Friday, July 15, 2011

The last post!....... on Blogger

After more than 5 years as loyal Bloggers we have finally closed up shop and defected to WordPress.

For those of you who don't know, WordPress is actually quite similar to Blogger, except that we are now able to fully integrate our blog with our main website.

The real beauty of this is that not only are we able to regularly update the blog, but we can also easily update our main website too - adding new information, updating and adding new photos etc. Indeed our new website now includes a page of downloads, where you can find pdf files of Vintage Reports, Tech Sheets, Bottle Shots, Labels etc, etc.

The new site will eventually carry a selection local recipes on our food and wine page, but for now it simply includes some great food shots (actually taken using a small pocket digital camera).

We can now be found at - simply click Blog on the main menu.

Many thanks to our loyal followers, we hope that we will enjoy your continued support in our new home!

So, it's goodnight from me, and goodnight from her indoors....

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rain at last!

It's probably quite fitting that one of my last few posts on Blogger (we will hopefully launch our completely new, all singing, all dancing website later this week), should be about the weather.

So far, the month of July has been cool and cloudy. Lots of overcast days, odd spots of sunshine, but also quite a lot of mist and drizzle - just in time for the Galician tourist season that starts to gather momentum at the beginning of the month. The significant point is that, despite the drizzle that we have had, it's hardly been enough to penetrate the canopy in our vineyards, and the soil has remained mostly dry.

Thursday and Friday of this last week, has however, provided us with the first real rain since February/March. Not torrential rain, but steady rain that persisted throughout the two day period. Of course now that the sun has returned, the damp will be trapped at ground level and the humidity will provide an excellent breeding ground for disease. My guess is that we will probably be spraying at some point in the next few days.

Bearing in mind that we are obliged to occasionally treat our vines, prolonged periods of dry weather obviously mean that we spray less, saving time, money and the environment. Every cloud has a silver lining, if you'll pardon the pun.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The correct temperature?

I very rarely eat grapes, probably because we making a living out of growing them. (I guess it's like the people who work in chocolate factories that eventually give up eating chocolate).

The other day, for some unknown reason, I bought a few grapes and popped them in the bottom of my fridge. When I tasted them later I remember thinking to myself that they were a bit acid - I left the remainder of the bunch on my kitchen counter. A little later I picked at a few more, but this time they tasted somewhat sweeter and generally more flavourful. One simple but important difference - they were warmer!

Of course this one of the fundamentals of wine tasting too - how your perception of wine is altered by the temperature at which you drink it.

Obviously I'm not suggesting that you should drink your albariño warm (albeit that this is the best way to expose many potential faults), but conversely, if you drink it too cold, not only will it exaggerate the acidity, but will also help to mask the true character of your wine.

If you find yourself being offered a tooth-shatteringly cold white wine in a restaurant, then cup the bowl of the glass in your two hands, and gently swirl it around until the temperature recovers a little - then, and only then, should you taste and pass your judgement.

Most red wine is served at 'room temperature', which to be honest is a little vague. So if your room is a little too warm, your red wine might also be adversely affected. An over heated bottle will throw all the alcohol to the forefront, perhaps giving your glass a bit of alcoholic 'burn' - not literally, but just a sensation of heat in the back of your throat. This, quite naturally, is more exaggerated in heavy, alcoholic red wines, and is quite easily remedied by chilling the bottle just a little - but not too much!
If you chill a red wine too much, this will simply exaggerate the tannins and could make your wine taste hard, harsh and maybe even a bit metallic.

As you will gather, temperature can make a bit difference to your enjoyment of any wine.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Sneak preview

You may have noticed that our blog has been a little abandoned recently, and as always, there is a perfectly good excuse.....

The screen capture above is a sneak preview of the homepage of our new website, which has been under construction for the last couple of months.

The framework is done, the pages are set up, and now I am just going through the painfully slow part of adding the text and selecting the photographs that we are going to use. Any spare moment that I have had in front of my computer over the last couple of weeks has been occupied by this task - hence the fact that our blog has been a bit overlooked. Sorry about that.

We hope to have the full new site up and running in the next week or so. As they say, watch this space!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tea and toast

There is an old saying that goes "a little of what you fancy does you good", and to prove a point I woke up the other day with a craving for some thick cut marmalade on a slice of hot buttered toast. Fortunately I had all the ingredients in my fridge and cupboards, and savoured every mouthful, accompanied by a mug of piping hot Yorkshire tea. It's sometimes the really simple pleasures that manage to hit the spot. Another such example - a rare fillet steak with a thick, freshly-made bearnaise sauce. Simple, but truly a match made in heaven....

Fortunately we are all have different tastes and enjoy different things, so when I used to get asked "which wine should I drink?" my reply was always the same - drink the wine that you enjoy.

Referring back to my post of a week or two ago about food and wine matching, I was lucky enough to dine in a good restaurant in Vigo yesterday. They had a special French promotion, which is highly unusual in Spain and so I jumped at the chance of eating (and drinking) some old, familiar favourites. An excellent Chablis 1er Cru Fourchaume 2008 from probably the best co-operative that I know (anywhere in the world) - La Chablisienne, and a drop of Sauternes, Chateau d'Arche, with dessert.

The Chablis was super dry, racy and stylish, with a shot of steely gunflint running through it. People often talk about the influence of the soil on wine, and I swear that in this case, I could actually taste the calcareous kimmerigian clay and chalk that dominates the region. An absolute joy with the shellfish that I was eating. It's really easy to get excited about wine when a humble meal somehow becomes more memorable for all the right reasons.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The next new thing - Château Trump!

Trump Las Vegas (in a lovely part of town)

You may not be aware, that our favourite business entrepreneur Donald Trump recently seized upon the misfortune of a pair of embattled socialites to buy their winery at a knock-down price. The 776 acre Kluge winery in Virginia has been under new ownership since April, and it should come as no surprise that the folically challenged Mr Trump has no intention of becoming winemaker. Indeed, the former owner Patricia Kluge will stay on - "She has a great instinct for wine, which I don't," Mr Trump said. Forgive me for being a bit cynical at this point, but if she had such a great instinct then why was her entire Estate sold to Trump for one tenth of its pre-recession value? 

