No sooner had I written that medals and reviews can sometimes work against you, than we start to pick up new accolades. Within the space of days, a silver medal and a 92 point rating – in two entirely different markets.
In the UK we received a silver medal for our Bodega Castro Martin 2014 at the International Wine & Spirits Competition. (I should quickly mention that no Albariño achieved gold medal status, meaning that we were at the very top of our category – we will have to try harder next time to achieve gold!).
Meanwhile, over in the United States, the Wine and Spirits Magazine (August Issue) just awarded our Castro Martin Family Estate 2014 an impressive 92 points, putting us at the top of their tasting and listing us as both “Year’s Best Galicia” and “Best Buy”. Their tasting note was as follows:
92, Castro Martin, 2014 ‘Sobre Lias’ Albarino (Best Buy): From 50-year-old vines in Salnes, this wine aged for six months on its lees, developing an unusual combination of juicy pineapple flavor and stoniness. It’s nervous in acidity, tightening around the leesiness to create an intense, savage albarino. Far from the simple and creamy whites that populate Rias Baixas, this explores new territories, its full-on fruit flavors and mineral notes giving a deep and immersive complexity. You can drink it now with fried scallops, or cellar it for two or three years.
As I always say, don’t just take their word for it, buy a bottle and judge for yourself!
It’s a great British past-time to complain about the weather – too wet, too cold, too windy, too foggy (the famous myth of London weather), or sometimes even too hot! These days it is also quite apparent that there are more extremes of weather around the globe, with both severe flooding, drought, extensive forest fires etc., now becoming much more commonplace.
Until early June our local weather had been pretty miserable. We had endured a cold, wet winter (actually quite normal for Galicia), which extended throughout the spring to the point where we almost had no spring at all. And then our summer suddenly arrived ! Since more or less the middle of June temperatures have been regularly reaching the mid-to-high 20’s, sometimes touching 30°C (mid 70’s to mid 80’s °F). This coming week we will start to exceed that. Of course we are lucky that we are only a few km the Ocean which helps to keep us a bit cooler. In the city of Ourense for example, which is located only about 60km further inland, the thermometer is now touching 40°C (over 100°F).
We all like to receive compliments, a bit of ‘positive stroking’ never did anybody any harm. And the same applies to our wines, we love to see positive reviews and read positive comments written about us, but then, in this age of social media, it is also possible that this can sometimes produce a negative effect too. Don’t get me wrong, the very positive thing about the internet is that everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion, but then the downside is also that everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion!
Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of receiving great reviews (points or stars), is that you are immediately put on a pedestal just inviting the would-be critics to shoot you down. For example, if someone is given very high expectations of your food or wine, then this could, in turn, lead to a bit of a disappointment, if what they actually experience is not quite as good as they had anticipated. When you find yourself at the very top of your game, then perhaps the only way is down, and so, in this way, it is almost better for the consumer to have no expectations at all in order that they can taste or eat with a completely open mind – the power of (pre)suggestion is always a powerful thing.
To be honest it’s not quite so bad for wines, which are rarely ‘rated’ by the public (there is no Trip Advisor for wines as yet), but for restaurants and hotels this can really be a total nightmare. I recently read about a very humble Barbecue restaurant, the Copper Top, located in a very small town on highway 395 in California. With some 250 great reviews on Yelp, and hardly anything negative, my guess is that some algorithm suddenly decided that this small barbecue (built on the back of an 8ft trailer), was now the No.1 dining experience out of 600,000 in the United States. You can probably guess what happened next…. the place was simply overrun, not only by normal consumers, but also by professional food critics and the press. With queues down the street, running out of their now famous barbecue food in record time, it wasn’t long before the crowd started to turn ugly. Not only were customers complaining for every small detail, but then other local business waded in with false reviews, simply in order to drag them down. The critics were merciless! So a rating that looked and felt good on paper at least, had now backfired horrendously for the poor unwitting proprietors.
My own opinion of this system has never really waivered – if you want to read the reviews of Castro Martin then fine, but why not simply buy a bottle, pull the cork and make your own judgement? In the end it’s your own opinion that really counts!
Meanwhile, here in Galicia, the summer holiday season and festivities are also well and truly under way. Our local beach (which is already overcrowded in summer) played host to a five-a-side soccer tournament this weekend. Not only did the temporary arena that they built take up about a quarter of the total beach area, but then it was accompanied by thumping music and a commentator screaming excitedly into his PA system all day…. Very relaxing for the visiting tourists!
So, if everyone is on the beach, then why not escape to the city for a bit of peace and quiet? Well, that wouldn’t quite work either….. An all-day concert in the bullring of Pontevedra sent loud music booming around the streets of our fair city. Too bad if you needed to open your windows just a little in the hot weather. Ah, the joys of summer!
Last weekend we had a small but dramatic event in our village, but more significantly, almost in our bodega vineyard…. a brush fire! A week or two ago I wrote about a small area of forest clearance at the back of our bodega, restoring our view of the Atlantic Ocean after some years of being masked by trees. Well, the bad news is that a different area of eucalyptus forest immediately adjacent to this (forming a boundary with our vineyard) was left untouched. Under Spanish law it is the responsibility of every land owner to keep undergrowth in a forested area well trimmed and under control, precisely for the reason of reducing fire risk. Unfortunately, in the case of this forest, it had not been done.
In the early hours of the Monday morning we received a call from our neighbours, living next to the bodega, to say that firefighters wanted access to the back of our property – the forest was alight! The good news is that the blaze was bought under control quite quickly before it managed to really take hold, and in the end was more or less confined to the undergrowth. Had the trees themselves gone up in flames, then it is actually quite possible that it would have spread to our vineyard, and so we have to be quite thankful to our local fire fighters for their prompt and effective actions.
If the fire taken place later in the summer then it is possible that our fruit could have been tainted by the smoke, but I think that this fire took place early enough in the growth cycle to have very little or no effect whatsoever. I once recall tasting a wine which had become tainted by smoke and I can tell you that it is nothing like the toasted oak effect that comes from a barrel, it is simply quite unpleasant. I am happy to report that, in our case, the only temporary damage might be to my t-shirt that reeks of smoke after I ventured into to the forest to take a few photos!
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…..
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