What value Gold?

November 22nd, 2006

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I have to admit that I have mixed views about the true value of wine competitions, not because we don’t mind winning the occassional gong, but more because the award system itself is often wide open to abuse. I will explain…..

From experience I believe that it is very often the most obvious, young, full-bodied and over-extracted wines that are put forward to win awards. In the case of white wines this can be the wine that is laced with new oak, or one that perhaps retains a suggestion of residual sugar. Entries with any degree of structure, elegance, complexity or even bottle-age can quite easily be lost or overpowered simply because they are not fully understood, or their true underlying potential is not recognised. Of course these more ‘commercial’ styles have their place in educating the novice wine consumer, but on the other hand there should always be space for some award winning wines of subtlety and refinement too.

My second concern is that wine competitions have now become very big business – 1,000’s of wines submitted, with each bottle commanding a substantial entry fee, that can, in some cases, result in a generous profit for the organisers. At times, it must be said, there has also been an “over generous” quota of medals and certificates awarded (regardless of overall quality), simply to keep producers satisfied, justify the fee, and promote continued support.

Finally, there is the problem of the ‘doctored sample’……. Organisers of wine competitions invite producers to send their samples, and it is only human nature that a cellar would wish to submit their very best bottle. This being the case, some unscrupulous wine makers reserve a special tank or barrel of wine that is used exclusively for this purpose, and has nothing to do with the quality of the wine that ends up in your local wine shop. In this way, not only are the judges duped, but also the poor consumer is being cheated out of his bottle of the genuine award winning wine.

In saying all this I must emphasise that this is not sour grapes (pardon the pun), as we have been lucky enough to win our fair share of awards over the years. I guess that what I am trying to suggest is that medals and certificates can be misleading, and do not necessarily guarantee consistent or even outstanding quality.

I can assure you that an odd gold medal will not make our own wine taste any better than it already does! For us at least a great bottle at a reasonable price means so much more.

Footnote: By coincidence this article from the New Zealand Herald was posted on 2nd December 2006, about 10 days after I made this entry.

Another installment from the McCarthy’s soap box series

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A thought for the weekend…….

“Sometimes when I reflect back on all the wine I drink I feel shame. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the vineyards and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this wine, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. Then I say to myself, “It is better that I drink this wine and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.”

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Only the very best…….. Seguin Moreau
The French barrel makers Seguin Moreau have something of a reputation in the wine world, and can be found in many top Burgundy domains, as well as the cellars of some illustrious names, such as Antinori in Italy for example. They can also be found in the humble cellars of Bodegas Castro Martin too!
Indeed, these barrels did not arrive with us by accident – a few years ago Angela and I travelled to Vinitech in Bordeaux to visit Seguin Moreau and make some tastings with them. In this way we could select exactly the type of oak, grain and level of toasting best suited to our wine. Since then we have gradually added a few new barrels each year (on a rotation basis) until we now have 100% Seguin Moreau.
On a recent visit by the Seguin Moreau ‘technician’, he tasted our Vendimia Seleccionada Barrica and was very impressed, and we later sent him a sample bottle. As a result they have now asked if they can show our wine on their stand at Vinitech this year, and of course we did not say no!
Imagine, a French barrel maker showing a Spanish white wine in the heart of French red wine country…… Bordeaux.
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Review by Henrik Oldenburg, Denmark
Winery: Bodega Castro Martín

Wine: Albariño
DO: Rías Baixas
Type: White wine
Elaboration: 100% Albariño

In my opinion, Galicia is for the modern Spanish white wines what Priorato is for the red wines. The wine region north of Portugal has specialized in the white grape Albariño, used as Alvarinho for the best Vinhos Verdes in neighboring Portugal. It is a grape which provides freshness and acidity to the wine – the rest depends on the producer.

This producer is a family business, founded in 1981. Like so many other growers in Galicia, they only possess a few hectares, so they have to buy most of their grapes from other growers. They must have reliable neighbors, for the wine is crispy and challenging, with prominent acidity, but also with a discreet, gentle sweetness which gives a unique balance. The wine comes from the best corner of Galicia: the Rías Baixas.

Matching recommendation: It is no coincidence that this wine is produced in an area with some of the best seafood in Spain. Drink it cooled with lobster, crabs, prawns, mussels – or with anything else that calls for acidity and dry freshness.