Those in the know say it won't be too long before the new brand of Château Trump appears on the market, no doubt with a label design smothered in gold (which appears to the trade mark of all his businesses).

P.S. I will confess now that have never tasted a wine made in Virginia.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The longest day, but the shortest summer

Please don't get me wrong, I am not announcing that summer is over already, but having just celebrated the longest day of the year (21st June in the Northern Hemisphere), we now look forward to possibly our shortest summer.

Our calendar for summer 2011 will have to be altered dramatically, as we plan for the early harvest. The first thing to disappear will be the planned closure of the Bodega for one week in August. Indeed, the week that we wanted to close may well end up being the week that we start to pick, so I guess that I might have to ask our team to work instead!

But the preparations for harvest actually start much earlier than that....

Not only do we have to order all the materials that we need, but obviously we have to ensure that we have enough space in our tanks to receive the new wine, and this usually involves a programme of bottling to create a bit of spare capacity.

As the wine has to pass through cold stabilisation, filtration etc. before it is bottled this also takes time and forward planning, and so working backwards from the anticipated harvest date, it means that we will probably have a very short summer indeed.

To finish on a more positive note, at least I will save on a bit of sun cream this year!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Never stand still!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Oxygen Transfer Rate (OTR), and how the type of closure can influence the quality of our wine long after it leaves the cellar. Of course the conditions chosen for bottle storage will also determine its evolution, meaning that the loft (attic) of your house is really not an ideal location, but then that's another story.....

We have already established that Nomacorc is the best closure for our wine, and select the most suitable quality for our products no matter what the cost (synthetic is by no means cheaper than natural cork). However, in our constant quest for improvement, and with the help and advice from our friends at Nomacorc, we are now taking our cork expertise to the next level.

The new Nomacorc Select Series is available in three categories - not based on quality, but based on the density of the material. The differing densities have a significant influence on OTR, and therefore have a direct effect on how the bottled wine will evolve.

It would be easy for us to simply read the published statistics and to follow the recommendations of Nomacorc, but for such an important decision we have decided to make an analysis based on our own test bottlings. Under controlled conditions we have bottled three batches of the same wine, using the three different examples of the Select Series. Over the next 6 to 12 months we will pull corks at regular intervals, and then taste and analyse each bottle to determine how the three different corks influence the development of our wines.

If we discover that any one of the three works better than our current quality, then we will make the change. If there is no improvment then we will simply continue as we are, thus applying one of my favourite philosophies - if it ain't broken, don't fix it!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mist, mizzle, drizzle, but no real rain....

And now time for a quick weather update...... (admit it, you've been dying to know!)

A day or two before my friends arrived for a long anticpated visit from New Zealand, quite inevitably, our weather changed. After weeks, nay, months, of warm sunny weather, the temperature suddenly dropped by around 8°C, and the skies filled with cloud.

To be perfectly honest we could have done with a good soaking of rain, but so far we have had nothing more than a week of low cloud, the horrible 'hanging' mizzle that somehow just sticks to your clothes, and a few light showers.

Once our vineyards dry out, then I will be the first to admit that a bit of treatment is going to be needed - I have said it once, and I will say it again - the Galician climate is simply too unpredictable for us not to intervene at some point.

Having said all that, we are still anticipating an early harvest. My guess is still the end of August.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Adagio for Albariño

Ever wished your glass of malbec was more musical or that your sauvignon sings? No, of course not. But we all grew up knowing that our mothers' glassware could make sweet music. The glasses pictured above have been made to satisfy that kid inside. Each glass is marked with musical notations to denote the exact amount of albariño required to create the perfect pitch (we assure you that albariño is by far the best wine for this purpose).

Unfortunately these glasses don't come cheap, so start saving up so you can play that sonata. And at least if you don't succeed in creating musical magic, you can always console yourself with a decent glass of Castro Martin!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Wine transformed

I sometimes write about wine and food pairing, quite simply as I am fascinated by the subject. It's true that there is a lot of snobbery associated with this subject, and quite rightly so. Some of the old fashioned, traditional views just don't stack up, such as drinking red wine with fish, which can be perfectly acceptable given the right combination..... And thereby lies the secret.... the right combination.

There is no doubt that some of the old rules do still apply, and using them simply as a general guideline can sometimes help steer you towards finding new food and wine matches - it's just a matter of trial and error, and believe me there will be a lot of errors along the way!

Some combinations just don't work, and can clash very badly, but the most important thing to remember is that it is actually your perception of the wine that will be modified, and doesn't necessarily mean that the wine by itself is poor. I read only a day or so ago about a serious taster who assessed some wines at a tasting, marked them down as being pretty mediocre, but then had to amend his score when he enjoyed the very same wines with food - the wines had been transformed.

I can quote a very good example of my own from many years ago. I was lucky enough to be eating at the Restaurant Beaugraviere in Mondragon, near Orange at the southern end of the Rhone Valley. It's a restaurant that specialises in truffles, and in those days was not quite as expensive as it is now (the dining room, shown in my picture has also been upgraded quite a lot). We selected one of their speciality dishes of scrambled egg with truffle, and had pretty much given up on the idea of finding a suitable wine - eggs as we know are notoriously difficult to match. The sommelier however, suggested that we try an old white Chateauneuf-du-Pape (from my fading memory I think it might have been a Chateau Rayas Blanc 1983, but I could be wrong). When we were invited to sample the wine before serving, it came out of the bottle as a heavily coloured rather tired looking wine, that was seriously starting to lose it's fruit. We were not really impressed, but opted to persevere - and boy, what a transformation! With the eggs the wine was just sensational, which obviously explains why this experience has been etched into my memory.

Just to finish, I once had the very opposite experience with a beef dish, that I decided to enjoy with a good Red Burgundy. The beef was served with a jus, a reduction of the beef stock made with a drop of red wine, giving it a very strong umami flavour. In theory it should have worked - so why was I getting such a harsh, bitter, metallic sensation in my mouth? When I made a few enquiries I finally discovered that the pureed potatoes had been made with a touch of horseradish sauce! Once again my wine had been transformed, but this time not in a good way.

