No sooner had I mentioned that our Galician summer had been very dry, than the rain started. The good news so far, is that the amounts have not been catastrophic, and have only served to give our vineyards the watering that they so desperately needed.
I’m sure I have mentioned before that Spanish holidaymakers tend to take their holidays in “quincenas” – fortnights in English. This in itself does not appear to be so unusual, except that they tend to stick to a very rigid timetables – either taking the first two weeks of August, or the second two weeks, and rarely exploring outside this format. Clearly holidaymakers taking the first two weeks of August 2015 have fared much better than those taking the second. In fact, from a sunbathing point of view, the second quincena has been more or less a total wash-out, not that it’s been raining all the time, but more that the sun has not appeared too much. The temperature has also dropped during the last couple of weeks – the average daytime temperature has been hovering between 20° and 25°C (68° – 77°F).
To finish on a more positive note, our fruit is still healthy, and the forecast is good for the beginning of September. We believe that if the forecast warm, dry weather continues, then we have quite high hopes for the vintage.
The months of July and August are probably ‘peak’ fiesta season here in Galicia (and around Spain) – there are fireworks and rockets exploding nearly every night around around our home. (This is perhaps the moment to mention that I am always just a bit shocked when I see the men setting off these huge, exploding rockets…. launching them from their hands! Not something that is recommended to try at home).
I have written on many previous occasions about food fiestas, not because I don’t think they’re a great idea, but mostly because of the way that they are publicised. Of course, these local fiestas need to be supported and encouraged, as I have no doubt whatsoever that a huge amount of work goes into organising them. I do feel however, that all the effort is not necessarily augmented by the advertising, and the latest example of this is for a celebration starting tomorrow in the municipio de Valga – the Eel and Aguardiente festival. Unfortunately, once again, the photo that they have chosen to publicise the event is possibly not the most attractive or mouth watering…..
Now I’m sure that the eels are actually quite delicious, but what is it they say? It’s all in the presentation, and that we also ‘eat with our eyes’, but to be brutally honest if I was undecided as to where to spend my day out, I wouldn’t necessarily be attracted by this publicity shot. I think that they look like large grey worms, or is that just me?
Last week the bodega was closed for a short break before our busiest time of year. At this stage there is little that can be done in the vineyards, and so we take advantage to give our team a chance to re-charge their batteries before the main event – our harvest! Or at least that is the theory….. the reality is that most of our team were working.
It’s a bit of a convoluted story, and revolves around one very important piece of bodega equipment. Our ‘cold machine’. I suppose I should really call it our refrigeration unit, but in our daily conversations it is simply known as the cold machine. This super important piece of kit actually does two jobs: This is the machine that we use to chill the wine to below freezing for cold stabilisation (to prevent the formation of tartrate crystals in the finished wine), and most importantly (at this time of year), it forms the very heart of our temperature control system, without which the fermentation would simply career out of control. So, how does this relate to our holidays I hear you ask? Let me quickly explain.
In the period leading up to the harvest we have all our equipment serviced, including of course, the cold machine, and whilst we have refrigeration engineers here in Galicia, none of them really specialise in wine equipment. Probably the best company in Spain is based in Barcelona, and they are so highly sought after in the wine business that you don’t tell them when they should come, they tell you when they’re available. On this occasion the only time that they could come to Galicia was during our scheduled closure, and this left us with no choice – consequently many of our team have been working to accommodate them.
It transpires that we needed much, much more than a simple service. Many of the component parts and systems had been ‘cobbled together’ by different engineers over the years, so much so that our beloved machine was almost an accident waiting to happen! The result is that more than a week later the engineers are still here, and by the time they leave, we will almost have a completely new machine. Heaven only knows what all this will cost, but suffice to say that this piece of equipment is so central to our entire wine making process, that it is a simply a price that we have to pay.
