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!
OK, I know that I sometimes poke fun at the local fiestas, under the banner of “any excuse to celebrate”, but even I was a bit puzzled by the latest – the Ribadeo Festival of India. Perhaps all the ideas for fiestas have finally been used up – chicken, sardine, cocido and even the odd Oktoberfest, but India? As far as I’m aware many Spanish people don’t even like very spicy food! For example, there have been several Indian restaurants popping up locally in recent years, but then they have all disappeared, almost as quickly as they arrived.
I’m actually quite a big curry fan, and regularly make them for myself during the winter months. I say for myself, because although Angela loves the smell, she finds even my very ‘mild’ versions too hot to digest. I’m afraid I’m just the opposite, I make Madras and Vindaloo in my kitchen, albeit that neither of these two styles originate from India! Madras style is actually a restaurant invention (like the infamous tikka masala), and is really just a hotter version of a standard curry. Vindaloo is a dish of Portuguese origin, which over time was spiced up by the people of the ex-Portuguese colony of Goa. It’s name originates from the two main ingredients which were “vinho”, wine/wine vinegar, and “alhos”, garlic.
I doubt very much if the Spanish will be inventing curry dishes any time soon, although this latest Indian Festival could be a step in the right direction.
After a hard day on a tough mountain stage of the Tour what could be more refreshing than a nicely chilled glass of albariño (or perhaps, as in the case of today’s photo, the whole bottle). I have also seen old photos of cyclists in the saddle drawing on a cigarette as they speed through the countryside – professional cycling has certainly moved on a long way since then!
Every year the Vuelta de España flashes past our door, pretty much in the blink of an eye. I must confess that it has never occurred to me to set up a tasting table at the side of the road, but then thinking about it, trying to grab a wine glass at 60km per hour might just be a bit perilous!
The hot, dry weather continues here in Galicia, albeit that there is a nice fresh wind blowing today keeping the temperature down. Having said that it appears that the sun might have seriously impaired the thinking of some, leaving them to either wrestle wild horses, or perhaps run along the streets whilst being chased by bulls.
Spain is ,of course, the country of fiestas, but the annual calendar has now arrived at ‘silly season’ where man and beast come together by way of some rather odd celebrations. Here in Galicia we have the annual Rapa das Bestas – a ritual that dates back to the 15th Century. This entails wild horses being rounded up from the hillsides and guided into an enclosure in the centre of Sabucedo, simply to have their manes and tails trimmed. On face value quite an easy job, except that the only permitted way to control or subdue the horses is by using brute strength, meaning that the whole festival more or less resembles what can only be described as organised horse wrestling.
Meanwhile, over in Pamplona they have the annual Festival of San Fermin, which includes the daily ‘encierro’ – the simple matter of running through very crowded streets whilst being chased by a herd of bulls. Since 1925, some 15 people have been killed in the process, being either gored or trampled under the hooves of these heavy beasts – the most recent fatality was in 2009. Up to 300 people are injured every year.
I think I’ll stick to the albariño festival, which takes place at the beginning of next month. It gets pretty wild, but I don’t think the risk of injury is quite as high!
We have been pretty tied up at the bodega this week, with a group of visitors from the U.S. market. Our importers Frederick Wildman made their second annual visit to Castro Martin, bringing with them a selection of their regional distributors. The States of New York, California, North Carolina, Maryland, Texas and Tennessee were all represented.
After nearly two days with us I think it would be fair to say that they were well and truly indoctrinated into the ways of Rias Baixas, and more especially those of Castro Martin. Not only did they visit vineyards and the wine cellar, where we conducted various tastings, but they also had the opportunity to taste some of our local dishes, in both traditional and contemporary locations. They even visited the local fish market with one of Galicia’s top chefs, Xosé Cannas, to buy the ingredients and watch their lunch being prepared for them. I believe that this all helped to create a good impression of our region, and hopefully have created nearly a dozen new ambassadors for Castro Martin albariño.
At the end of their visit we did even contemplate holding a small test of what they had learnt, but decided that this might be stretching their newly found enthusiasm just a little too far!
Last week Bodegas Castro Martin welcomed it’s youngest ever visitor…. Our friends Caterina and Robert visited from Oporto (only an hour or two from our door), accompanied by their beautiful new daughter Carolina. She was remarkably well behaved and only made any complaint at meal times, otherwise she enjoyed the full bodega tour, although I should point out that she didn’t participate in any albariño tasting – milk tasting, yes, but no wine at this very tender age! Being born into the wine trade I have no doubt however, that it will only be a matter of time before wine appreciation becomes a big part of Carolina’s daily life.
In the meantime June continues to be extremely dry, I think that we have only experienced only one light shower since the beginning of the month, and possibly for as much as 5 or 6 weeks.
It has always been a great British pastime to complain about the weather, and despite the fact that I’ve just celebrated my 13th anniversary of moving to Galicia, the urge to have a good moan now and again, is still firmly rooted within my DNA. Despite being away at the start of the month I can still tell you that June has been pretty hot and dry, to date, culminating in a weekend of temperatures above the 30°C mark (touching 90°F). Unlike the States, however, Galicia is not tooled up with wall-to-wall air conditioning, and so you largely have no choice but to just grin and bear it, and the nights especially, can be very uncomfortable. Of course I have no right to complain, when we have just enjoyed the very same conditions during the flowering period in our vineyards. At the moment the heat and extended sunshine is actually not too bad for the vines, albeit that eventually we will need a bit of water just to keep things in balance.
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