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 http://castromartin.blogspot.com/view
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....