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.