Bottles come in every shape, size, design and colour…..
except the one that we want!

You may find this difficult to believe but we have an ongoing struggle to buy the exact bottle that we really want for our wines, there always seems to be a problem….

Obviously the first consideration that we make is what is best for our wine – we opt for a dark colour to give the wine some protection against ultraviolet light, which over time will cause damage. We have been asked on occasions if we can produce our wine in a clear (white) bottle, but there are a couple of good reasons why we don’t. Firstly, there is the light problem mentioned above, then there is the aesthetic appearance – Albariño can either look bland and anaemic, or in some vintages, because of it’s golden hue, a little maderised and ‘over the hill’. And then finally, clear glass is simply more expensive as it is very difficult to make out of re-cycled glass (most re-cycled glass is coloured because of impurities).

The second criteria when chosing a bottle is that of appearance – it is of paramount importance to have a good presentation befitting the quality of your product. Today there is an overwhelming selection of shapes and colours to chose from, but for numerous reasons we have opted to follow the classic route, chosing a ‘prestige’ Bordeaux shape. In Rias Baixas the bottle traditionally used was the old Rhine shape, but unfortunately this was not always the most practical for storing in a wine cooling cabinet. Some people also consider this to be a little old fashioned.

So, having selected the shape, we then have to select the shade that we want. Our preference would be a very dark green (4th from the left in the photo above). However, actually obtaining a quality bottle of this colour in our part of Spain has proven to be a real nightmare.

We have surfed the catalogues of Spanish, Portuguese and even French producers, but finding the right quality at a reasonable price has proved to be almost impossible. In Portugal we did actually locate a supplier who produced what appeared to be the perfect bottle, so naturally we rushed to place our order. On first sight they looked perfect, but then we tried to bottle with them….. I should tell you at this point that in bottle production temperature is a critical factor, and if they are not cooled correctly, or to quickly, then this makes the glass very brittle, no matter what the weight of the bottle. And yes, you’ve guessed it…. a great looking bottle, but one which had a tendency to explode on our bottling line. (Broken glass on your bottling line is one of your biggest nightmares for obvious reasons).

So, I apologise unreservedly to all our customers who live with the subtle changes in the colour of our bottle as we search (so far in vain) for the perfect supplier. If anyone reading this blog can recommend a good bottle producer – preferably in Spain – then we would be delighted to hear from you.

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Caeiro vineyard – May 2004

Caerio vineyard today – June 2007

Vineyards in Galicia are like gold dust, and very difficult to come by. This is not because of a shortage of land, or even suitable sites, but it is simply that you need to have permission to plant, and this is the problem.

With the EU actively discouraging the planting of new vineyards in order to control the overall volume of production in Europe, the only way that new planting is allowed is by buying permission – effectively buying the right to plant from another area where a vineyard has been grubbed up. This may not necessarily be from within Galicia, but could be just as easily from La Mancha or Navarra. Strange as this may seem, these are the rules….

The photographs above show the progress of our vineyard here at the Bodega (approx one hectare). The first shot taken in 2004, about a year after the vines were planted, and then the same view from 2007. The vines are now more or less in production, and at harvest time we will carefully sift through the grapes to perhaps include a few of the best.

At the moment the pergolas in Caeiro are not fully completed, and during this winter we will add the tubes that are suspended between the posts in order to train the vines overhead.
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Albariño – great with octopus (but perhaps not the blue-ringed variety!)

Before I start I should mention that there is a page covering gastronomy on our main website, but I thought that with the summer looming, and foreign holidays booked, now would be a good time to write a little about food and wine.

The first thing to remember about matching food and wine is to forget any hard and fast rules. Forget about complicated systems for selecting the right wine to enhance the food on the table. This is not rocket science. It’s common sense.

Some of today’s food-and-wine advisers might suggest that mediocre wines can be improved by serving them with the right food – not true (albeit that drinking a poor wine with a chicken vindaloo might prove me wrong!) So, the first rule is to pick a good wine – and this is where common sense part comes in….. The old rule about white wine with fish and red wine with meat made perfect sense in the days when white wines were nearly always light and fruity and red wines were heavy and tannic, but today this does not always apply. And furthermore, you have to take into account the way in which your meal is prepared – for example, is it served with a cream sauce, does it have citrus flavours or is it heavily spiced?

In the case of Albariño the most obvious matches, for this clean, refreshing white grape are the local specialities of Galicia – fresh fish and seafood (best served with the minimum culinary intervention). Surprisingly, it may also be recommended with less obvious foods such as goat’s cheese, and it works well with most white meats, again depending on how they are prepared. Oriental food is also worth exploring with Albariño, especially Japanese and many Dim-Sum Chinese dishes – but do take care with Thai food as many dishes might prove to be a little too spicy.

