Black Friday is a comparatively new phenomenon in Europe, which is hardly surprising when you consider that we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. I am not altogether sure about the origins of Black Friday but I believe that it was created to celebrate the life of Saint PayPal, the patron saint of shopping (from the High Church of Amazon). His followers now make an annual pilgrimage, the day after Thanksgiving, to their nearest centre of worship, sometimes referred to as a “Mall”. Worshippers can be extremely fervent and have been known to become completely overwhelmed by their shopping experience – a true ethereal, frenzied, almost violent experience.
Very thoughtfully, the weak, infirm and overfed (from too much turkey) are also catered for, as it has now been made incredibly easy to ‘worship’ online.
A couple of weeks ago we had yet another significant Friday in our calendar – Friday 13th. Now, I personally don’t suffer from friggatriskaidekaphobia, but there were a couple of coincidences that made me stop and think for a moment. We were planning to bottle of a tank of wine, and one of the dates pencilled in was Friday 13th. Generally, I wouldn’t think twice about it, until I realised that we were planning to bottle tank 13, and that the allocated sequential Lot No. for this bottling was also to be 13…… We bottled on 11th instead!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and so the obvious question arises, which wine should you drink with your turkey (or whilst watching the NFL)? Of course I could tell you that albariño is not bad with white meat, assuming that it is roasted in the traditional way and not served with some exotic sauce, but if I was to put my hand on my heart, I would have to admit that there could actually be better food/wine matches for turkey. Unfortunately, in our business, there are far too many producers who would swear blind that their particular wine is great with everything, including pumpkin pie, but I’m just not one of them!
It’s just a great pity (from our point of view) that today’s traditional Thanksgiving menu does not accurately reflect the menu of the very first Thanksgiving meal back in 1621. When the Pilgrims celebrated their first harvest and invited the local Native Americans to eat at their table, the foods on offer were almost certainly a little different, or so the historians would have us believe. Not only would they have consumed fowl such as duck, goose, swan or perhaps even turkey, but it is also suggested that they may have eaten deer that their Wampanoag guests offered up as an additional menu item. The very first harvest was apparently quite abundant and also provided the pilgrims with onions, beans, lettuce, spinach, cabbage, carrots, peas and perhaps some corn, but being in New England, it is also quite likely that some seafood might have been consumed. Mussels, lobster, bass, clams and oysters could also have been part of the feast, but regrettably not with any albariño, that didn’t arrive until a few centuries later!
Now there was a time in my life as a buyer, that I was tasting different wines from around the globe on a daily basis – often in fairly copious amounts (without swallowing I hasten to add!) These days however, my tasting, although reasonably regular, is often restricted to our own wines, within our own cellar. Of course this might eventually distort the palate a little, as you become more accustomed to, and able to easily recognise your own style of wine. I’m afraid that the opportunity to taste overseas wine these days is fairly restricted as they are simply not available in Galician shops, albeit there are one or two online shops where I can find an odd bottle or two.
Prior to the start of the tasting the only information that you are given is the type, classification and vintage of the wine. When I say classification it can be any one of the following:
- Rias Baixas ALBARIÑO
- Rias Baixas CONDADO DO TEA
- Rias Baixas ROSAL
- Rias Baixas DO ULLA
- Rias Baixas SALNES
- Rias Baixas
- Rias Baixas BARRICA
- Rias Baixas TINTO
- Rias Baixas SPARKLING
I mentioned this in my last post but a wine can only be called albariño if it comprises 100% of that variety – any other blend, even if it only 1% of another grape can only be known as a Rias Baixas wine. Any wine can then also carry the name of its sub-zone if the bodega so chooses. (An albariño wine (100%) can also carry the name of its sub-zone).
Of course, the idea is not really to criticise or comment too much on any one wine, but simply to rate it on its technical merits and quality. The key is of course to remain objective and aloof, but when most of my tasting experience in the past has been comparative, judging one wine next to another to select the best, then this does not come easily, and it is only human nature, in these circumstances, to use your own wine as a yardstick.
On this occasion we were offered the maximum permitted of 15 wines – one sparkling, four tintos and the rest white, mostly 100% albariño. The selection included two 2015 wines, which I admit, came as quite a shock, barely more than one month after the last day of picking in our denomination.
Of course I cannot comment about specific wines, but suffice to say that it was a mixed bag – some good, some bad and at least one downright ugly! The white wines of 2014 were generally acceptable, whilst one of the 2015’s showed all the typical character of what I call a ‘primeur’ wine – vinified quickly, massively fruity, but I am sure with only a very short shelf life – drink now and enjoy while you can! It had a very exotic, almost banana, sweet pear drop fruit that I would normally associate with Beaujolais nouveau rather than a young albariño (very appropriate on today of all days)! This sensation probably originates from the same ester called isoamyl acetate (which is sometimes formed during low temperature fermentations and carbonic maceration depending on the type of yeast used).