It’s almost exactly two years since I wrote about ‘green harvesting’, and the summer of 2015 is no different. Over the last few weeks our guys have been out in the vineyards removing excess bunches. The reasoning behind this is quite simple – the lower the yield, the better the quality. Removing a few bunches on each vine helps to concentrate the energy of the plant into the remaining fruit – a big harvest is rarely a beautiful harvest.
To date the 2015 growing season has been quite favourable, with plenty of warm sunny weather. August is proving to be a few degrees cooler than July, when temperatures often hovered in the upper 20′s C (between 77° and 86°F). Having said that, the one thing they both have in common is the lack of rainfall. I think it’s true to say that the last prolonged period of ‘real’ rain (as opposed to light drizzle) was back in mid-May, nearly three months ago. On our local motorways the signs above the carriageways warn of the high risk of forest fires, whilst our local tourist industry benefits from the crowds packing onto our beautiful beaches.
I have just read a very interesting article about the importance of colour in food production. For example, the hue of orange juice is carefully measured, and in the United States there is even a juice colour standard for producers (or should that be color?). In terms of colour standards it would appear that fruit and vegetables are at the top of our list, and I’m sure that it’s true to say that our purchasing choices are often dictated by what we see – those bright red strawberries, vibrant orange carrots or perhaps that head of vivid green broccoli. If the colours were slightly washed out, or perhaps even completely wrong, would we then still buy the goods? For instance, I think I am correct in saying that when carrots were first introduced they were not orange, but white, and that they still exist in colours such as red, purple or yellow. But would we buy a yellow carrot? I’m not so sure. Now, this fact leads me fact leads me quite neatly to the real point of my post….. Does the colour change your perception of taste?
Tests carried out seem to suggest that it does. It appears that a type of ‘taste expectation’ from what we see, can actually determine what we perceive in our mouth. For example, in a taste test, when a lime-flavored drink was coloured orange, nearly half of participants thought it was flavoured orange, and when blindfold, hardly any identified the taste at all! But then it appears that colour can actually play an even bigger role when we change either the presentation or even the receptacle used. Respondents said that strawberry mousse tasted better from a white round plate than it did from a black square one, and that coffee in a white mug tasted less sweet than in a transparent or blue mug! The hypothesis goes further, whereby even the strength or hue of lighting can have an influence on taste…..
So how does this concept extend to wine? If you add red colouring to a white wine, will it taste different? Or if you can’t see it at all, will you even be able to determine if it’s red or white? I would certainly like to think that I could tell, but I’m sure that there still exists an opportunity for confusion. We certainly have a tendency to prejudge a wine by what we see. When seeing a white wine with a very deep colour or orange hue, we might immediately start to imagine that it could be either sweet, or perhaps oxidised, even before we have got it anywhere near our nose or mouth. Colouring our taste expectation you might call it.
Of course we would normally drink wine from a white clear glass, as the first, visual phase of the tasting process is extremely important, but imagine if the wine glass was opaque, or perhaps even coloured, how much would that influence what you taste? Certainly food (or wine) for thought.
I have been in the UK for a week, and unfortunately I have missed one of my favourite tastings of the year. The tunnel of wine tasting at this year’s albariño festival, where nearly all the wines of our denomination are lined up under one roof. For me, this is by far the best opportunity to assess the quality of the latest vintage. Of course you can read all the reviews, recommendations and ratings that you like, but the only real way to know is to taste for yourself! To be quite honest, I don’t always agree with the official ratings anyway, quite apart from the fact that they can only provide a very generalised overview, whereas a detailed tasting can reveal good and bad in every vintage.
The tunnel of wine is by far the most civilised way to taste wine during the five day festival, and offers a much more comprehensive selection than the festival area itself. As I have mentioned in previous years, the festival area can become very ‘animated’ in the evenings, and is certainly not a suitable location for serious wine tasting. So the conclusion is quite simple – serious tasters and professionals should use the tunnel – drinkers and party-goers the festival area.