I think that perhaps in the future I may include some specific recipes, all of which will be tried and tested at home. So, as they say, watch this space….

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Coup de grass

June 8th, 2007

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Flowering has passed safely

After yet more travelling we have just returned to review the results of this years flowering (which had already started just before we left). The weather this spring has been changeable to say the least, and a good deal cooler than the last couple of years. We have also witnessed more rainfall during the winter, continuing on and off, more or less until now – indeed, the forecast for the coming week is for more of the same, and we are nearly half way through June!

Having said all that, the flowering seems to have passed relatively unscathed, and we will eagerly wait to see what the summer brings….

Apart from the obvious risk of disease there is another downside to this type of weather – the grass in the vineyards grows quite vigorously, and this means more time on the tractor cutting. You may recall that we do not use herbicides in our vineyards, which might mean that they are not as ‘manicured’ as some, but which in the long term is better for the soil and for the vines themselves.

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Just a few of the huge granite boulders

I recently wrote about “terroir”, and that one of the factors influencing the Albariño of the Salnes Valley was the soil – giving our wine a distinct minerality and steely backbone.

Risking life and limb to illustrate the point I pulled on to the hard shoulder of the local Via Rapida (which is undergoing a major upgrade to give it full motorway status) and quickly snapped a few photos of the soil and rocks.

Above you can see some of the huge number of granite boulders that have been excavated, and which no doubt have slowed the digging work considerably. Below you have a clear cross section that illustrates not only the sand soils, but also the layers of rock below the surface. The Albariño vine clearly thrives on this, and as witnessed in many wine regions of the world, has to dig deep to find nutrients.

The sand and rock typical of the Salnes Valley

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Irish tastings

May 21st, 2007

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Angela discovers Guinness in one of Dublin’s oldest bars

You may have noticed a lack of posts recently, and this is simply because we have been living out of a suitcase in Ireland. Our importer recently held a series of tastings, both north and south of the border, in Belfast, Dublin and Cork – and it was a real voyage of discovery.

Not only was it an opportunity for the Irish people to learn about our Albariño, but as it turned out, it was also a chance for my wife to discover one of Ireland’s national treasures….. Guinness! I have to say that I too enjoyed the odd pint, and I can truthfully say that it tastes much better drinking it in it’s country of origin. Of course your memory of a wine (or stout) can easily be influenced, and it reminds me of the tourist who enjoys his first sip of Provence Rosé whilst sitting on a sun-soaked beach in St Tropez, eating his delicious Niçose salad. When he tastes the very same wine for a second time on a grey, wet day in Brighton it doesn’t taste quite the same.

I was also tempted to introduce Angela to another Guinness based drink – Black Velvet (a very potent cocktail of Guinness and Champagne) but I will maybe I will leave that for another ocassion. Hmmm…. I wonder if Guinness and Albariño would work? Perhaps not!

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Seems like an orderly arrangement…. taken from the UK highway code
Firstly allow me to apologise for the title of this post, it is not intended to offend – it is simply that roundabouts are known as ‘Glorietas’ here in Spain, and it might be worth saying a quick prayer before trying to negociate one!

My post today clearly has nothing to do with wine, but is intended as more of a public service to those who might be planning a road trip to Spain (and not only those who wish to visit our Bodega).

The first thing you must know is that roundabouts are only a fairly recent addition to the Spanish road system, and appear to be springing up at nearly every junction where two roads meet. (I have to assume that the traffic ministers deem them to be safer than crossroads or traffic lights, but I regret to say, this is simply not the case!) The problem appears to be that the older generation of drivers were simply not educated as to how to deal with them, and the younger generation are being educated in what seems to be a fairly bizzare fashion. Take for example the illustrations below, taken from a brochure designed specifically to help negociate roundabouts.

What exactly does this mean – are you confused?

The next picture shows how to turn right when approaching from the wrong lane…… make a full circuit and only exit when you start to feel dizzy!

Not the simplest way to turn right!

OK, so what’s the point of this message? Simply that you should forget what you have learned in your own country and approach roundabouts with extreme caution – do not expect other drivers to stop even when you think they should, and beware of drivers crossing in front of you from the wrong lane.

Do take care when driving in Spain, and remember my motto – Expect the unexpected.

