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!
You may know that a couple of weeks ago we returned from quite an extensive tour of the United States, and whilst we always try to stay on top of things, inevitably we always face a backlog of work. No sooner had we started on this, than I received some devastating news from the UK. The tragic loss of my mother. Without wishing to dwell on this subject, the inevitable result was that I had to spend a further ten days away from our business, and as if that was not enough, I have now returned from England with a heavy cold.
So much has happened over the last few weeks that I really don’t know what to write about first, but perhaps the most significant event, from a bodega point of view, is the racking of the first tanks of our 2015 wines. It was pretty much decided before we went to America (already a month ago) that at least some tanks would be ready to remove from their lees. In today’s photo you might notice a few bubbles on the surface of the sediment, these are from the natural CO2 trapped inside the tank, and also the crystal deposits that leave the inside of the tank stained brown….. but nothing that a good cleaning won’t remove. As I have written many times before the timing of racking our wines is ultimately decided simply by a combination of tasting and experience – not really a high-tech methodology I’m afraid.
The new wine that we are preparing now still needs to be cold-stabilised, filtered and submitted to the Denomination tasting panel before it can finally be bottled. This whole process will take another month before we can even consider selling a bottle into the domestic market here in Spain. Oh, and by the way, I forgot to mention that the 2015 wines are actually quite good!
It’s one thing taking the time and effort to make a great albariño, but it’s another thing entirely to get out on the road and sell it. I can also tell you that, as a former wine buyer, it’s a good deal easier to buy wine that it is to find new customers!
For the last ten days Angela have been on a whistle stop tour of the United States, taking in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle. Of course this all sounds very romantic, a great holiday some might say, but I can tell you, hand on heart, that our schedule has been relentless, taking late night flights in order to be in the next city ready to start working the following morning. There were moments when I really couldn’t remember what day of the week it was (or maybe that’s just old age!).
Anyway, the upside is that restaurants, shops and American consumers appear to really like our wine, confirmed by many new orders and some great new listings. The trip included several presentations to the sales team of our importer in New York, and their teams in North and South of California – as I always say these sessions are worth their weight in gold, as we spread the word not only about albariño in general, but more importantly the history and wines of our own Family Estate, Castro Martin.
The highlight of our trip was definitely the beach locations – Laguna beach and Venice beach in Southern California, visiting customers in some great (and very fashionable) restaurant and hotels. Having said that, in the North of California, we also tasted our wines with customers in Sonoma County and the Napa Valley. Selling wine in the very heart of the wine country!
You may have gathered that Angela and I are on the road – several days in New York and New Jersey, and today in Los Angeles – a grueling business schedule that eventually will continue on to San Francisco and Seattle. There’s hardly even time to take a photograph! These, long hard trip are, however, very worthwhile, as we get to meet our customers and the sales teams of our importer around the U.S.A. In this way we can continue to spread the word, and preach the gospel of Castro Martin. Of course one thing that makes our job a little easier is that people really love our wine, and especially the fact that we are a ‘Family Estate’ business, still owned and managed by the family. It seems that this point alone goes down very well and consequently we have made a lot of new friends and customers…… Long may it continue (well, at least for another week on this trip). Clearly I will write and post more when we get back, but I thought I should at least include Angela’s photo taken in a huge liquor store in New Jersey. When Angela met Jack (Daniels)!
A few days ago I read an article about the increasing use of the term ‘salty’ or ‘saline’ in wine tasting, It is something that crops up quite a lot in the description of albariño, and yet I don’t really recall reading too many articles regarding it’s origin. My first conscious memory of this term was from the 1980’s when Jancis Robinson use the expression ‘salt-lick’ to describe, of all things, a fresh, young Beaujolais. I must confess that I was quite puzzled at first, but over time I came to understand the sensation that she was attempting to describe – more like a salty tang than pure salt…..
I am not sure if there is any one definitive reason why some wines have a slightly saline taste, but it’s probably down to a combination of several different factors. The French would call it ‘terroir’, and in this case they wouldn’t be too far wrong – certainly geography, geology and climate come into play, but then of course there’s the grape variety itself. Certain grape varieties are known for their specific flavour profiles, for example, you might find a bit of peppery spice in a Grenache, but perhaps not too much salt. Our own variety of albariño is sometimes referred to as the ‘wine of the sea’, not only because it’s a perfect match for fish and seafood, but also because tasters often use phrases such as salty tang or salinity in their descriptions.
From our own experiences I think it would be fair to say that this particular attribute doesn’t occur in every wine, in every vintage, but is more prevalent when a combination of factors come into play. For example, it appears to be more noticeable in wines that have a mineral backbone (it is suggested that minerality and saltiness often go hand-in-hand), which is an attribute that comes from the geology and geography of the vineyard. Also, any hint of saltiness is usually more prevalent in our ‘normal’ or cooler vintages – if there is too much heat and the resulting wine is fat and fruity with a high glycerol content, then this tends to mask any salinity, and it is therefore much less apparent. Of course one final factor, that I haven’t mentioned until now, is our proximity to the Ocean. Not only are there salts present in our alluvial soils, but also the winds and rolling mists from the sea will have an effect on the physiology of the grapes. The actual amount of transference from ocean to grape is difficult to quantify, but it is obvious that there must be a connection between the two.
