The other day I went out for lunch – not very exciting or unusual I have to admit….. but I went to a ‘Vinoteca’ in Pontevedra (our local town), and was more than delighted to discover a rather interesting wine list that immediately transported me back to my days as a wine buyer. Of course I have found one or two other places that offer a more varied selection than normal, but in this part of the world the are few and far between, which is why I feel compelled to write about them.
Under normal circumstances, and quite understandably, local restaurant wine lists are usually dominated by local wines (a fact quite common to many a wine producing area around the world). That’s fine if you’re a visitor and want to sample the local cuisine and accompanying wines, but if you’re a resident, it can become a little boring and predictable, and that’s why I get just a little excited when I discover something slightly unusual (it doesn’t take much these days!).
As I entered the restaurant there was a display of old (empty) bottles, including quite a few Burgundy producers that I knew, who’s Domaines I had visited, and who’s wines I had bought over the years. Michel Lafarge (Volnay), Etienne Sauzet (Puligny), Alain Michelot (Nuits St Georges), François Raveneau (Chablis), to name but a few. The memories came flooding back, even by just seeing the bottles!
By the time I made my selection, the cork had been pulled, and that first whiff of the bouquet – well, I had been transported to another planet. I had almost forgotten how good a well-made, mature white burgundy could be. As our menus are dominated by fish and seafood I had selected a simple, generic Puligny Montrachet 2010 from one of my favourite producers in the village, Domaine Etienne Sauzet (the others being Jean-Marc Boillot, Paul Pernot and Domaine Carillon). The 2010 vintage was perhaps overshadowed by 2009, but after a difficult flowering, a poor summer and consequently small harvest, the best producers still managed to make some excellent wines. In a classic white Burgundy style they have a firm acidity, are succulent and elegant without being over-concentrated – 2010 was perfectly suited to the style of Puligny (rather than say the slightly richer, fatter wines of Chassagne or Meursault).
I don’t even remember the food that I ate because I was so ‘lost’ in the wine (and a few memories)….
An old mate of mine, Joe Wadsack, recently visited Jerez, and was consequently waxing lyrical about some of the great wines that he’d tasted there – and quite right too. Sherry used to be considered the drink of the older generation – the sort of thing that your grandma might enjoy before her Christmas lunch. These days it’s become quite a bit more hip…..
Don’t get me wrong, sherry is still something of an acquired taste, and would not necessarily form a part of anyone’s introduction to wine drinking. It’s probably something that features later in a wine drinker’s career, when the palate has mellowed and become perhaps, well, a little more discerning.
From Fino to Palo Cortado, there’s a very wide range of styles and flavours to chose from, and the vocabulary used to describe them can be just as wide – salty, nutty, yeasty, bready, smoky, the list goes on.
Following the recommendation of one of Joe’s best friends, Victoria Moore (Daily Telegraph), I decided to buy a few bottles of a limited edition sherry from Gonzalez Byass. Their Tio Pepe Fino ‘en rama’ 2016 has just been released, and is completely delicious. Drawn straight from the barrel without fining or filtration, like many dry sherries it has to be drunk whilst it’s still young and fresh. It’s salty, it’s savoury, it’s yeasty, it’s nutty, it’s, well, superb and really needs to be tasted.
Of course, living in Spain makes access to the limited stock (of just 60 casks a year), just that bit easier, and dare I say, a whole lot cheaper. So if you can find it, then it’s certainly worth grabbing a bottle, or maybe two.
We had quite an unusual visit the other day – The Panther car club of Great Britain – the visit set up by a friend of mine who is actually a Panther owner. Built between the 1980’s and early 1990’s the Panther is quite similar in style to the Morgan (although I will probably be shot by Panther owners for even suggesting that!)
Anyway, suffice to say that this small procession of cars was still a bit of a traffic stopper in our village, and also looked quite impressive lined up outside the front of our bodega. Although it wasn’t actually raining, it was a bit of a dull day, which is a shame – even my photo looks a bit grey….