We live and learn.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Change your point of view

If you are new to our blog, or maybe just bored with the way it looks, then I have just discovered a completely new and pretty dynamic way that you can view it (it's an especially good way to look back through our archives, and to view some of my lovely pics!)

Simply add the word 'view' to the end of our normal URL - in other words try
Once you are there you will find a drop down menu in the top right hand corner of the page, which offers you several different options of how you change the layout.

Try it! It's a bit of fun.....

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Height Cuisine or Haute Cuisine?

I'm sure that we have all had some widely varying experiences when it comes to in-flight dining on aircraft, from the sublime to the downright inedible (ever tried Ainsley Harriott's cup-a-soup on Iberia?) But when did you last stop to consider the amount of work that goes into selecting the food and wines that are served during your flight?

Of course many airlines boast Michelin starred chefs to select and design their menus, and indeed I have heard rumours of regular transatlantic flyers being persuaded to a particular carrier based on the quality of in-flight catering on offer.... and why not?

At Castro Martin we are lucky enough to have had our wine selected for service at high altitude, but did you know that how you perceive your glass will be determined by the length of time that you spend in the air? Cabin pressure can play havoc with your tastebuds over time, and the wine that you adore on the ground might taste tough and bitter after several hours cooped up on a plane.

During the forthcoming 'Taste of London' event later this month, our friends at British Airways will be showcasing their experiences on how food and wine works in the air, and explaining the science behind some of their menu and wine selections.

Personally, I find this subject truly fascinating, and by way of a 'taster' would highly recommend taking a look at this video of an in-flight wine tasting.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Perhaps the worst timed mailshot of all time?

You would think that someone may have had the sense to either postpone this mailshot, or at the very least, change one of the photos.

At the very height of the E. coli scandal in Germany, with people allegedly dying from eating Spanish cucumbers, would you send out a mailshot effectively saying "we have a safer way of transporting your produce", and then include a photo of a sliced cucumber? Perhaps they are implying that the produce might have been sabotaged whilst in transit? Whatever the intention I am not quite sure whether this is an example of very opportunistic marketing or it is just plain stupid!

Spain is now faced with a huge problem (regardless or not as to whether the outbreak did originate from these shores). The speculation alone has done untold damage to the export of  a large proportion of fresh Spanish produce around Europe, in a typical knee-jerk backlash. Millions of euros are being lost on a daily basis, and in the midst of an enormous economic crisis, Spain can ill afford it.

I must say that I find it uncharacteristically irresponsible of the Germans to point the finger at Spain without conclusive, irrefutable evidence. Talk about kicking a country when it's down....

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summer Harvest?

I mentioned a week or two ago that our flowering had been extraordinarily early this year, and the recent weather has only served to perpetuate the problem - daytime temperatures of mid to upper 20's (75° - 85°F). Using the traditional calculation often used by growers, 100 days between the time of flowering and the harvest, this would, in theory at least, give us a date for picking of week commencing 23rd August.... Looks like there might be less sunbathing time this summer!

Althought we 'enjoyed' a wet winter here in Galicia, and the water tables were well replenished, we have not had any rain at all for some weeks now and certainly surface soils are getting pretty dehydrated. We will therefore have to take this into account when we start our work on the canopies. Certainly 'green harvesting' will not cause any problems, and indeed, should only serve to enhance the quality of the fruit left on the vines, but leaf thinning is a different matter.

Leaves, as we know, are the powerhouse of any plant and provide all the sugar and nutrients required for growth. During the summer we actively remove a percentage of the leaves, not only to provide the fruit with better exposure to the sun, but also to ensure that not all the energy is consumed by thick foliage. The trick is to find the correct density of leaves, and the exact amount that we eventually remove will therefore be determined by how our weather evolves over the next couple of months.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Trucks of convenience?

In the early part of the 20th century American ship owners, frustrated with increased regulation and high labour costs, initiated the practice of registering their vessels in Panama. The practice later became known as 'flags of convenience', and these days nearly half the world's merchant fleet are registered in lands foreign to their country of ownership.

Now, I could be completely wrong, but I rather have the impression that a similar practice has been adopted by the international road haulage industry. With increasing regularity collections made at our bodega are made by trucks, very often registered in Ireland, and nearly always with an eastern European driver.

I often rush outside hoping to enjoy a bit of conversation in English, only to realise that the driver's English is even worse than my Spanish (which I'm ashamed to admit is still not that good).

So, what's the story behind this I wonder? Almost certainly a method for cutting costs?

Footnote: This post was based on a collection made at the bodega yesterday, and we have since had another collection this morning. Today's odd combination is as follows:

Tractor unit: Dutch
Trailer unit: Belgium
Driver: Ukrainian
Wine: Spanish
English speakers: None

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Another month, another city

Let's get one thing clear - Angela and I both love travelling (not that we can always afford it). For the last couple of years we have managed to include one or two customer tastings during our annual holiday, which might seem above and beyond the call of duty, but there is also a plus side....

Often, when we are obliged to travel to tastings, we try to include a spare day in our itinerary to take in the local sights, and perhaps a bit of shoe shopping for Angela - the Imelda Marcos of the wine industry.

Our recent trip to Northern Ireland was actually an exception to this rule, as just getting there and back was so complicated that we restricted ourselves to just a short hop, in and out, with precious little time for sightseeing. We did however learn one valuable piece of information for our next visit - in future we will try to fly to Belfast City airport rather than Belfast International - the latter is a long, long way from the city centre.

The tasting itself was a huge success for us as the customers of our importer could not have been more appreciative of our wine. Castro Martin was one of the stars of the show, yet again, and totally justified the time and effort in getting there. It's just so great to meet our end consumers.

Friday, May 20, 2011

O.T.R. not O.T.T.

Angela measures oxygen in the head space

The care and attention that we take in making the best wine that we can does not stop at the cellar door when pallets are shipped out to our customers, we obviously try to guarantee (as far as we can) that our customers will enjoy our albariño once they pull the cork.

You may have heard me comment on previous occasions that one of the biggest enemies of the winemaker (and possibly more especially white wine makers) is that of oxidation. Now, oxidation can and does occur at every stage of the wine making process, and so we make it our goal in life to ensure that it is kept to the absolute minimum, thereby ensuring the freshest possible wine that we can.

