It occurred to me that there is not too much happening in the bodega at this time of year – the final countdown to the holidays. Overseas orders have long since been collected, and by now, most of the Christmas gift packs have been completed too. It’s like the lull before the storm (if you choose to describe vast over indulgence in food and drink as a storm)!
Last weekend, by contrast, was quite eventful. Stranded at home without telephone or internet connection, thanks to Telefonica (it is difficult to appreciate how much we rely on modern communication until it’s not available)! But this problem was incidental compared to what happened next…..Angela stumbled whilst clearing the dining table, her hands laden with glassware, crockery and a cheese knife. I looked on helplessly as she fell, in what appeared to be slow motion, hitting the floor with a loud crash. I don’t exactly know what caused it, but she had sustained a very nasty cut to her forehead! After the initial panic I drove her straight to the emergency room to have several stitches put in the wound, but thankfully there were no symptoms of a concussion. Now that she’s feeling a lot better, we can joke about her Harry Potter scar (although it really wasn’t funny when it happened).
I’m sorry that my posts have been a bit infrequent recently, we have been doing a bit of re-modelling at home that has been occupying rather a lot of time. A poor excuse I know, but if I tell you that the project was started in June, you might understand my desire to get it finished before the holidays. I should mention that the main delay was in waiting for bathroom furniture and fittings, manufactured by Roca, a well-known Spanish company – I will say no more!
Meanwhile back at the bodega, we have been quite busy preparing gifts packs for Christmas. Like many retailers, our gift pack business just helps to gift our year end sales a bit of a boost – the proverbial icing on the (Christmas) cake. Regrettably, many of these order are all a bit last-minute, and it’s quite time consuming to repack the bottles, but we still pride ourselves in turning them around quickly.
Out in the vineyards, the long, difficult slog of pruning continues, come rain or shine.
If I’m being honest ‘cellar door’ business does not represent a huge percentage of our annual sales – in fact we really don’t do very much at all. Part of the reason could be that we are not actively involved in any of the local wine tourism campaigns, and therefore do not receive too many potential customers at our door. This is not because we don’t want to participate in wine tourism, it’s simply an issue of time – we just don’t have enough people to host a stream of visitors turning up at random moments throughout the day.
Fortunately, we do however, receive visits from customers that come to buy our wines (sometimes because they’ve tried it somewhere and enjoyed it). Until now, one major drawback has been that all transactions were restricted to cash, as we could not accept cards. Of course it might not seem like a big deal in this day and age, but we have finally installed our very own POS machine to pay for goods. Obviously this means that our customers now don’t have to rush to the bank to draw cash, or organise time consuming bank transfers if they are ordering by phone (a very cumbersome system that is still widely used here in Spain).
A giant leap into the 21st century for Castro Martin…. Who knows what will come next – telephones without cables or perhaps cameras that don’t require any film?
One of my favourite pastimes is cooking, there’s something very satisfying (and therapeutic) about it. I do nearly all the cooking at home, including a lot of the traditional English dishes that I crave from time-to-time. Angela has now acquired a taste for one or two of these and sometimes even requests them….. Chicken and mushroom pie? No problem! In English cooking I will sometimes use an ale or stout when preparing meat or sauces, but usually the use of wine is reserved for ‘continental style’ dishes and sauces. After all, until recently, the UK was not considered as a serious wine producing country, which is probably the reason that it was never considered as an ingredient in traditional English cooking. However, as cooking around the world becomes more eclectic and fusions of different styles become more common, the use of wine in preparing sauces is now considered quite normal.
I saw an article the other day entitled ‘the art of turning wine into sauce’ – a statement that could possibly offend one or two top wine producers. The thought of having their precious libation slopped into a pan and boiled might be a bit upsetting to them. Of course, I doubt very much if any chef would be using a First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy to prepare their Coq Au Vin, but it does beg the question, will using a better or more expensive wine result in a better sauce? Well, the answer is, to a certain extent, yes.
Now I’m not suggesting for one moment that you should use a very expensive wine for cooking, but rather that, if you use a very cheap and nasty wine then you will probably be able to detect this in the finished dish. Wine, after all, is used to add flavour or perhaps a bit of acidity, so the quality, to an extent, will be reflected….. but there is a limit. Not all the flavour in a wine will survive a good boiling, so don’t waste too much money on cooking wine – just make sure that it is at least drinkable before you add it. Finally, don’t forget to boil the wine for at least a few minutes after it is added to burn off the alcohol – the alcohol will not enhance flavour and might even leave a harsh or unpleasant taste.
Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year in the United States, traditionally signalling the start of the Christmas buying period. For many years it was common for the larger stores to open their doors as early as 6am, but this has gradually been eroded in recent years, whereby many sales now actually start at midnight on Thanksgiving Day itself! To take this one step further, on-line retailers have now started to ‘open their doors’ for Black Friday business as much as one week in advance. Amazon, for example, started selling their special offers today, but not just in the United States…. Although Thanksgiving is not celebrated outside the States, many other parts of the world have now caught Black Friday fever (largely as an excuse for retailers to kick-start the Christmas rush), and shoppers are joining the annual stampede in countries around the world.
Out of interest I had a quick glance at the Amazon site to see what was on offer, and to be honest I was more than a little surprised by what I found. Looking for a bottle of Louis Latour Chablis? Well, it’s being offered on Amazon! The price and level of discount has not been posted as yet, but I have to say that I really didn’t expect to find Burgundy on offer – I’m not exactly sure why, it just seems a bit odd to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought a fair bit of wine on the internet in recent years – but just not on Amazon, and certainly not in a Black Friday sale!
I was reading an ‘official’ webpage the other day which suggested that albariño might be suitable as a dessert wine. Well, of course it depends on the type of dessert, but with my hand on my heart I have to say that this is not a selection that I would automatically think of myself. Our wines, by their nature, have very little residual sugar and can even be a little tart on occasions. Under normal circumstances they cannot really be described as being ripe or full-bodied, which is really the style that’s required to support a sweet, sugary pudding. To suggest that an albariño would go with a wide selection of desserts might just be stretching the issue a little.
On the other hand, with Thanksgiving almost upon us, I can really recommend our albariño with roast turkey. From my own point of view, when a ‘gravy’ is required to accompany poultry, I often add a touch of lemon and tarragon, giving the resulting sauce just a bit of a kick. This hint of sharpness makes a perfect match to the fresh acidity in our wine. I’m afraid to say that I’ve never had the chance to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner in the U.S. and so I have no idea how a traditional turkey gravy would be made, but in any event I can still say that our wine will make the perfect accompaniment to your moist, freshly roasted bird.
When it comes to Beaujolais (and Beaujolais Nouveau) I’m a bit of an expert. In my previous life I was purchasing director for the UK’s largest Beaujolais importer – the exclusive agent for Georges Duboeuf. At it’s peak (at the end of the 80′s and early 90′s), Nouveau was huge, and sold in mega volumes all over the world. Complete jumbo jet loads flying to Japan and the States, dozens of trucks racing all over Europe (I think we had nearly 20 trucks entering the UK alone) – it was impressive. Originally the wine was released from Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November, and this would inevitably result in the trucks racing along French motorways to get Nouveau to the table as early as possible. (Many restaurants would even open for a Beaujolais breakfast!) Naturally the French police were pretty unhappy with this arrangement, and so they eventually moved the release point away from Burgundy. For example, wine destined for the UK was released from the port of Calais at midnight, where it was loaded on to cross-channel ferries. This was eventually moved across the channel so that the wine could be released from customs at the port of Dover, but this simply resulted in the trucks racing along the UK motorways instead. The final step was to release Nouveau to the warehouse of the importer, a day or two before the official launch – the cases were simply printed ‘Not for sale before the third Thursday of November’. Not as exciting as the Beaujolais Race, but in reality, a whole lot safer (and less exhausting for those working on the distribution).
So, now for the interesting (or perhaps amusing) part of the story. Yesterday Angela & I were in Madrid on business, and had an hour or two to kill before our return flight. We found ourselves in the Gourmet Food & Wine department of a famous department store, and you can imagine my surprise when I saw the Beaujolais Nouveau 2014 already on sale – a full two days before the official release date …. Ça va pas!
A couple of weeks ago we changed the clocks, immediately wiping one hour of daylight from our evenings and signalling the official end to our ‘summer time’. How quickly the real winter arrives after that is very much in the lap of the weather Gods, but certainly the much shorter, dark evenings don’t exactly help. So how do we really know when winter is upon us? What are the signals? Is it the moment that we need to use the central heating for the first time, or when we have to put on that extra sweater in the morning? Perhaps it’s more to do with nature itself – the behaviour of plants, birds and insects? There are many different signs that winter is on the way…..