On our recent trip to Seattle we visited a diner (actually quite a good restaurant) called the Steelhead Diner, very near to the famous Pike’s market. Quite unusually these days, they had condiments on the table – salt and pepper – but not your run-of-the-mill salt and pepper. For a start the salt was darker in colour than the pepper, but fortunately both were clearly labelled. Smoked salt and garlic pepper (although that is not the full description which I’m afraid I don’t remember). They were both unusual and delicious, and fortunately both were available from a spice shop in the adjacent market. We bought a bag of each, wrapped them in several layers (as they were quite pungent), and packed them in our hand luggage. This was our first mistake….. Both in Seattle and New York the airport security picked them up on x-ray, bags were searched and we had to explain these mysterious powders to U.S. customs officers.
When we eventually arrived back in Spain I at least had the presence of mind to temporarily store them in air-tight glass containers, until I could find some suitable shakers for the table. Now, in Galicia we already have a humidity problem, whereby it’s virtually impossible to keep a pot of free running salt, and so I decided to buy something special, from Switzerland, in order to keep them dry and in good condition. Air tight condiment pots designed for mountain trekking and climbing – these should do the job!
When these fancy spice pots arrived I used a small funnel to fill them, but when one large grain of the pepper spilled onto the work surface I almost instinctively put it on my tongue to try it – mistake number two. This was the hottest thing that I had ever put in my mouth – and this is coming from someone who much prefers their Indian food ‘tear-inducingly’ hot. My mouth was on fire (I can only imagine like eating a super hot chilli), and so I rushed to the fridge and took several large swigs of cold milk direct from the bottle. Just as well that we had no tastings programmed because I really couldn’t feel my tongue!
The final chapter of my spice story is that not only did we have to put the glass container (that I had used to store these condiments) through the dishwasher, but we also had to wash out the entire cupboard just to get rid of the smoked spice smell. Powerful stuff…..
I am aware that I am always preaching on about the vagaries of our Ocean affected climate, but so far, 2016 has been more unpredictable than ever. After a fairly dry autumn, 2016 started with incessant rain, and this stormy, wet weather continued well into the month of February. The early part of spring saw very little in the way of dry, sunny weather, but one of the most notable features of the first trimester was the widely varying temperatures. It was not uncommon to see temperature swings of 8-10°C (12-15°F) from one day to the next.
By early May things had not really improved, and as the flowering period approached, our anxiety started to grow. With the cool, wet weather continuing and temperatures barely reaching the low 20°C mark (68°F), this could spell potential disaster for the 2016 vintage. As we reached the middle of the month, something of a minor miracle occured – it stopped raining and the sun came out. There was a marked change, and for the first time it felt like summer was finally on our doorstep – people even started to appear on our local beaches! By now, with the temperatures touching the mid-20’s (75-77°F), the vineyards really started to react. By the beginning of June flowering was already under way, and despite an odd light shower, the conditions were generally favourable. It looked very much like we had been saved!
Of course, flowering only represents the first significant hurdle in our growing cycle, and we have little idea what the rest of the summer will bring, but at least now we can be a little more optimistic that our vines will at least yield a reasonable crop.
Once again (as in previous years), I apologise for today’s photo that shows the flowering, but only on the basis that there is not really very much to see. The truth is that I was just testing my new camera, although I had to reduce the resolution of this shot considerably before I could post it (for any photo geeks the original RAW file of this picture, shot at 36 megapixels, was over 40MB).
Back in 2010 the office of our Denomination set off on a journey. Their goal? To become the very first denomination in Spain to obtain official accreditation for the certification of food and agricultural products, according to the criteria set out in UNE-EN ISO/IEC 17065.
Owing to the huge diversity of vineyards and bodegas controlled by the D.O. this was never going to be an easy task – every single producer, without exception, had to comply with the required standards in order for the plan to succeed. The first and most daunting task was to produce and implement a manual of Quality Control, a process which took more than four years to complete. This quality control manual gives advice and instructions relating to every aspect of production, including vineyard management, winemaking, labelling, bottling and only concludes when every wine has been officially tasted and analysed by the D.O. It goes without saying that every step of the process also has to be carefully recorded, thereby providing full traceability as required by law.
With just over 50% of all Rias Baixas wines now being sold in export, this official accreditation is designed not only to be a further guarantee of quality, but also serves to enhance consumer confidence in all the wines produced within our denomination.