Fruit oxidation starts from the first moment that the skin of the grape is broken, and quite obviously is exacerbated every time the grape must or finished wine is exposed to the air. It is also made worse by the use of pumps that serve to agitate the wine as they force our precious liquid through the pipework. In the case of Castro Martin the need for pumping is largely offset by the very design of the building itself. Our vinification takes place over three different levels and we can therefore simply move our wine around by gravity.

Once the wine is actually made there are three further opportunities for oxidation to take place. The first is during the tank storage period, which is why we ensure that our wine is kept under a 'blanket' of nitrogen, and also explains why we store in tank, and only bottle as and when floor stock is required.

The second is at the time of bottling, where we do our very best to ensure that all possible oxygen is removed from the empty bottle and that nitrogen is added once again, a split second before the cork is put in. The small gap in your bottle between the cork and liquid (known as the head space) can perhaps unbelieveably account for up to 80% of the total oxygen contained within the bottle - the rest being present in the wine itself.

The third opportunity for oxidation is after bottling, when the cork finally seals the package. Over the years we have spent a lot of time studying this, and run many tests on different types of wine closure. The best and most expensive natural corks are of course very good, but will always be subject to a small percentage of spoilage caused by TCA (cork taint). The secret therefore is to find something that behaves like a cork, but does not allow a wine to become tainted. Our own solution is Nomacorc, a synthetic closure that provides a very good (and consistent) seal, whilst at the same time allowing an almost microscopic transfer of oxygen, measured by OTR - the oxygen transfer rate. Believe it or not a closure that provides a completely hermetic seal can also cause problems. The sulphur that is added to protect wine needs to escape slowly over time, and if it becomes trapped it will eventually be absorbed back into the wine. This can actually cause a different type of 'off' flavour (sometimes similar to burnt rubber).

Oxygen readings taken in tank

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wine as a weapon?

We have just travelled back from a very successful tasting in Ireland, carrying a few gifts in our bags as we passed through the airport. Amongst our hand luggage we had some pieces of glassware, and this action served to rekindled a thought that I had a long time ago concerning airport security.

No doubt we have all heard many a tale of wine producers (and others) losing their corkscrews to over-zealous security guards. Nail files, pen knives, nail scissors and the like, no matter how small, have also fallen victim to the ever tightening restrictions. On our flight today one poor Expat returning to the USA even had his precious Heinz salad cream and HP Sauce confiscated as it was somehow deemed a threat. I know from experience as I once lost two jars of peanut butter in exactly the same way!

I'm sure that you have already guessed where I'm going with this..... I find it incomprehensible that passengers can still shop for glass bottles in duty free and then happily carry them on to the aircraft. Surely a broken bottle would constitute more of a serious threat to the cabin crew than some poor winemaker's corkscrew?

First New Zealand, then Japan, and now Spain!

These days we are so used to watching big budget disaster movies, and news footage from distant shores on our TV screens , that it has become all to easy to detach ourselves from the reality of life. That is, until the disaster unfolds on your very own doorstep.

After earth quake disaster in New Zealand and the utter devastation of Japan's huge quake and tsunami, we now have death and destruction in Murcia, Southern Spain (only 120km from Alicante). Although the quake measured only 5,2 on the Richter scale it occured only 1km below the earth's surface, and was therefore more damaging. At the time of writing it is reported that  10 people have lost their lives, mostly crushed by falling buildings. It is more than 50 years since Spain experienced a quake of this magnitude, and it was neither predicted, nor expected.

Well, perhaps that is not completely true....

Very, very strangely an earthquake was predicted on 11th May 2011, but in Italy. Many Italians fled Rome amid fears of a pending earthquake! In 1915 the late Italian self-styled seismologist Raffaele Bendandi predicted that the "the big one" would strike Rome on this exact date. Panic developed as rumors spread across social media networks including Facebook, Twitter, and some Italians actually evacuated the city.

Unfortunately for all concerned, right date, but simply the wrong country.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

(Very) early flowering

Angela surveying the flowering

Around this time last year I seem to recall posting a picture of some highly coloured blooms as a representation of the flowering in our vineyards, and this year is no exception. Nothing to do with our vines, but at least a bit more colourful to look at!

On a more serious note, we have an extremely early flowering just starting here in Galicia. The temperature as I write is about 27°C (just over 80°F) and the forecast for the rest of the week is set fair, so all looks quite rosey in our garden (if you'll pardon the pun). The number of bunches per vine appears to indicate a big harvest, albeit that this is no guarantee of real quality, and so I rather suspect that there will be a good deal of 'green harvesting' during the summer months.

Naturally this early flowering (probably at least two weeks earlier than normal), will mean that the 2011 harvest will be premature too. If the fine weather continues I would estimate picking at the very beginning of September, similar to our 2006 vintage. Only time will tell.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Black sheep of the Castro Martin family

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we have been keeping sheep in our Pazo vineyard, which is proving to be a much more efficient, not to mention ecologically friendly, method of keeping the grass under control. Absolutely no use of herbicides (as always), and also greatly reduced fuel use by our tractors - normally employed in summer to cut the grass.

About a week ago Angela's sister visited the sheep to give them a few treats (fresh oats and a little bread), and was horrified to discover that a couple of cats had invaded the sheep's small shelter..... until she looked more closely.

It turns out that they were not cats at all, but instead were a couple of completely black lambs. Clearly their mother had spent too much time in the sun!

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Early warning system

Before you start thinking that the roof of our bodega is bristling with antennae and satellite dishes, that is not exactly what I mean. Yes, I do have a small Oregon Scientific weather station sitting on my desk, but I am actually talking about something much more low-tech, but nonetheless effective..... rose bushes.

I am convinced that the vast majority of people believe that roses are present in many a vineyard simply to add a splash of colour, but perhaps I should explain that this is not the only reason. Of course it's true they do add a touch of colour, but their function is actually much more important - they act as an early warning system to the vigneron.

Rose bushes are susceptible to many of the same diseases as grape vines, and in most cases are actually more sensitive. The indicators for oidium, mildew etc are more likely to appear on the roses before our vines become infected, and we can therefore leap into action with the appropriate preventative measures pretty much before the problem takes hold.