Whatever yardstick we chose, the simple fact is that the weather has now turned decidedly colder, not to the extent of winter frost, but still enough to chill your bones if you don’t cover up properly. There has also been a considerable amount of rainfall which has only contributed to a more damp, penetrating cold, which is altogether quiet unpleasant. In fact it’s hard to believe that only a couple of weeks ago, towards the end of October, that we had a few days still warm enough to entice people to our local beaches. I very much doubt if this will now happen again before next spring.
Of course this turn to colder weather signals the start of our long, arduous pruning season, and without Juan (the member of our vineyard team injured a couple of months ago in a road accident), this year’s task is going to be just that bit more demanding.
It has become quite fashionable in recent years for students to take a ‘gap year’ before starting university, and the vast majority use this break from their studies to go travelling. Of course their travel has to be financed, and one of the more popular jobs that students will often seek is ‘doing a vintage’, whether it be in Europe, North America or perhaps in the Southern Hemisphere. Unfortunately, working a vintage is probably just one of those romantic ideas, and the reality is often a lot harder than many of them would bargain for.
Firstly, it is always quite physically demanding work, and can be complicated by some very harsh working conditions – long hours working under the sun, and plenty of sticky grape juice that will no doubt attract many a flying insect (some of which might be the stinging variety). As I often mention, this is probably even more uncomfortable here in Galicia, as nearly all of our picking is from pergola, and standing all day with your arms extended overhead will certainly make your neck and shoulders ache.
When you sign up for harvest, you’re there to work, not to take selfies in the vineyard, or to rub elbows with a famous winemaker. You absolutely do not get to taste wine all day, if at all. In fact, the most prevalent beverage will be cold water and you’ll consider yourself lucky to have an ample supply to last the day (actually we supply the water to our pickers, we’re not that heartless!). At the end of a long day in the vineyard your prime objective will probably be to get a good night’s sleep, because tomorrow you’ll be doing the same thing all over again.
So why do it? Why would anyone ever consider picking grapes if the harvest experience is so horrible? Perhaps it’s because just as the work starts to get unbearable, it’s over. Or maybe it’s because you will feel connected to nature, to the elements or to your fellow pickers – after all, it’s much more satisfying than standing in a factory making widgets. Indeed, the list of the reasons to work a harvest is compelling – camaraderie, burning calories, beautiful vineyard locations, helping to make something meaningful and not least of all, having the chance to meet some really passionate people.
I have just posted yet another vintage report, this time for our 2014 campaign, and the one thing that’s very obvious from writing these descriptions each year is that every vintage is different. Now, this might seem like a very simplistic statement, especially as our weather here is so variable (and unpredictable), but it did leave me asking myself the question, what are the contributory factors required to make a great albariño vintage? I had a look back through some of our older reports to see if I could find a pattern.
Perhaps the real answer is not quite as straight forward as it sounds, as it’s not simply a question of having good weather and lots of sunshine (albeit that this will certainly help), but it’s really more to do with having the right weather at the right moment. In winter for example, we need a decent amount of rain in order to replenish the water table, and a period of cold weather (with perhaps some days of frost), to help kill off unwanted pests and to give the plants the respite that they need in preparation for the next growing season.
In early Spring, once the thermometer begins to rise, we have bud break, followed two or three months later by possibly the most critical period of the entire year…… flowering. Poor weather during the flowering period can result in a poor crop, an uneven crop, or possibly even no crop at all. It therefore goes without saying that dry, warm and sunny weather at this time, should produce a healthy, even flowering, and therefore the potential for a good, healthy crop of fruit.
As far as the summer itself is concerned, there is no doubt that a couple of dry, hot months will also help to produce good fruit, but there also comes a point where excessive heat or a lack of water will become detrimental to the harvest. Too much heat can shrivel the fruit, and eventually the plant will start to consume its own fruit sugars, as its natural survival mechanisms kick into action. Bearing in mind that typical Salnés albariño usually has a fresh acidity and an alcohol of between 12% and 12.5%, then it goes without saying that excessively hot summers are not necessarily what we want or need to produce a great wine.
On the other hand (as we know from our recent experiences), excessive water at the wrong time, can cause disease, or at the very least, some degree of dilution in our wine. A light watering during the summer will not hurt, and helps to keep the dust down, but then we certainly do not welcome rain in any shape or form during the harvest itself. In summary there is quite a delicate balance in getting the elements that we actually need, at the right time, and not to any excess….. I think it’s known as nature!
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