The one ‘barrica’ wine on show was, erm…. poor, to say the least. Heaven only knows what type of wood was employed in the making of this wine, but I wrote in my notes that it had a bouquet of beetroot! (Not a usual attribute of albariño). Finally, the majority of reds on offer gave the impression of being a bit green and under-ripe, and thankfully I think the panel agreed with me as I don’t think that any single tinto passed the tasting.
It wasn’t my first D.O. tasting as a guest, and I hope it won’t be my last, but it certainly was a bit of an eye-opener.
Our D.O. office has a very nice, new tasting room. Light and airy, with individual booths, each with lamp (to aid in the visual phase) and a small sink for spitting – bottled water is also supplied. Every wine tasted has its own tasting sheet, and of course can be any type of wine recognised by the D.O. – 100% Albariño, blends of recognised white grapes (these are classified as Rias Baixas and cannot be called Albariño unless 100%), red wines, and the latest addition, sparkling wines. The maximum number of wines for any one tasting is 15.
Tasting sheets are divided into six sections – visual phase, orafactory phase (intensity + quality), tasting phase (intensity + quality), and finally ‘harmony’ or balance. Now this is where (in my opinion), the system is a bit whacky! The better the wine, the lower the score! A wine that is considered excellent in any phase actually scores zero points for that phase…. The scoring system varies from 0 points for excellent to a maximum of 27 points for a completely defective phase, with more points being allocated to the more important phases such as taste and balance. There is actually a column on the sheet whereby any wine can simply be eliminated out of hand, should it be so bad!
It’s a bit complicated to explain, but results in each wine having a final score – up to 62 points will pass the tasting, but anything higher will automatically fail, and can be submitted for re-tasting at a later date. (Two failures means that it cannot be sold as a D.O.wine) I should mention that wines can, and do sometimes fail the tasting, but the names of the wines that pass or fail are never given to the members of the tasting panel, even after the tasting is completed.
Assuming that the wine passes the tasting the ‘tirillas’ can be allocated. These are numbered consecutively, meaning that they can be traced back to the tank/bottles in question. However, for some reason they are not issued immediately, and by regulation the bodega has to wait a further three days before they can be collected – but wait….. this doesn’t mean that a bodega can simply grab the tirillas and start bottling at will. When the tank in question has passed and is finally ready, the bodega still needs to provide the D.O. office with 24 hours notice of intention to bottle! This then gives the D.O. the opportunity to organise an inspection (always at random) to finally ensure that the correct tank is being used, in conjunction with the correct tirillas.
This three part posting, over the next few days is actually quite interesting…. I think! You may have noticed that every bottle we sell has the official Rias Baixas denomination sticker on the back, denoting that the wine has been tasted, and passed, by the official tasting committee of the D.O. Every tank of wine produced in our region has to undergo this process before it can be bottled, of course meaning that every single tank has to be tasted! I should perhaps mention that the official sticker is known locally as the ‘tirilla’, and I have inset an example in the corner of today’s photo. (Tirilla comes from the word tira, which means strip (as in label) or band – tirilla means small strip).
The process starts when a tank of wine is ready for bottling – but this has to be planned well in advance as the approval process can take up to 2 or 3 weeks (especially at busy times of year). The first step is that the bodega has to send a sample drawn from the tank to an official, government accredited laboratory for analysis. Depending on proximity of the cellar to the lab will determine how long this takes, but usually between 2 and 4 days. Once the bodega has the analysis in hand, it can then notify the D.O. office in Pontevedra, who will send a member of their technical team to draw six bottles from the tank to be tasted. When the sample is taken, a seal is put on the tank, as well as on the six bottles – one of the bottles is left in the bodega as a reference. Normally the D.O. will collect the sample within a few days of asking, but at peak times this can extend to one or two weeks. There is no doubt that the busiest time of year is during the build up to the harvest, simply because bodegas often need to empty tanks to accommodate the new wine coming in. Under normal circumstances the D.O. would hold one or two official tastings a week, but at harvest time, this can increase to daily tastings in order to keep up with the high demand.
When the sample bottles arrive at the D.O. office, a second sample is immediately sent to the official D.O. laboratory for analysis, and in this way it can be compared to the analysis supplied by the bodega, to ensure that they are indeed, one and the same! Once this is done the sample bottle can finally be put before the tasting panel.
All tasters on the panel are obviously experienced people (often Rias Baixas winemakers), but they are still tutored and have to undergo assessment to ensure that they are not only up to scratch, but also that they are completely objective, and rate all wines in a similar way, using the official tasting scale. There are always a minimum of 5 official tasters on each tasting panel, and as you may guess, the tasting is always conducted completely blind.
I have just come across a recommendation for our wine, that I was not looking for, and certainly not expecting. Back in July the Globe and Mail gave us a very nice mention (along with two other bodegas) by saying that we were a brand “well worth a detour”. Well, the truth is, for their readers, it would have to be an extremely long detour to find our wine, and the reason is quite simple…..