The picture above was taken a day or so ago in our El Pazo vineyard - not only do you notice the advanced years of our vines, but you can also clearly see the vigorous growth for the time of year. Could be another early harvest.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Royal Toast

I don't suppose that I could really let this week pass without making some comment about the Royal Wedding - and don't try to pretend that you don't know which wedding I'm talking about.... The coverage here in Spain has been almost as extensive as that in the UK, and I was actually quite amused to see the infamous TV movie of Kate and William on our screens yesterday evening. Of course it was made doubly funny as, not only did the actors bear little resemblance to our Royal couple, but on top of that they were dubbed into Spanish. Will I get locked in the Tower of London if I say that it was hilarious?

Anyway, to date I have not heard any mention of the type of wines they will be drinking with the Royal Wedding Buffet, but I dare say that there might be the odd bottle of Liebfraumilch floating about (which is apparently the Queen's favourite tipple). Perhaps I should write to the Palace and tell Her Majesty that our Albariño is not wildly different from her beloved Riesling (or perhaps Muller-Thürgau). I use the word 'beloved' because the literal translation of Liebfraumilch is 'beloved ladies milk'.

Of course the last time we had a Royal Wedding in Spain, we know for a fact that they did enjoy a bottle or two of Albariño with their meal, although for some odd reason we were not allowed to mention who the producers were (no Royal Warrants this time then).

Post Wedding Footnote:
One thing that I have noticed which always puzzles me, is the Spanish obsession to translate people's names. For example, the happy couple are now officially known as Guillermo y Catalina, our Queen is Isabel, our Prince is Carlos, and his sister is Ana. Correct me if I'm wrong but I can never remember the King of Spain being referred to as King John Charles, and his wife Queen Sophie......

Friday, April 22, 2011

For £2.99 a bottle it ain't Albariño!

There has been a lot of press recently about the price of wine and the ability of consumers to distinguish between good wine and cheap 'plonk'. As a wine professional I do hope that my own palate allows me to separate the wheat from the chaff, and my personal guideline to doing this is quite simple - you look for the 3 S's, in other words structure, structure and structure.

By this I mean the way in which a wine is put together, whether all its component parts are in balance - fruit, tannin, acidity, alcohol etc. For example, wines that are very well constructed might be described as having a fine structure, or in the case of a young wine that is not very forthcoming, a tight stucture. It's really the degree of harmony between these different elements that determines whether a wine is just average, or perhaps something really special .

The only thing I can say, is that the best wines (in my opinion) are not always the most obvious, they do not necessarily hit you between the eyes and yield themselves to you the moment you pull the cork. They often need time to 'open up' either in the bottle or in the glass, but boy, when they eventually do deliver you will know immediately, and the very best will have the ability to make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end!

Indeed, there are many adjectives that you can use to describe a very fine wine, and journalists are much more adept at painting a picture than I am (they are, after all, attempting to translate the sensation of taste into words). I have never really been gifted when it comes to waxing lyrical about wines, but instead consider myself more of a technical taster, focusing on the component parts and how they might evolve and marry together, either now or sometime in the future. This is after all, the fundamental role of the buyer - to possess that special crystal ball.......

As always I digress. The original subject of today's post is the price of wine, and in particular a selection that I saw advertised on my TV at £2.99 a bottle. How do they do it (and do I really want to know)?

If you actually start to analyse the cost of getting a bottle to your supermarket shelf you might begin to understand what I mean.

By simply deducting the UK duty and VAT from your £2.99 bottle you are immediately reduced to a mere pittance of 69p! Then take into account, that this 69p has to include warehousing and shipping costs, the cost of the bottle, label, cork, capsule and carton - Oh! and by the way, the cost of the wine itself AND any profit for the wine producer and UK retailer.

Just a minute, my calculator has blown a fuse, it's trying to tell me that this simply doesn't add up! It's right, it doesn't add up. I think it's what they call a 'loss leader' - a product that sells below it's actual production cost.

I end by asking myself the inevitable question - can a wine at this price point really be any good?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Time for wine

Over the last couple of months we have been 'tarting up' the entrance hall to our wine cellar, and you my recall my post about a huge photo montage that I set up on one of the walls.

Perhaps inspired by my wife Angela, and the fact that she is always late for everything (a woman's prerogative I think they call it), I have now created a huge clock on one of the other walls!

But this is no ordinary clock lifted out of a box - it is my very own creation. To be honest I don't recall where the idea came from, but the concept is really quite simple. The numbers are replaced by wine bottles. This apparently 'simple' concept was however, much more difficult to translate into reality.... To begin with cutting the bottles in half proved to be almost impossible, and then sticking them to the wall was also quite a problem. It's possibly not until you actually cut a bottle in half and see its profile, that you realise how fragile it really is, and suffice to say that applying glue to a thin, sharp rim of glass is no easy task either, requiring the patience of a saint (I have to admit, not one of my greatest virtues).

So, after a couple of hours with a glue gun, not to mention my very sticky fingers, you can now see the result.

I wonder if this will mean that Angela will be on time in the future? Probably not!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bogus Castro Martin 2012

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - this being the case, then it has to be said that the Chinese have been 'flattering' a lot of products over the years! Their latest target, wine.....

You may recall that a few months ago I was writing about Gallo's famous 'Red Bicyclette' Pinot Noir, whereby they were found guilty of passing off a blended wine as a single varietal. At least, in this particular Gallo case, the wine was actually produced in the country of origin - being made from French grapes, albeit not 100% Pinot Noir.

However, in this latest fraud it is the famous Jacob's Creek brand that is being ripped off ; an Australian Chardonnay that was actually produced in China! Hundreds of cases have been seized in London, where perhaps surprisingly, it was the consumers themselves who brought it to the attention of authorities. Customers complained to Pernot Ricard (the owners) that their beloved Aussie Chardonnay tasted 'unusual' or perhaps even 'diluted', it simply had 'a different taste and colour'. Of course a quick glance at the label might also have given the game away, as it boldly declared 'Wine of Austrlia' - presumably these sophisticated wine fraudsters did not have spellcheck on their computers.

Whatever next? Perhaps Castro Martin - Made in Taiwan?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

R.I.P. Oddbins

Last Thursday must be viewed as a very sad day in the UK wine trade when the announcement was made that the Oddbins chain of wine shops was going into administration with debts of more than £20 million.