Henrik Oldenburg is a master of art and literature, but has written approximately 40 books on wine and food since 1977, among them the world’s largest book on Port and the first book on wines from the southern hemisphere. For his annual Oldenburgs Vinguide he tastes 8-10,000 wines every year. He is the publisher and editor of the Danish gastronomic magazine Smag & Behag and a member of the Danish Gastronomic Academy.

Footnote: Castro Martin is one of only six wines (red and white) selected from the whole of Spain

Click here to see the original article

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Albariño is one of Spain’s great gifts to the wine world. These crisp, floral wines rarely age well, but they’re reasonably priced and go nicely with food.
by Robert Parker
Albariño comes from a cool, wet viticultural area known as Rías Baixas, tucked away in the Galicia region of far northwestern Spain. Its lush landscape is marked by rías, fjord-like inlets that come inland from the Atlantic Ocean. Albariño is the only Spanish wine known by the variety of the grape. If these wines were tagged as others from Spain, they’d be called Rías Baixas.
Albariño wine is a light- to medium-bodied, fragrant, floral white that shows remarkable flexibility with food. Its sharp acidity allows it to pair especially well with seafood, which also happens to be the mainstay of the local cuisine. The wine rarely ages well, so readers should be buying the 2005’s, which are just being released. Here are some of the better examples:
Bodega Castro Martin – 88 points – $20
Aromatically demure, Castro Martin’s albariño explodes on the palate with melon balls, spices, salty minerals, and flowers. This light- to medium-bodied white is satin-textured, expressive, and sports a lengthy finish. $20
Visit www.erobertparker.com or http://images.businessweek.com/ss/06/09/parker_41/source/1.htm

Footnote: I just thought that I would add a comment to put this article into perspective:

Only six albariño were actually mentioned as “better examples”, and although 88 points might not appear to be the highest, please remember that most of Parker’s 90+ scores are awarded to red wines. The highest mark acheived in this selection was 92 points, with only two wines above 90 points – our wine was 4th……
I would also like to challenge the great guru’s assertion that Albariño does not age well – see my blogs of 31st July and 26th August.
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Our smart new gift boxes

Yes, it’s that time of year again – My wife Angela is busy stuffing envelopes with her ‘best ever’ Christmas wine offer, whilst my mum probably already has the brussels sprouts on the stove in anticipation of our Christmas lunch (a very English joke – apologies to any foreign readers).

Seriously though, we have already started to prepare some Christmas orders for shipping – indeed one pallet of Albariño is destined for Australia, and might well be enjoyed on the beach with Christmas lunch – strange but true!

So, here comes the sell…… At the top of this blog is a photo our fine new three bottle gift packs, and in keeping with our image of quality products, they would make a very presentable Christmas gift. (Albariño is highly recommended with Christmas, or even Thanksgiving turkey, not to mention your seafood appetiser). These gift boxes come with a semi-matt wipe-clean coating, and you can find further details on the packaging page of our main website, or if you prefer just drop us an e-mail.

What is it they say? Hurry now while stocks last!!!

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Fermenting must (photo taken at the start of fermentation)

I questioned myself the other day, at what point do I stop writing about grape ‘must’ and start writing about wine? Well, I now have the official answer…..

Apparently it is all to do with density – as the sugar is converted into alcohol the density drops, and then, at the point that the density is less than that of water, it becomes wine rather than ‘must’, or so I am told.

As at today’s date the fermentation is slowly reaching it’s conclusion, as the sugar is almost completely converted into alcohol (and CO2). Typically, when the sugar concentration is around 2g per litre or less then the wine is deemed to be completely dry, and the fermentation finished. For most palates a ‘residual’ sugar of less than 5g per litre is actually quite difficult to detect, but more than 5g can give the impression of a slightly richer wine (the average consumer can easily be seduced by this hint of sweetness). However, one of the downsides of this can be a potentially unstable wine as the remaining sugar can trigger a secondary fermentation in the bottle (done deliberately in the making of Champagne). Of course, in our region, an off-dry wine would simply not be typical of Albariño.

We are still not able to relax during the fermentation, this is a very critical time for us, as we constantly monitor and adjust the temperature according to the level of activity in the tank and the changes in density. If we simply allowed the fermentation to run out of control then we would most likely end up with a fat, flabby wine with a very short shelf life – the exact antithesis of what we are looking for, and nothing to do with Albariño.