The Globe and Mail in question is circulated in Toronto, Ontario – in other words Canada, and yes, you’ve already guessed it, not only do we not sell our wine in Toronto, but we actually don’t sell anywhere in Canada! We have certainly ‘flirted’ with the Canadian market, but with a tough monopoly in Quebec and the rest of the country demanding bilingual labels (English and French, even across in British Columbia!), we actually decided to opt out. Perhaps one day in the future we we re-visit Canada as a potential market.
Meanwhile, back at home, Halloween has come and gone, the clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in and the rain coming down, it certainly feels like winter is almost upon us. Time to sit in front of a nice log fire, kick back and hibernate for the next six months (in my dreams!)
Just when you thought you’d seen it all in the wine business, something new always comes along to shock/surprise you. This time it is something really special….. Wine for cats!!! Now before you reach for the calendar to start checking the date, I can assure you that this is no April Fool’s joke, but indeed is a new product created in Japan by a company called B&H Lifes. The wine itself is called Nyan Nyan Nouveau, and, as you might imagine is completely alcohol free, made from a blend of Cabernet grape juice and catnip. Sounds delicious, but don’t expect my tasting notes on this any time soon!
(Apparently, just in case you don’t speak Japanese, the translation of Nyan, Nyan, is actually Meow, Meow – useful for the next time you want to converse with a Japanese cat!)
Yesterday, our new friend and distributor in southern Galicia, Oscar, invited us to his tasting in Vigo. It was an all day event, and, as always was pretty exhausting (apart from the break when he treated us all to a spectacular lunch). The morning session was dedicated to local local hotel schools, where our future potential customers (and consumers) had the chance to learn about different wines, and to taste, if they so wished. (Please remember that not everyone finds it fun to taste wine at 11 o’clock in the morning!)
However, it was not until early evening when the proverbial floodgates opened and the large auditorium was packed with hoteliers, restaurateurs, sommeliers and any number of different professionals. Whilst this size of distributor tasting is quite commonplace in say London or New York, I confess that I have never seen anything on this scale at a local tasting in Galicia (or perhaps Spain for that matter). You can judge the turnout for yourself from today’s pictures. The daytime picture shows our proximity Port of Vigo at this tasting, and so when people say that you can taste the sea in our albariño, on this occasion our customers could almost certainly smell it! (Vigo is the largest fishing port in Spain and also one of the biggest in the world).
Well, roughly a month after the first grape was picked in anger, we have tanks that have completed their fermentation and can now clearly be called wine, rather than must or grape juice. Of course they are not ready for sale by some distance, as there are many processes that they have to undergo, not least of all a period of lees ageing. Fine lees are the exhausted yeast cells left over from fermentation that help to intensify our wines by adding richness, flavour and aroma complexity. Specific proteins are released naturally during lees contact, and it is these that create a creamy, silky smooth mouthfeel, and texture to the body of the wine. The lees also enhance stability and increase the ageing potential of our wines.
So now it is time for the tanks to simply rest, and the only time that they will be disturbed over the coming months is when we taste them on a regular basis. I will give more details on their progress, and of course my tasting notes, in the coming weeks, but as they have just been sulphured, now is not really a good time to pass judgement.
One of the unique events that took place during this year’s harvest, were a couple of PR/customer visits. Under normal circumstances we are far too busy, and the cellar is in far too much disarray to welcome people through our doors, but this year we made a couple of exceptions. The first was a small group of sommeliers and shop managers from the UK, a visit set up by our D.O. office by way of PR and education. Second was our very long-standing importer from Venezuela. Of course it could be that we made these two exceptions as the visitors were from Angela and my respective home countries, or maybe that is just a coincidence…. Suffice to say that we hope both groups enjoyed their time with us. (By the way, Angela doesn’t normally wear a baseball cap in the bodega, but the cap is actually designed in the colours of her National flag!)
This may well be my last post relating to the 2015 harvest – not because our fermentations are complete, but mostly because there is not much more that can be said about the winemaking process. At this point we are merely observers, monitoring progress by measuring the density of the must/wine, and then, according to what we see, perhaps making one or two subtle adjustments to the temperature control. The idea is that we have a slow, smooth transition from grape juice into wine and at this point the only form of control that we have is temperature. If the fermentation starts to move too quickly then by reducing the temperature by a decimal place or two, then we can slow things down just a touch. Conversely, if the fermentation looks as though it might be sticking, putting too much stress on the yeast, then we can help it along by increasing the temperature. Once all the sugar has been consumed and the fermentation has come to an end, we simply add a good dose of SO2 to inhibit spoilage and kill any unwanted bacteria (e.g. malolactic bacteria). Et voila, done!
The first tanks that we seeded are not too far from completion now and are almost at a point where they are starting to reveal the true character of the vintage. Until now the natural fruit sugar has been quite dominant, albeit that by tasting we can still judge the concentration, style and overall balance of the developing wine. The result is that we are quietly confident that this year’s wine will be very good, and the fact that we started with some excellent quality, healthy fruit was certainly an essential element in this outcome.
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