotmers to avoid placing orders where possible (for obvious, operational reasons).

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there is the traffic, which for the reasons I have outlined above, tends to circulate en masse. Personally, I try to avoid crowds and queuing at all costs, but if I found myself sitting in stationary motorway traffic it would certainly take the gloss off any relaxing break, and only serve to restore my blood pressure back to it's usual pre-holiday high!

Friday, August 21, 2009

It's official, harvest starts 20th September 2009!

It is with great interest that we hear on local media that the 'official' date of our harvest has already been decided.... a month before the actual event!

Now this comes as no great surprise to us, as in the past we have heard some incredulous tales of how the harvest date has allegedly been decided by some other Bodegas in our denomination. My personal favourite (rumour, it has to be admitted) was that one large Bodega employing it's function rooms for weddings, decided that they would not start picking grapes until after the 'wedding season' had finished.... Nothing to do with the maturity of their grapes or the prevailing weather, simply that it fitted in with their wedding diary!

The fact that a date has now been broadcast on local TV (so far in advance) is perhaps an illustration of the 'traditional' approach that many in our region still apply to their winemaking. This serves to highlight just one of the differences between old world and new, whereby the new world approach to winemaking appears more scientific, and decidedly less haphazard. Having said that, there is no doubt that many of the more innovative Bodegas in our area now have a much more serious attitude, and indeed there are at least one or two that employ overseas wine makers.

Wouldn't it be ironic if, after these comments, we did actually start on the 20th...... follow our blog in the coming weeks to find out.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Castro Martin welcomes world famous visitor

During the month of August many industries grind to a halt for annual leave, whilst journalists and news agencies scratch around for any snippet of news that they deem to be worth reporting. Often these stories will either be quite trivial, or perhaps cute (or sometimes even both, as in the case of our squirrel friend here).

Just in case you have not been following the news, please click on the link. Knowing my sense of humour you will no doubt understand why I couldn't resist resorting to Photoshop once more!

And speaking of odd happenings in August, only this morning I received a marketing e-mail that was signed as follows:

Un saludo,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A new illness?

Talking of statistics (as we were a few days ago), a recent survey has suggested that a very high percentage of those taking time off work claiming to have swine flu might not actually be telling the truth, and are simply taking advantage of this rather worrying pandemic.

Perhaps they are confusing the symptoms and have actually been afflicted by something quite different...... WINE FLU!!!

If you have over indulged a little, here are a couple of old remedies that you might care to try:

In Outer Mongolia, a pair of pickled sheeps eyes in tomato juice is thought to be the answer to a thumping headache, whilst cattle ropers in the Old West opted for tea brewed from rabbit droppings. In Ancient Rome, party-goers breakfasted on sheep lungs and two owl eggs and in Ancient Greece the cure was deep-fried canaries (although it was never specified if this was on or off-the-bone!)

For details of these recipes, please visit our main website.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Annual fiesta slips under the radar

Over the last couple of years, since I started our blog, I have always made mention of the Albariño Festival that takes place in the local town of Cambados at the end of July/start of August.

Until fairly recently we actually used to participate in this ourselves, renting a stand, and selling by the glass or bottle to any visitor who cared to taste our wine. Over the years however, it became clear that we were doing the lion's share of our business during the night, and we found ourselves shutting up shop at 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning! Of course we could have closed much earlier (at our own discretion), but always had to consider covering the overheads of renting and staffing our stand.

Eventually we decided that any 'marketing' benefit was far outweighed by the amount of effort and minimal return each year, and we therefore decided to pull out.

If I am being very honest, we have not missed attending, and we have certainly not missed the smells of old fish and/or garbage that have recently started to permeate the site for the duration of the festival. (Hardly conducive to serious wine appreciation, it has to be said). This was not because the rubbish was left to pile up, it was simply that it somehow left behind a rather unsavoury stench once it was cleared. This probably had more to do with the large amount of seafood that is served from makeshift tents over the 5 day period.

(Hmmm, I am conscious that I am not painting a very favourable picture here, but to be truthful I would not recommend this festival to anyone wishing to attend a serious tasting).

