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!
I tasted some of our new 2014 albariño the other day, and it seems that Angela has now tasted them too. One of her impressions was that the new wine revealed hints of apple fruit, and by way of illustrating the point, she kindly posed for today’s photo!
This week is All Hallows’ Eve (the eve of All Saints Day), more commonly known as Halloween. It is a festival that been widely celebrated in the United States for many years, but is now gaining in popularity around Europe, although I rather suspect that many of those who join in have little or no idea as to its true pagan origins – it’s merely become more of an excuse to party, eat candies and play the occasional trick on people. And so, if you intend to indulge in a few Halloween treats, then what wine should you be drinking?! Well, perhaps if you’re still eating candy then you might be too young to be drinking wine anyway, but if you do, then the likelihood is that you will need something rather sweet to support all the sugar. For the adults amongst us, who perhaps prefer a more salty, savoury snack, then I would certainly recommend a crisp, refreshing albariño, which as we all know makes a great aperitif wine at any party…..
Meanwhile, back in the land of the living (a bit of Halloween humour there), we are reaching the very end of the alcoholic fermentation in our cellars. Indeed some tanks have already been sulphured, the action of which is to inhibit or kill off any unwanted yeasts in order to protect against secondary fermentations, that we don’t want or need this year. (In some vintages a secondary, malolactic fermentation can be used as a means of reducing the more aggressive malic acidity, converting it to much softer lactic acid). I have already tasted a few of the tanks, which are obviously full of sulphur, but attempting to taste through this, I think I can detect a wine that has good fruit, character and also good weight and body. As always, the acidity is very raw and green at this stage, but this will only soften given time, and after the wine has spent some time resting on its lees. We now just need to be patient.
I was driving home from the bodega at about 6pm yesterday evening, the temperature gauge in my car showing an outside temperature of 27°C (81°C). Wow, it’s hotter than July, I thought to myself, and this this week that could very well be true. On Monday afternoon the mercury hit 29°C (84°C), and has remained at that level all week. This is in complete contrast to a week ago, when our bodega was in danger of being washed away after a day or two of non-stop, torrential rain. Of course, now that we are busy working inside the bodega, with the fruit safely gathered in, the temperature and rainfall holds much less significance to us, but it’s still an indicator of how unpredictable our weather is, or has become in recent years. When I finally arrived home it was just like summer – people of the beach, and supper prepared on the barbecue!
By the way, when I mentioned ‘hotter than July’ I immediately thought of the Stevie Wonder album of that name (I could even picture the album cover), and then it occurred to me…. there’s probably a few (younger) people reading this post who might well be thinking ‘Stevie who?’
Firstly my apologies for the silence over the last few days….. we have been a bit busy. All the additions have finally been made to the fermenting tanks and so the only thing left to do is wait. Of course, it goes without saying that we have to monitor the progress of each and every tank, and sometimes make small adjustments to the temperature if things are not progressing as we wish. This is exactly what we mean by ‘temperature control’ – we can adjust the speed of the fermentation simply by altering the temperature. Fermentation generates heat, and if left unchecked would career out of control and the whole fermentation process would probably be over in less than a week….. but the resulting wine? Well, perhaps not so good.
By monitoring the density twice a day, we can accurately measure how quickly the must is being converted into wine, and if we see that it is moving too quickly then we can simply reduce the tank temperature by half or maybe one degree, and this will bring the process back under control. Of course the speed at which we chose to make the fermentation is down to the individual winemaker, and relies both on experience, but also has to take into account the type of yeast being used. Different strains of yeast behave in very different ways, some are far more vigorous than others, and in addition they will often work within a completely different temperature range. For example, making the temperature too cold might simply kill some strains of yeast, leaving a partly fermented wine. In addition, towards the end of the fermentation, we have to raise the temperature of the tanks slightly to allow the yeast to fully ferment and complete it’s job. Stopping the fermentation too early will simply result in a little more residual sugar being left in the finished wine – not a typical characteristic of albariño. Having said that, anything less than 5 grams of sugar per litre of wine will be barely discernable to the average consumer.
Usually the grape harvest in our D.O. is spread over a period of about two or three weeks, sometimes more. Under normal circumstances the sub-zones in the south start well before their counterparts in the north, and may even finish before the north picks its first fruit. Despite there only being some 60 km between north and south, it can actually make quite a difference, especially as one moves inland away from the coast, and the cooling influence of the Ocean. This year however, it seems that things were quite different.
We have just received some stats from our local D.O. office showing that almost the entire 2014 harvest was collected in a little over one week. We often talk about waiting for a window in the weather, and this year it appears that almost everyone in our region took advantage of the very same window! After a period of torrential rain, at the very first opportunity, bodegas and their grape suppliers rushed out into the vineyards to gather in their precious crop. Of course, Castro Martin was no exception, mirroring the graph in today’s post and peaking at the very same moment as the rest of the region – Saturday 27th September, when over 3 million kilos were harvested (but not all by Castro Martin).
The total crop for 2014 of 24 million kilos is largely what was estimated before picking began, and although larger than 2012, it is still one of the smaller harvests of recent years. (Remembering that the area under vine has been growing steadily year-on-year since the very creation of the D.O., owing to the vagaries of our weather, growth in production does not always follow suit)
In the cellar our fermentations are all well under way, but it will be at least another week or two before the first stage of winemaking is concluded for this year.
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