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The paddy fields of Galicia

I think I wrote in one of my previous posts that the 2006 harvest was the earliest ever for our Bodega, and also that one of the factors that helped us to decide the start date was impending bad weather. With hindsight I can truly say…….. what a good decision!

Unlike last year, the latter half of September has been very, very wet and if we had picked on the same dates as in 2005, then we would have had real problems. The sad thing is that there are some Bodegas still trying to pick even at today’s date, a nightmare scenario for any grower or winemaker. No doubt there will be some variation in quality this year – in effect a vintage of two halves – those who picked before the rain, and those who picked after.

In our own Bodega our wine continues to ferment slowly under strict temperature control (I have to find out the exact point in it’s vinification that you stop referring to the grape juice as ‘must’, and start calling it wine – no doubt Angela will know) and the only problem that we have encountered recently is to our power supply. It would seem that when our own bodega and our nearest neighbouring bodega are functioning at full capacity then the local transformer has difficulty keeping up, and we suffer occasional power cuts – so much for 21st Century technology (perhaps the Spanish should allow the Germans to buy their power generating Company after all!)

Footnote: The word “paddy” is derived from the Malay word ‘padi’, meaning rice.

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So what is the best type of wine closure?

To be truthful I am a bit bored of writing about picking grapes, so I thought I would have a day off, and write about something much more contentious….. corks and closures! This has been singularly one of the most divisive subjects in the wine industry for a very long time now.

The natural cork industry has lost about 22% of it’s market share and is fighting back with new fangled ideas such as ROSA (Rate of Optimal Steam Application) and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction to eliminate cork taint (please don’t ask me to explain either of these, but suffice to say that they certainly sound very impressive!) At the same time there are many different accusations, claims and counterclaims flying around, and to be honest it’s actually quite difficult to know who to believe.

There is no doubt that screw-cap has made a very big impression, (especially in white wines) to the extent that it is now actually quite difficult to find a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that does not use Stelvin. (Stelvin is a brand name, the ‘Hoover’ of the screw-cap industry, often used to describe the closure itself). Here at Castro Martin we have been asked by a few of our more progressive customers when we are going to start with Stevlin, and my reply is always the same; “one step at a time please”.

After several months of testing back in 2002, we opted for a synthetic closure, and like any type of product, I think I should explain, there are good examples and bad examples. In the case of synthetics there are two main types, extruded and moulded – as the name implies a moulded closure is made in it’s own individual mould, whilst extruded are made as one long continuous ‘sausage’ and then sliced into individual closures. Moulded tend to be more solid and impervious, whereas extruded can be better placed to mimic the behaviour of a natural cork.

We have opted to use one of the best synthetics on the market, and this is not, as some might assume, a way of saving money – it actually does not! The Nomacorc ‘classic’ that we use performs exactly like a natural cork – we do not suffer any premature oxidation (as experienced with some other synthetic brands), and we never have to worry about cork taint. Indeed, only yesterday, we were visited by two top Australian winemakers, and they were completely blown away by a bottle of 2002 that I opened for them.

I rest my case m’lord….
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OK, I admit it, I didn’t take this photo
Today we battened down the hatches in anticipation of Hurricane Gordon (or at least his tail), as he tracked his way across the Atlantic after his Caribbean sojourn. By order of the local government all schools are closed, government offices closed, health centres closed (let’s just hope no one is injured), but we stop short of boarding up the windows of the Bodega.

At 7am I am out on the terrace of my home securing the sheeting on my garden furniture that I have stacked carefully in a sheltered corner. The wind is gathering pace as we brace ourselves for the onslaught, and at 8am the rain comes down – it looks as though the forecast of mayhem might be realised.

Then, an hour or so later it all suddenly disappears, almost as quickly as it didn’t really arrive! By 10am the wind has pretty much stopped, the sky clears, and by lunch time the sun is out. To be honest we experience more severe storms in winter, and so we are left scratching our heads and asking what all the fuss was about? The only beneficaries appear to be the children, enjoying an unexpected days holiday – FIESTA!

Meanwhile, back at the Bodega we are all very busy – some working on the big clean up, trying to rid us of the dreaded grape must that sticks to everything, and spreads everywhere on the soles of your shoes. Others are busy with the wine-making operations – seeding the tanks is all but finished, and many are happily fermenting under strict temperature control.

So far so good, but let’s see how the 2006 wine develops.
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