Giving a ‘Christmas Box’ is a tradition that dates back more than a century. As with normal tipping this ‘box’ is intended as a way of showing appreciation for work done or services provided during the preceding year. In the UK we are never really comfortable with the concept of giving gratuities as the lack of any structured tipping system can leave us with a multitude of dilemmas. For example, exactly who should we tip and how much should we give? Meanwhile, in the United States it is not only more commonplace, but it is also more systematic, whereby there is more or less a structure in place for the acceptable rates – food service 15-20%, taxis 15-20%, delivery person 10-15% and so on. Much easier to work out and also helping to eliminate possible anxieties.
But has tipping become an obligation rather than an optional sign of gratitude for a job well done? The question of who we should tip, or possibly whether we should tip at all, is actually perfectly valid. I sometimes wonder, when we are already paying a fortune for our designer coffees, why they would have a tip jar at the checkout – after all, the process is self-service! Has the truth now become that the server or barista is so badly paid that we are merely subsidising their employer – surely better to have all of the service charge integrated into the initial selling price? The other anomaly is of course that not all jobs attract tips….. so why do we tip the taxi driver but not the bus driver? In London a taxi driver will very rarely leave his cab to help you lift your heavy suitcase, so why do we feel obliged to give an additional tip on top of the premium fare that we are already paying?
Don’t get me wrong, I think I am super generous when it come to tipping, and Angela is always telling me off for leaving too much, but I just think that life would be a whole lot less complicated if tipping was just scrapped altogether and people were simply content to receive a salary for their work. My own philosophy has always been ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’.
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is widely used in winemaking as a preservative and antibacterial agent, but for some people it can have a very unpleasant side-effect. The quantities used in a finished wine are strictly regulated and are so small (measured in parts per million) that they shouldn’t really cause any health problems. However, it is alleged that some people can suffer from headaches or have breathing difficulties triggered by drinking these trace amounts of SO2 (although this statement is probably quite unfair as there are other compounds, such as tyramines and histamines that can also contribute to the problem).
Eliminating the need for sulphur in wine would therefore be more than welcome news for these consumers, and it might just be that researchers at Penn State University have come up with a suitable alternative – chelator. Chelation is a process where molecules bind with metal ions, and it is suggested that this technique could be used to remove trace metals in wine. By simply adding compounds that bind to the iron, such as phytic acid (found naturally in grape juice), oxidation in wine is prevented. In addition to this it was also discovered that these chelators could inhibit the formation of acetaldehyde, which robs a wine of its fruity, freshness and is the precursor of vinegar-like acetic acid. Celebrations all ’round…. well, maybe not quite yet.
The question is how much this could it affect the other properties of wine or whether it could have any other, unwanted side-effects, such as changing the way a wine matures over time. Only time and a lot more testing will reveal the answers, but the days of adding sulphur to wine might just be numbered.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are singularly the worst times to be a turkey. It’s not that long ago that cooking a turkey for the holidays was the reserve of only the very wealthy as turkey was considered very much a luxury item. I am not completely sure where the tradition of cooking turkey originated, but I do know that in the majority of households the bird will be served as a simple roast meal (with all the trimmings).
I found a document on the internet the other day that pokes fun at restaurant menu descriptions, and if you click on today’s picture you might just be able to make out how it works. It made me laugh, and, also made me ponder some alternative ways to prepare the traditional turkey dinner….. for example, how about ‘Carpaccio of water-bathed turkey injected with slow-poached cranberry’? Or maybe ‘Whisper of flame-roasted turkey dappled with marinated purple flowering broccoli’.
If you get bored this Thanksgiving evening you should play this as a game – to see who can come up with the most original (and amusing) turkey dinner description. Oh! And by the way, every depiction has to be suffixed with the phrase ‘accompanied by a glass of refreshing, zesty, chilled albariño’.
I heard a weather forecaster this morning using the expression a ‘nagging wind’, and I confess that I had to stop for a moment to think about what she actually meant by it. Of course I know what the expression nagging wife means, and so my guess was that she was implying that the wind was persistent and perhaps even annoying! It reminded me that only yesterday I had been reading some wine descriptions on Snooth.com which had had the same effect – I had to stop and think exactly what the taster meant by the words he had chosen.
I am very familiar with Beaujolais, and more especially the wines of Georges Duboeuf, as my former company was the UK importer for this well known producer. In one of the descriptions I was reading the taster described a Fleurie as having ‘bright thistle’ and being a ‘little pasty in the mouth’, and I was left trying to work out exactly what he meant by this. To be honest I have never described any wine as tasting or smelling of thistle, simply because it is not an aroma that I have registered in my memory banks – I will now have to find one, have a good whiff, and then perhaps everything will fall into place.