It is not that many years ago that Oddbins was regarded as the most avant garde of all wine retailers, and to be present on their shelves was one of the greatest accolades for any serious producer.

In those days not only did they have the most cutting-edge selection of wines, but they also boasted a highly original catalogue illustrated by the artist Ralph Steadman. By far their greatest asset at that time however, was one of the most highly respected buyers in the UK wine trade. No, not me, but a chap called Steve Daniel, who from personal experience I can tell you, had a very fine palate. It was Steve's exciting selection of new and original wines that put Oddbins at the forefront of the UK retail trade, and on the customer 'wishlist' of every wine producer.

To quote my journalist friend Tim Atkin, Oddbins were "quirky, audacious, arrogant and bloody good at what they did"..... long may they be remembered for their contibution in helping to make London (and the UK) the 'shop window of the wine world'.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Beer for dogs! What next, wine for cats?

In the difficult economic climate that exists at the moment we are always looking for new ways to develop our sales.

We recently saw a beef flavoured beer especially developed for dogs, in a glass bottle with a picture of a weimaraner on the label. Imported from Holland it is called Kwispelbier, which literally translated means 'tail-wagging beer'. Made using a traditional beer brewing technique, it contains malted barley extract and absolutely nothing harmful - consequently the dogs are really lapping it up (in every sense of the word!)

So, if they can make a beer for dogs, then why not a wine for cats? We are so near the sea that consumers often say that they can taste the salt air in our Albariño, so how about enhancing this flavour with a bit of fish or seafood? It would be quite a simple process to macerate some fish or seafood in the tanks - et voila! A new product for cats, opening a whole new world of possibilities for our bodega.

Any suggestions for a suitable name? How about 'CataPesca' - which loosely translated would mean 'tasting of fish'?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Oh, the irony!

No sooner do I open my big mouth, questioning the accuracy (and therefore validity) of tastings for wine awards, magazines, wine guides etc., and the very next day we go and appear in one - with a very good review! In my defence however, I should point out that this latest incident only serves to strengthen the point of my argument - that the same wine can be judged very differently according to the individual palate of a particular journalist or tasting panel.... A poor review in a Spanish wine guide is somehow translated into a very good review in the world-renowned Decanter wine magazine.

(Of course we acknowledge that there is such a thing as bottle variation, and whilst we know that this does happen, we work very hard at Castro Martin to produce wines of consistent (high) quality throughout. These days we rarely send samples to guides or competitions, but conversely we very often send bottles to importers or potential customers who want to judge the quality of our wine or perhaps simply try a new vintage. In doing so we always make sure that the sample we send is truly representative of the stock that this customer will eventually receive, thereby helping to establish both trust and credibility for our business).

Finally, here is the Decanter review of one of our fab 2009 wines:

"Textbook offering from this Atlantic-facing region in Galicia. With the vim and vigour of youth, it delivers tangy, citrus sherbet fruit, herbal edging and a tasty, refreshing finish with a squeeze of lime juice in its tail."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

New site on the way

I am very aware that our blog has been a bit quiet recently, and of course, this is partly due to the amount of travelling that we have been doing during the last two months.

There is however, another important reason...... Behind the scenes (and with the help of our new friends in Christchurch, New Zealand), we are just starting work on a new website/blog. Not only will the new site be modernised and updated, but it will also mean that our blog and main website will eventually be integrated under one single web address.

But don't panic! All the old blog post will still be accessible for those (if any) who have difficulty sleeping and feel the need to check back on my previous, hysterical historical blog entries.

To use yet another well-worn phrase - Watch this space!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The tasting lottery

It's always been a bit of a conundrum to me, and I have written about it many times before, but there are times when I really do question the value of submitting wines to wine guides and competitions etc. At best these types of tastings are inconsistent, and at worst they are simply a complete lottery.

The reason that I chose to say this now is because over the last month or two we have travelled the world showing our wines to some very knowledgeable professionals in several different cities and countries. The general consensus has been that the 2009 wines that we are selling now are outstanding, and possibly some of the best we have ever made. (Not just our opinion, but an opinion shared by the huge majority of people that tasted, including some top journalists).

Imagine our surprise therefore to discover that the very same wines were rated with some of the lowest scores of the region in a new Spanish wine guide (which shall remain nameless).

Those of you who know me will know that I am often brutally honest, and sometimes get myself into trouble with my outspoken views, but to say that this story does not make any sense is probably something of an understatement. The problem now is that this review has been printed in black and white and will be circulating in book shops over the coming year.

I must say however, that I am not convinced that these wine guides actually have too much influence when it comes to selling our wines, and the real measure of our success or otherwise, is determined much more by our importers and their customers who actually buy, consume and enjoy our wines.

Just to finish, I thought I was honest, but here's a tasting note written by a proprietor about his own wine that might be just a bit close to the bone. I have deleted the name of the wine, but the rest is verbatim.....

******  is not exactly an elegant wine, but it’s not over-extracted either. At first sight, it looks like a “rough soul” with hairs all over his chest, which goes straight to the point, but without dismissing subtleties and a gentleman’s good manners while it bombards your senses with an array of well polished exaggerations – it’s like an iron hand in a glove of soft velvet. A wine for those moments when we are tired of everything and won’t have “more of the same”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Home made

Our recently refurbished out building used to be accessed by a pair of old wooden doors, which, quite frankly, were falling apart.

We asked one of guys, Fran, if he could come up with something better, and the picture above shows what he made. Please bear in mind that this door was not bought from some Do-It-Yourself warehouse, but was made completely by hand, from scratch!

To be honest, if it was me, I wouldn't know where to begin, but some of our guys have a natural talent when it comes to this type of thing and I think that this effort proves exactly what I mean.

Obviously Fran is quite skilled with a welding torch, so perhaps if I buy him a few pieces of scrap metal and give him a picture of an Aston Martin he just might be able to come up with something......

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Home from the sea

Just in case you were wondering what this photo is - it's the funnel of a rather large ferry taken at a 'jaunty' angle. The Pont Aven plies its trade between Santander on Spain's northern coast and the UK (either Plymouth or Portsmouth) crossing the rather notorious Bay of Biscay.