By the way, this years festival could go down as the longest in history. The official website actually advertises the festival as running from 29th June to 2nd August (instead of 29th July to 2nd August)!!
Well, to be honest, I’m not quite sure if today’s post is ironic or not. Ironic is one of the most misused words in our dictionary, and more especially in the dictionary of Alanis Morrisette! There is actually quite a subtle difference in definition between what is ironic and what is simply poetic coincidence, so please chose whichever one you think is correct for this story….
Yesterday evening I was thinking that I should write about the near drought conditions that we have here in Galicia at the moment. It was probably back in the middle of May that we had any period of sustained rainfall. True, we have had a couple of odd, cloudy, damp days with just a bit of drizzle, but nothing more than that for over two months. So where’s the irony in that? Of course you can probably guess the answer to that question…… When I opened our shutters this morning, it had been raining, or at least the ground appeared to be quite wet. It’s not actually raining as I write, but we are still shrouded in low cloud and have that horrible misty rain hanging in the air, so I have no idea whether it was heavy rain or just another short shower, followed by drizzle. As far as I’m aware it wasn’t forecast and the predictions say that we will return to warm sunshine within a matter of hours.
Meanwhile, in our vineyards, the consequence of all this warm, dry weather is that the maturity of our fruit has been accelerated quite considerably, and so instead of a predicted harvest date of mid-late September, we are now making preparations for picking to start nearer to the beginning of the month. Let’s see where we go from here.
At the end of May I spent a couple of days in a hot and humid New York City. The prime reason for my visit was a tasting of Rias Baixas wines, but I also spent some time pounding the baking city streets with the sales team of our importer, and an odd moment or two with the press. In a restaurant situated directly beneath the New York High Line I had lunch with wine journalist Lana Bortolot. (For those who don’t know the High Line a raised walkway running parallel to the Hudson River, down the west side of the city, built on a 1.5 mile section of disused railroad track. Certainly a fabulous place to visit, if only to admire the outstanding landscaping of perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees, and to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a moment).
Lana’s article appeared in the July issue of the U.S. magazine The Tasting Panel where she made some very kind comments about our two 2013 wines that she tasted. Describing our A2O as having a “shimmering sweetness”, and our Castro Martin Family Estate with its “drink me now freshness and distinctive salinity”. Exactly as we intended.
In the guide books of Galicia you might read that the region is more or less divided in two – the Rias Baixas (the lower rivers or estuaries) and the Rias Altas (the higher rivers or estuaries). The regulated wine producing area is located entirely in the Rias Baixas, and quite obviously, is why our denomination assumes that name. The D.O. is then sub-divided into zones, stretching from the Miño river in the south (that forms the border with Portugal), to the Ulla in the North, which is not too far from Santiago de Compostela.
Although the distances from north to south are not that great (we are in the northern zone of Salnés, and yet only about 60km north of the Portuguese border), there is still quite a lot of variation in the styles of wine produced. Generally speaking, the wines from the north are lean, vivacious with a fresh acidity, whereas the southern wines tend to be a bit fatter, softer and have a lower acidity.
The point of my story is however, probably more about microclimate. Our bodega is located close to the Ria de Arousa, near Cambados, whilst our home is just 12km further south on the Ria de Pontevedra (one ‘estuary’ lower down the coast). When I left our wine cellar yesterday at 4pm to drive home, the shade temperature in front of the building was 32°C (87°F), but as I started my journey I noticed that the thermometer in my car was dropping quite rapidly. By the time I had driven the 12km to my house the temperature had dropped to a refreshing 22°C (71°F) – a difference of 10°C (15°F). And the reason?…. A sea fog. During the day a dense curtain of mist had rolled slowly up the Ria de Pontevedra, shrouding the entire area in a veil of cooling cloud, completely preventing the sun from penetrating until the late afternoon. Not only did this fog create the dramatic difference in temperatures, but it is also the very same fog that occasionally hangs over our vineyards and is said to add a little saline character to our fruit….. You can really taste the sea!
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