Crushing grapes and fermentation are only the early steps in our extended wine making adventure. Since the harvest, more than six months ago, our tanks have been resting quietly on their lees, and it is only now that we first contemplate how the finished 2015 wines might look. After regular tasting during this ageing period we pretty much know the distinct ‘personality’ of each and every tank. You would be forgiven for thinking that they are all pretty much the same, and whilst that is partly true (they all share their distinctive Salnés character), in the end, no two tanks are ever exactly the same. This is where another invaluable winemaking skill comes to the fore…….blending.
Again, it might seem odd, that in a winery which only cultivates one grape variety, that any blending would be required. However, the objective of this practice is not only to produce the style of wine that our customers have come to recognise, but also to provide continuity of that style for the duration of the vintage. By blending several tanks together we can produce much greater uniformity, in order that when we bottle our tanks throughout the year, the only discernible difference will be the actual maturity of the wine, and not our signature Castro Martin character.
This first blending exercise was merely to give us a snapshot of what might be, and was by no means the definitive selection. With 20 tanks of new wine to chose from the permutations are almost infinite, but nevertheless it is still one of the most satisfying jobs in the cellar. I compare our tanks to the ingredients in a kitchen, and the blending to creating a new recipe. A great deal of trial and error but still very rewarding when the completed ‘dish’ reaches the table.
We have noticed over recent years the growing influence of the up-and-coming young winemakers in our denomination – many from outside the region. With them comes, not only new, updated winemaking techniques, but also new ideas of what an albariño should be. It seems that the latest trend in Rias Baixas is actually to do with the manipulation of the flavour profile of the finished wine, giving it a much riper, more exotic, almost tropical fruit. Of course, Galicia is almost as far removed from the tropics as you can get (especially at this time of year), but at least now our wines are going to reflect a bit more of a ‘sunshine personality’ in the future.
So how do we achieve this new style? Well, the answer is quite simple, and has actually been available to us for many years now. It’s down to the strain of yeast that we use during the alcoholic fermentation. I always mention to our visitors that the salesmen who arrive at our door these days, selling our wine making products, now offer up a complete catalogue of different active dried yeast each with it’s own distinct flavour profile. For white wines the choice is quite extensive and includes apple, pear, grapefruit, pineapple, butter (more for chardonnay based wines I think) and even banana. It would appear that the taste of the grape variety is almost secondary to the equation these days!
So, after much soul searching, and a couple of years of experimentation, Angela and I have finally succumbed to this new market trend. From the 2015 vintage we will be offering a range of three new fruit flavours – grapefruit, pineapple or another that we will simply call ‘tropical fruit’ (made from a blend of different tanks). I should add that we drew the line at banana flavour, which, whilst it had a certain appeal, was probably too far removed from our traditional albariño.
Over the next few weeks we will be in contact with our customers to get an idea of their preferences before we start our first bottlings, probably in May.
It is a tradition in many countries to eat lamb at Easter, possibly as it might be considered to be a symbol of re-birth – the first lamb of the new season appearing on the market in Spring. Alternatively, it could also be because it has always been considered to be a significant religious symbol – lamb and Christianity have close ties extending back to the book of Genesis.
In Spain lamb is more often eaten as ‘lechal’, which means suckling lamb, consumed when it is very, very young. There is no doubt that this young meat is quite tender, but to be honest, it is simply not to my personal taste – I prefer my lamb to be a little more mature (which actually makes it quite difficult to source in this country). Despite this fact, I did manage to find a nice leg of New Zealand lamb for Easter, albeit that I had to buy it frozen.
Cooked in a very traditional manner – perforated with garlic and fresh rosemary, oven roasted and served with a concentrated lamb ‘jus’, the correct choice of wine, as always, would add the finishing touch. A journey to the dark recesses of my cellar was required….
Brushing the dust off an old cardboard carton, I discovered a treasure, a remnant from my wine buying days – a Ruchottes Chambertin Grand Cru 1998, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, made by Madame Jacqueline Mugneret and her very talented daughters.
Now, it’s fair to say that 1998 was not the greatest ever Burgundy vintage but it still produced some very good red wines. After nearly 20 years in bottle this example simply confirmed to me how remarkable accomplished winemaking can be. The wine still had good colour and not the pale brick red that I had expected. On the nose it was soft, fragrant and showed its true class, whilst on the palate it was still quite succulent, gently oaky but with really good depth and style. Just a very fine wine. Delicious (as was the lamb)!
On the first official day of Spring, it’s maybe time to think about changing our drinking habits. Lock away the heavier, warming winter red wines and break out the lighter, fruity reds, or maybe even an odd summer white (including the Castro Martin of course!)
One of the other spring/summer options is Sangria, widely served in Spain and Portugal, but most probably first created by the Romans. As they expanded their Empire across Europe it seems that they may have used wine to sanitise their drinking water, and hence the first Sangria was created. Adding fruit and spices simply evolved out of boredom – centuries ago wine consumers didn’t have a wide selection of different varietals to chose from, and so adding fruits was merely a way of creating new flavours to enjoy.
The point is that there isn’t really any fixed ‘recipe’ for making Sangria, the only common ingredient being the wine. Of course our beloved EU paper pushers have now come up with an official definition – the simplified version is that it is an aromatised wine of less than 12% volume, that may be enhanced by natural fruit juices or extracts, and that it may be carbonised. The possibilities and permutations are therefore endless. The alcohol content can vary by anything from 4% to 12%, and in some countries it is actually made using white wine (although this might be considered odd as the word Sangria literally translates to ‘bloodletting’, which (rather grimly) implies that it is made from red wine).
In any event, Sangria provides a great way to test your ‘mixology’ this summer….
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