On my outward journey about 10 days ago the sea state was officially described as 'moderate' (whatever that means), but suffice to say that it was enough to keep me awake most of the night on my 24 hour crossing. Heaven only knows what it would be like on a rough sea (some friends of mine did experience a rough sea last year, and I think their expression was 'never again', or words to that effect)

Spending 24 hours on a gently swaying ship does however, create a rather interesting sensation by playing tricks on your brain. For about a day after you eventually reach terra firma you still have the sensation that the ground is moving - or at least I did. I believe it must be something to do with your inner ear that incorporates the balance senors of your body..... mine is obviously all at sea!

So, I'm finally back in the office after about a month of travelling, so it's time to get my head down, catch up, and press ahead with some of my new spring projects...... watch this space.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

It's official - bad timekeeping is acceptable!

It's clear that all the recent instability in the Middle East has caused chaos, not only on the streets of the countries concerned, but also in the crude oil market. Wild specualtion has predicted that prices could reach as much as US$200 a barrel (remembering that until recently we complained bitterly when the US$100 threshold was breached).

In an attempt to reduce consumption the Spanish Government has today implemented a new national speed limit of 110kph (68mph), reduced from 120kph. This is just one of several measures that will be introduced in the next year or two deisgned to reduce energy consumption around the country. Other schemes include the use of low energy bulbs in the home, air conditioning in public buildings will be subject to a minimum acceptable temperature in summer, and street lighting will be reduced by up to 50%, to name but a few.

Whilst this action is highly commendable - a public statement by Spain's premier Jose Luis Zapatero, is not. In a very losely worded speech he defended the new speed limit by saying, in not so many words, "who cares if you're ten minutes late for an appointment if you can save fuel"? The Spanish mentality dictates that you wouldn't necessarily consider leaving home ten minutes earlier in order to compensate!

No doubt if I'm a little late for my long distance boat trip on Thursday the ferry will be obliged to wait for me (using the logic of Sr Zapatero)....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mind your language!

A couple of years ago I wrote about the effect of using 'Google translate' on a restaurant menu - it did not sound quite as appetising once the old software had got to work on it:

Brandada of codfish, cream of sprocket wheels with apple emulsion

Vieiras cleaning rods with apple and files

Even nearly two years later the same software doesn't appear to be doing any better, as it appears to fail quite seriously with certain words by taking completely the wrong meaning. For example a local wine that appeared on a local website called Señor da Folla Verde - which should, strictly speaking, translate as Señor of the Green Leaf. Google, however, has made a real hash of it, and I can't even begin to repeat the translation that it came up with. Perhaps if you click on the picture above you will be able to see the shocking result......

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What the flock?

This winter's best kept secret at Castro Martin.... sheep! We have decided to kill two or three birds with one stone by taking advantage of the fact that our 'Pazo' vineyard is completely enclosed by walls. We have been grazing a flock of sheep for the last few months.

Not only does this help to keep the grass down, but it also help to provide additional nutrients to the soil (excuse me if I do not elaborate on the detail). Finally, there is the subsistence side of the equation - people here keep cattle to eat, and not simply as pets. Now, being a city boy myself I am not so sure about this, I am more accustomed to getting my lamb from the butcher and not from a field at the end of my garden!

In the course of the last month or two nature has also taken its course, and we now have a few new offspring hopping around the place. Perhaps if we ever fall on hard times, and the wine business takes a dive, we could become sheep farmers instead?

I think not.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No matter how far you travel....

I'm never quite sure about long-haul holidays, certainly it's great to encounter new countries and cultures, but then there's the dreaded jet lag when you get back. To be honest I actually felt quite refreshed when I woke up this morning, the only problem being that my bedside clock was telling me that it was only 4.50am. By 5am I was at my computer sorting through the photos of our trip, and making sure that I look like Brad Pitt in every shot (thanks to Photoshop and Portrait Pro)! In fairness Angela now looks like Angelina Jolie in our holiday pics too, so what the hell.....

I am only back in the office for a week before I'm off again, this time to the UK, on a boat! After a six hour drive to Santander I have a 24 hour crossing to Portsmouth which traverses the notoriously rough Bay of Biscay. I'm not a bad sailor but I still have my fingers crossed that the weather Gods will be kind to me.

Meanwhile back at the Bodega, there is still nothing out of the ordinary going on. The orders are thankfully still arriving which keeps our bottling machine occupied, and out in the vineyards the pruning is actually finished - it is only the tying that remains (another neck and back breaking job that I happily leave to the younger men on our team).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Out of the office

Traditionally the months of January and February are pretty quiet in our Bodega, and it's therefore usually quite a good time to sqeeze in a little R&R (I don't mean rock & roll, but rest and relaxation!)

Obviously travelling costs money, so when times are tough we try to encompass a bit of work in our travels, as if to justify our time out of the office. This year we will incorporate two tastings in different cities across the world, and a few customer visits in a third.

As soon as we return, I have to attend to a bit of urgent family business in the UK, that will probably mean that the whole month of February will be lost to me. I am resisting the temptation to travel with a laptop, but will still have my trusty Blackberry at my side (there's no such thing as a real escape these days).

The big project upon my return is a complete re-hash of our main website and blog, indeed they will soon be one and the same, as our blog eventually becomes an integral part of the Castro Martin site.

By the way, I don't really have a view of downtown Los Angeles from my office, but on a clear day.....

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Our 2010 albariño - still under wraps

OK, so it's yet another very bad play on words...... The fact is that we are currently having the tank rooms repainted in our bodega, and as you can see, all the tanks have been covered with plastic sheeting. There's not too much action in our cellar at the moment as we leave the wine to relax slowly on it's lees. It might be April or May before we finally start to 'disturb' the tanks again, so what better time to take advantage and give the place a fresh lick of paint?

If you have seen any previous posts relating to our tank room, you will already know that the walls were previously a sort of loud, orangey-yellow colour, which I guess you could argue brightened up the place a bit. However, the choice of colours on the special humidity/mould resistant paint chart is probably even more conservative than that of the Mercedes-Benz range, so inevitably we have opted for grey.