Anyway, rightly or wrongly, we do not join in, and instead we find time to enjoy a refreshing glass of Albariño in the comfort of our own home, rather than amongst the partying hordes of Cambados.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Lies, damned lies and statistics

When writing this blog I often ask myself how many people are interested enough to read it, and if they do, whether they ever come back for a second visit.

Thanks to Google Analytics we are now able to find this information in amazing detail - the different countries that visit, how many pages they read, how long they stay online and what they had for breakfast.... (OK, so the last part is not true, but I did say lies and statistics!)

I am very proud to say that since the start of 2009 we have been viewed by 57 countries around the world with our most regular readership in Spain, UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal and Ireland. Naturally, the majority are English speaking countries, as unfortunately my Spanish is not up to translating the blog into Castellano (and I am sure that my warped sense of humour would not translate anyway).

I am pleased to tell you that there is quite a high percentage of visitors who are regulars, and who come back hundreds of times during the course of the year. Naturally this is very flattering, and my only wish is that these followers of our site buy our Albariño just as regularly!

Amongst the statistics offered up by Google we are also able to see the number of daily visitors, and I was fascinated to learn that there appears to be a peak in numbers each Monday. The explanation is quite simple - readers returning to work on Monday cannot wait to catch up with all the exciting happenings here at Castro Martin....... in my dreams.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Drinking in an orderly fashion

Over many years in the wine trade I have been lucky enough to participate in an enormous number of organised wine tastings. Whether it be at wine fairs, in tasting competitions or even just to find a wine that I wanted to buy, there was one important rule that I always tried to obey.... tasting any comprehensive selection of wines in the correct order.

Now, you may not view this as a major issue, but I should tell you that it can make a significant difference and may inadvertently dictate the wine that you single out for special note.

With bottled white wines I always like to start with the oldest wines first, and gradually work my way on to the younger wines, and there is a very simple reason for this. Take our Albariño as an example – it is generally enjoyed as a young, clean, fruity wine, with a fresh acidity. Tasting a young Albariño first and then following with an older vintage might easily give the second wine (no matter how good), an appearance of being a little tired, or possibly even oxidised. Actually more of an olfactory illusion than a true comparison.

As an aside, this rule of ‘young and old’ can actually be carried through to the pairing food with wine. The privileged few may consider drinking Champagne with dessert, which may give rise to a small but significant problem – if you are enjoying a dessert of fresh fruits and you are lucky enough to be quaffing an older, vintage Champagne, then this too might appear a touch oxidised when tasted alongside the fresh, youthful fruit. By contrast, a vibrant, young Spumante, or even an off-dry Lambrusco might actually make a better pairing, and could be considerably cheaper too! (Please note that there is some very good Lambrusco on the market).

A similar type of rule applies to sweet and dry wines. Tasting a sweet wine first, and then moving immediately to a dry wine can give the second glass an appearance of being a little thin, and possibly a bit harsh, by comparison to the lush mouthfeel of the former. This can be further exaggerated if the second, dry wine also has a slighter higher acidity.

As you may now begin to understand, the order of tasting in a wine competition is of paramount importance, especially if you bear in mind that in nearly every case the judging is conducted completely blind. If the 'flights' are not arranged in the correct order, then your precious wine sample might easily be eliminated for completely the wrong reason.

Taking this a step further, there are other variables that should possibly be taken into account - temperature, for example. Whilst it is true that any red or white wine tasted at room temperature might highlight any potential faults, in some circumstances it can actually be quite damaging. Tasting a meaty, full-bodied red wine that is too warm serves merely to exaggerate the alcohol, and might render the sample flabby and unbalanced. Too cold, and a young Bordeaux will show all its mouth puckering tannins, and not much else, although it might also appear hard and metallic.

Finally, we have sulphur! At the moment of bottling the winemaker might well 'fine-tune' the amount of sulphur added, in order that the bottle enjoys an optimum shelf-life. It is therefore not uncommon to find a recently bottled wine that has a slightly elevated level of sulphur. In the long term this will no doubt be of benefit, but in the short term it can easily render the bottle a little dumb, or at least not very expressive. To be honest an average consumer would not be expected to recognise this, but suffice to say that it might just taint his or her experience of a potentially great wine.

Now who would want to be a professional wine taster?