As for the wine being ‘pasty’ in the mouth, well, again it is not an expression that I have used, but at least I think I know what the author meant by it. Indeed, an expression that I use quite a lot myself is describing a wine as having ‘good grip’, which to many people might be completely meaningless. However, as I have always said, this is why tasting and tasting descriptions are actually quite a personal thing. If you are trying to remember a wine simply use vocabulary that works for you (even if it makes no sense to others), and try to commit your ideas to memory. That’s how we end up with wines being described as being sweaty or having an odour of cat’s pee.
Anyway, I have to finish this post now and get back to the nagging wife!
Being located immediately adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean we don’t experience too many frosty days in winter – the influence of the ocean not only moderates the temperature in summer, but it also regulates the extremes of cold at this time of year. Of course the high humidity of our sea air does mean that the winter chill can be very penetrating.
Quite often our first frost does not arrive until early in the new year, but this winter it has arrived just a little earlier, on 20th November to be precise. As I mention every year, the significance of frost is that it is the first signal that pruning will soon be under way, and also helps to eliminate one or two of the unwanted insects in our vineyard.
With such a late harvest in 2013, we have only just finished the fermentations, and it’s a very sobering thought that we already have Thanksgiving next week, and that Christmas is only one month away. So whether you are eating your turkey either for Christmas or for Thanksgiving, you shouldn’t forget that albariño is still the perfect match!
At the end of last week we held one of the most interesting tastings that we have done for many a year….. a comparative tasting. However, we were not comparing different wines, but rather comparing different tasting glasses! Over the years the evolution of the wine glass has become a science in itself, and nearly every serious manufacturer offers a specialist range of wine glasses, with each glass targeted at a particular style of wine, or perhaps even a specific grape variety.
The tasting we set up was targeted at the evolution of glass design over the years, from the humble Paris goblet, tiptoeing through the tulip shapes, to the ISO and then on to the modern manufacturers (Riedel, Schott-Zwiesel and a bit of Peugeot thrown in at the end for good measure). The results were not at all what we expected, and in the end threw up one or two surprises as well as one or two disappointments.
Naturally, we used the same wine throughout the tasting – a Castro Martin Family Estate, and started with two sizes of Paris goblet. To be honest there was very little to chose between the two – firstly, swirling the wine was not easy, and for aroma they were more or less exactly as we had anticipated – quite poor. With a very open bowl shape the bouquet of the wine was not ‘captured’ or focused in any way towards the nose, and simply escaped. The following two tulip shaped glasses revealed the first surprise – the smaller one of the two was actually quite good for capturing the fragrance of the wine. Almost certainly the slightly more enclosed shape of the bowl allowed a good ‘fusion’ between the wine and the oxygen, giving a good result overall.
We then experienced the biggest surprise of the entire tasting – the ISO standard wine tasting glass. Compared to nearly every other glasses in the tasting this actually yielded perhaps the least aroma on the nose of all! Logically you might imagine that the design of the bowl (a very enclosed shape) would focus the aromas even more, but for some reason this was not the case. The nose of the wine simply appeared quite dumb and not very forthcoming at all. My own theory is that this is something to do with the reduced amount of oxygen in the glass. The real reason for swirling a wine glass before tasting is to expose the wine to more oxygen, allowing it to release its perfume, but as the bowl of the ISO is comparatively narrow, it could be that the release of aroma is simply restricted – but I remind you that this is just my theory.
We then moved on to the more modern, ‘professional’ glasses – firstly we had two Riedel Vinum glasses of different sizes. The smaller Viognier glass two actually fared much better than the large glass, but when compared side by side, the small Riedel was only as good as the small tulip glass we had sampled earlier (so much for the technology of glass making)! Then finally, I think we found the best tasting glass of all. The Schott-Zwiesel ‘Pure’ Riesling glass. Not only did this glass appear to release the most perfume from our delicate albariño grape, but the glass itself also had a very nice feel to it….. the weight and balance of the glass, quite fine and elegant, perfect for showing our wine at its very best. Now all we have to do is replace all of our current Riedel glasses with this model!
By way of a curiosity we ended this exercise with a crazy designer tasting cup/glass - the Impitoyable ‘Le Taster’ (made by a subsiduary of Peugeot). A very unusual hand-blown shape with no stem designed specifically for professional tasters. In this tasting there was no doubt that Le Taster produced the most dramatic results, enhancing every little nuance of the perfume. The only possible downside of this glass might be in tasting an alcoholic wine (which of course, albariño is not), I believe that the sensation of alcohol might become too exaggerated, and could spoil the overall effect.
In summary, I would highly recommend this tasting to anyone – even after many years in the trade we still learned many new things about tasting wine!
Eating and drinking are the great loves of my life (as well as my wife and family, I hasten to add). I consider myself very fortunate that I have been able to combine these passions with my profession, starting my working life in the hospitality industry (hotel management), evolving over the years into my career in wine.