The award ceremony, when all bodegas were handed their certificates of accreditation, took place in March, when Angela stepped forward in her capacity as manager and winemaker of Castro Martin.
People who know me also know that I am passionate about wine closures. As a wine buyer I could never understand why a producer would go to so much trouble growing superb quality grapes, converting them into the best wine possible, and then cutting corners by trying to save a few cents on the price of a cork. For example, it is rare for the bottle to have a significant effect on the quality of a finished wine, but the cork? That’s a whole other story….
In addition to this, I also have a theory that certain types of closure work better with certain types of wine. Of course I could be completely wrong, but at Castro Martin it has been our mission to find the closure that provides the very best protection specific to our own albariño – preserving our wine in exactly the way that we want, whilst providing a consistency of quality to each and every bottle. The only way to do this has been by extensive testing.
After a prolonged period of testing involving a wide range of different closures, extensive tastings, carefully measuring OTR (oxygen transmission rate) and generally following the evolution of our wine from tank to bottle ageing, we were eventually able to make a decision based purely on our findings. The synthetic closure that we finally selected allows only a controlled rate of oxygen transfer and therefore behaves in a much more predictable fashion than natural cork (and that is before we even start to consider TCA – cork taint). The absence of cork taint is really just an added bonus for us when using synthetic.
These days we are using the very latest closure, made from polymers of sugar cane, boasting zero carbon footprint and probably the most Eco-friendly closure on the planet. This latest ‘Bio’ corc can be seen on the far right of today’s picture, and as you can see, is barely distinguishable from a natural cork. My photo shows how our range of closures has evolved over recent years.
Over a dozen years ago, when I first arrived at Castro Martin an integral part of our bodega tour was to take visitors upstairs, to the rear of the building, and show them both the view of Salnés and our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. In recent years however, this had become impossible, owing to a forest of tall eucalyptus trees that had sprung up behind us.
The eucalyptus is not indigenous to Galicia, but rather was planted extensively throughout the region as a source of fast growing, cheap timber. The species was originally imported from Australia, and has been actively promoted by the paper industry since the mid-20th century. Compared to other parts of Spain, Galicia still has many densely wooded areas, which, during prolonged periods of dry weather, can cause a problem with some significant forest fires.
By coincidence, only last week, I took a group of American visitors up to a ‘mirador’ (look out point) on a local hillside to show them a complete view of our valley, only to discover that it is now partially obscured by eucalyptus, now seemingly growing out of control.
The good news is however, that the trees at the back of our bodega have now been cut down to make way for a new vineyard (not ours), and our view has now been restored. I have highlighted the Ocean in today’s photo, and whilst it might appear like a distant speck on the horizon, it is in fact less than 5km (3miles) from our back door.
I read a Spanish wine publication recently (which shall remain nameless), where one of the articles named our neighbouring wine region of Ribera Sacra as ‘the Burgundy of Spain’. As someone who knows Burgundy really quite well (having travelled there extensively for about 14 years during my wine career), this startling headline certainly caught my eye. What on earth could they possibly mean, I thought to myself? Is the geography similar? Do they grow Pinot Noir (or Chardonnay for that matter)? Are the climates similar? What could the connection possibly be?
Certainly it’s true that the history of Ribera Sacra dates back to the spread of the Roman Empire across Europe (the resulting vine cultivating practices subsequently perpetuated by the church), but then the same can be said of many a wine region throughout Europe. As far as I can see however, in reading this article, this is where any similarity begins and ends.
The Ribera Sacra vineyards cling to the steep sided valley of the River Sil, where the most common grape varieties cultivated are Mencia and the Alicante Bouschet – a typography much more akin to the Douro Valley than the rolling hills of Burgundy. The resulting wines are also very different – I really adore some of the great wines of Burgundy, both red and white, whereas wines of the Ribera Sacra don’t really excite me at all. Indeed, during my time here I have only really found one or two that I would consider worth drinking a second time.
The final thought of the author was to say that he was convinced that the wines produced in Ribera Sacra could easily share “the delicacy and finesse of the Grand Crus of Burgundy”! The only conclusion I could draw upon reading this was either that the writer had never tasted a Burgundy Grand Cru, or that he must be on drugs!
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