At least you won't need to wear sun glasses inside the wine cellar when you visit us in future!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hats off to a Basque chef

When you stop to think how many wine bottles are opened during the course of a year, and how many different shapes, sizes and colours there are, you have to ask yourself why does it take a Spanish chef to come up with a creative, and innovative design?

The three-starred Michelin chef Martin Berasategui has won the packaging equivalent of an Oscar for his new bottle at a presentation in Paris.

Unfortunately this innovative new bottle shape that is designed to capture wine sediment deposited at the bottom of some red wines, and therefore is of little use to us - if our albariño started to leave a sediment in the bottle then we really would have a serious wine-making problem on our hands.

It is a little difficult to see from this particular photograph but the bottle has a second 'neck' at the bottom that simply stops any deposit from flowing through (assuming of course that the bottle is handled carefully). Whilst I have to admit that this is a great idea, I am not so sure about the second part of the 'Martin Berasategui System', as it is known. Apparently to reap the full benefit of the system the bottle should ideally be transported and stored in an inclined position - not upright, nor laying down. Obviously, in order to acheive this position special cases and wine racks are also required, and I therefore ask myself, if the wine is not fully inclined for long-term storage is there a possibility that corks could dry out, thus leading to possible oxidation?

By the way, when I mentioned the presence of deposits in albariño, it is of course possible that white wines such as ours could precipitate tartrate crystals. In order to prevent this we cold-treat the wine (chill it very rapidly to -5°C and hold it for a week) which ensures that tartrates are removed before bottling. Personally I think that cold treatment is detrimental to our wine as it removes a little character, and in an ideal world I would not do it. The problem is that the majority of consumers see the presence of any tartrate crystals as undesirable, whereas in fact they are in reality, completely harmless. Pity.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Birds die of alcohol poisoning!

In the last few months there have been several reports of dead birds falling from the skies, which quite understandably, have been followed by investigations and conjecture as to the cause of each tragedy (including one or two conspiracy theories).

In Arkansas the deaths were blamed on New Year's Eve fireworks that caused the birds severe trauma, effectively scaring them to death. However, and alternative theory suggests that it could have been something to do with a tornado that killed three people in the same area earlier in the day.

On 3rd and 4th January dead birds were then discovered both in Louisiana and Falkoping, Southeastern Sweden, closely followed by several hundred more in Western Kentucky and Texas.

The lack of apparent detail for the reasons behind this avian carnage has generated countless theories, ranging from the changing of the earth’s magnetic poles to, a governmental plot and, naturally, aliens!
The very latest incident in Romania has, however, been fully explained.... it has been put down to alcohol. Birds that were originally thought to have died from Avian flu, instead apparently, drank themselves to death!
Romanian officials decided the starlings had died after eating grape 'marc' - the leftovers from the wine-making process. The head of the local veterinary authority said that analysis of the starlings' gizzards showed they had died from alcohol poisoning.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Food flavours

A few days ago I wrote about a cheese and wine paring website I had discovered on the web which was both well presented and reasonably informative. Today it is the turn of a book I bought from Amazon that covers the concept of pairing different foods and discusses how various flavour combinations may or may not work together.

It is obviously true to say that there is a very close relationship between food and wine that probably goes a long way towards explaining why nearly every person that I know in the wine trade is also a quite serious 'foodie'. Indeed, if I look at my own collection of books it is probably split 50/50 between wine and food.

This new book is quite simply named The Flavour Thesaurus (by Niki Segnit), and attempts, quite successfully, to do exactly what is says on the cover, providing an extensive reference of foods and their flavours.

By way of a first step to simplify and organise, the book starts by grouping flavours together under headings such as citrus, woodland, meaty, earthy, marine etc., (and you might not always agree with them as taste is always so subjective). One of the things that I still find the most difficult despite my many years in the wine business is trying to express different flavours and taste sensations in words, using vocabulary that people will understand. Fortunately, I was rarely writing my tasting notes for the literary masses, but usually only for my own personal reference, so if I decided to use an obscure turn of phrase I would always know exactly what it meant. For example, I would sometimes write 'spangled fruit' in my notes, which is a reference to the fruit spangle sweets that I used to eat as a child - it is a particular type of slightly tart, piercing, boiled sweet fruit, the important thing being that it was a description that I always understood...... sorry, I digress.

Under each food heading comes the actual pairing, where for example, black pudding might be paired with bacon or chocolate - sounds bizarre? Well, perhaps, but the thing that this book really attempts to do is to stimulate and open your mind to new and untried possibilities. Throw away the old culinary crutches of Delia Smith and Robert Carrier and enter the new and exciting world of endless flavour combinations. For instance, we have all been dazzled in recent years by the audacious food pairings of contemporary chefs such as Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal, so why not buy this book and use it as your inspiration to go a bit wild in the confines of your own kitchen?!

By the way this is strictly a reference book, and so if you only like food books with lots of glossy pictures then forget it, this book is not for you!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Happy New (smoke free) Year!

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to all our customers, followers, readers and even casual or accidental vistors to our blog!

The turn of a new year is often used by governments around the world as the time to introduce new legislation/taxes etc., perhaps in the hope that it might be forgotten or overlooked admist all the celebration and goodwill. Of course this depends on the type of change to be introduced, as some are simply too big, or too important to be suppressed. In the UK for example, it must be the 2.5% increase in the Value Added Tax, although I'm not entirely convinced that consumers really believe that it really does "add to the value" of their purchases! Here in Spain the new law is, once again, smoking....

I say again, simply because January 2nd sees the second phase of Spain's no smoking law coming into effect. Until now, it has been only a partial ban which had so many loopholes and grey areas that it was mostly ineffective, and seemingly rarely enforced. To be honest it was more or less a complete waste of time, and the vast majority of people treated it, quite deservedly, with almost complete contempt.

The second phase which started two days ago is a complete ban on smoking in enclosed public places (which of course includes bars and restaurants, and can therefore have a knock-on effect on our own trade). It is argued of course, that the ban will have a devastating effect on businesses, as the possible penalties are fairly hefty (on paper at least).

Minor infringement will incur fines from 30 Euros up to 600 Euros, while very serious breaches may cost up to €600,000. How many will actually receive and/or pay these fines is another matter. Only time will tell.