I confess that I sometimes spend far too much money when eating out, on special occasions perhaps to excess. I am also guilty of sometimes spending more on wines than I do on the meal itself (which in top restaurants is not too difficult to do). I consider myself privileged that, during my lifetime, I have had the opportunity to eat in many of the world’s top restaurants, where on occasions I have been confronted with wine lists that look more like old-fashioned telephone directories, offering an overwhelming selection of very fine wines.
These days, when visiting unfamiliar restaurants, more often than not I will opt for the chef’s tasting menu. Usually this type of menu will showcase the specialities of the chef, highlighting local produce as well as the local cuisine. The only downside to these menus is that the dishes can be so diverse that it makes it quite impossible to make a wine selection that will harmonise with everything. (The only possible exception to this might be an old, biscuity champagne that I will drink happily with anything!). Quite naturally this is where wine pairing comes into its own – putting yourself in the hands of a (hopefully) very skilled sommelier, who will be able to offer a sample wine to match every course. Ceding this amount of power to a sommelier, I must confess, is something that I still find extraordinarily difficult to do!
On the occasions that I have opted for this it has worked well, perhaps once or twice, even too well. I remember once (through a slight haze) being poured into a taxi upon leaving one of Sydney’s top eateries. The problem was that knowing who we were they simply kept asking us to sample more wines, on top of the already extensive selection offered with the menu. The pleasure was just a little excessive I’m afraid!
In the case of these gastronomic menus I think it is equally as important to be inspired by the wines being suggested, as we rely on the knowledge and experience of the sommelier to guide us skillfully through his selections. However, on one recent occasion I’m afraid that I was left just a little disappointed by the wine service that we received…. As the flight of wines were poured we were given a rather rapid but clearly well rehearsed speech about each one. The problem was that the sommelier did not seem to be prepared for questions, or even less so for comments about the pairing. For example, a lobster dish with a rich sauce was served with a rather tight, flinty Pouilly Fumé – for me it needed a wine with a bit more weight and body. It was a very good wine, but just not the wine I would have selected myself, and when I mentioned this, my opinion appeared to be met with complete indifference.
Apart from this trivial incident I think that the concept of a wine pairing selection is really positive, giving the consumer a chance to make new wine discoveries, whilst at the same time enhancing the overall dining experience….. proving, as we already know, that wine and food are truly made for each other!
Tim Atkin (MW) is probably one of the very best wine journalists in the UK – a very serious and passionate guy. I am very fortunate to personally know many of the top UK journalists, and so I can honestly say that Tim is very well respected throughout the UK trade.
At a recent tasting he kindly awarded our Castro Martin albariño 92 points, and wrote “Angela Martin’s wines seem to get better with every vintage and are now among my favourite Albariños from Rías Baixas. The combination of low yields, ageing on lees in tank for added weight and very pure, almost transparent fruit flavours is very enticing here: apple, pear and some quince with a hint of honey.”
This is high praise indeed, coming from Tim.
I’ve always found it a little bit odd and perhaps even mildly amusing that Munich’s “Oktoberfest” is actually celebrated in September, with only the final few days actually falling in the month of October. Now more than 200 years old, it was originally a royal wedding celebration, held in the middle of October, on a site of some 42 hectares on the south west outskirts of Munich. It has evolved over the years to become a huge fair, spread over nearly three weeks, complete with opening parade, brewery horse teams and bands, carnival side shows and enormous beer tents. It was apparently moved forward into September to take advantage of marginally longer days and better weather.
Anyway, believe it or not. we now have a couple of Oktoberfests of our own, here in Galicia. Held in Negreira and Pontevedra respectively, they were held this weekend….. at the beginning of November. It occurred to me that, if these new local beer festivals are not tied to any particular tradition, then why didn’t the organisers create something new and original, and simply call them Novemberfest!
Actually, the tradition that we really need next is Albariñofest – to be held at any time of year (or perhaps even all year ’round).
Today’s photo is actually a little premature, but as today is Halloween I couldn’t resist a little joke at Angela’s expense….. The (horror) mask that Angela is wearing is actually a vital piece of safety equipment that we wear each time we are handling sulphur dioxide. The end of the fermentation is the time of year that we add by far the biggest dose of sulphur to our wine. Whilst all the sugar has been consumed and transformed into alcohol, the raw wine is still a bit unstable at this moment. In order to stop any unwanted reactions completely, and to prevent any potential secondary fermentations, we add sulphur to each tank simply to ensure that everything remains completely under control. It serves as an antibiotic and antioxidant protecting our wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation.
The pure sulphur dioxide that we use is potentially deadly – even when we use it in a diluted form we still wear a mask – it is quite toxic and can be pretty nasty stuff, but at least when we use it in our wine it’s presence is measured in parts per million. SO2 is already present in our atmosphere, released naturally for example, by volcanoes. Both here, and in our wine making, the quantities in evidence are miniscule.
Anyway, the end of our fermentations are still probably about a week away, but I thought that being Halloween this photo might scare a few people…. it does me!
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