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It’s true that there is a lot of snobbery in wine drinking, and we are probably all guilty of a bit of name dropping, or using the odd oenological phrase to demonstrate our knowledge. One such phrase that is sometimes used, and often abused within the wine world is the French expression
‘Terrior’ – and this does not simply mean soil or region as our dictionary might suggest.

In the world of wine ‘terroir’ can refer to any number of elements – not simply region and soil, but it can also include aspect, climate, grape variety and even the wine making technique itself. In addition to ‘terroir’ we then have the term ‘microclimate’, which can be used to narrow a vine growing region down to tiny areas or even individual vinyeards.

There is no doubt that these varying physical conditions will have an influence on the fruit (even if the same varietal), and will therefore modify the resulting wine. And after all, most wine makers worth their salt will explain that at least 90% of quality is created in the vineyard.

Within the Rias Baixas denomination, there are literally hundreds of different microclimates (which is really as a result of the way in which our tiny vineyards are distributed). However, at the risk of making sweeping generalisations, there are actually two main criteria that tend to produce distinctly different styles of Albariño. These are climate and soil…..

Although our denomination stretches barely 100km (60 miles) from North to South there can be quite significant differences in the weather, with the South being up to 1° or 2°C warmer. The South is also considerably drier – especially the inland areas of Rosal that do not enjoy quite the same refreshing maritime influences. Away from the sea summer temperatures can actually be several degrees warmer.

Rias Baixas North (sub regions – Valle de Salnés & Ribeira del Ulla)
As one would imagine the wines from the cooler Northern zones are usually not as heavy, and have marginally lower alcohol than those from the South. They have the steely, zesty, almost salt like qualities, tight structure and ‘nervosity’ often found in cool climate wines – in other words many of the attributes normally associated with the Albariño grape variety. This style is also influenced by the high concentration of granite in the sub-soil of the area that can provide an extra touch of minerality to the quality of the wine.

Rias Baixas South (sub regions – Soutomaior, Condado de Tea & El Rosal)
The additional heat of the South also provides extra sugar, and therefore alcohol – the resulting wines tend to be a little more full bodied and slightly heavier. It could be said that this fuller style is in some ways a little atypical of Albariño, and might not be the choice of the purist (I sometimes compare this to the differing styles of Chablis available from France). The sandy soils and alluvial deposits from the Miño river on the Portuguese border do not give the same mineral structure as the Northern wines, and they can sometimes be softer with lower acidity.

Of course, the wine making technique of each individual cellar will have a huge influence on the quality and style of the finished wine. And in addition, there are also cellars that buy a ‘mix’ of Albariño grapes from different sub zones in order to balance their wine, and perhaps add acidity where it may be lacking.

As I have said many times before, tasting is purely subjective and in the end it is your own tastebuds that will help you decide the style of Albariño that you prefer.

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Our traditional ‘Kieselguhr’ filter

One of the great conundrums of wine making is deciding precisely how much filtration your wine requires before bottling. Too little can leave the wine cloudy and possibly unstable, too much and you have a highly polished wine with little or no flavour. Purists may even argue that wines should be bottled without any filtration at all – commercially however, this would be a dangerous decision to make, or at the very least, something of a calculated risk.

In our Bodega we have two types of filter – a Kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) filter, which uses a fine powder of siliceous earth to absorb particles in the wine. In more traditional cellars this is probably the most widely used system – it is not overly agressive and still leaves the wine clean enough to bottle with a reasonable degree of safety.

Our more modern, ‘membrane’ filter

The second type that we have is a ‘membrane’ filter, which as the name implies, uses a physical barrier through which the wine passes, rather like a very fine strainer. The level of filtration is determined by the density of the filter (or filters) used, and this is measured in microns. The finer the filter, the cleaner the wine – but also, possibly, the more bland the wine….

So, deciding the level of filtration is a fine balance – producing a wine that retains character and some body; but a wine that will remain bright and stable in the bottle.

Making a fine wine is not as easy as you might think!

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Well, did you wash your hands on April 1st?

I recently recommended a virtual visit to the Bodega using Google Earth, and as I think I mentioned at the time, this is really quite impressive.

Slightly less impressive was the Prolafiol ‘virtual tasting’ that I recommended a couple of days later….. on April 1st! So, for those of you who did not understand the concept, then please allow me to explain:

Prolafiol is actually an anagram of April Fool, which I’m afraid means that this was just another example of my strange English sense of humour. I therefore apologise to any of my readers who may have spent hours scrubbing their hands and frantically rubbing the screen trying to extract wine odours. (Well, maybe there were just one or two people, you never know).

Actually, here is Spain, they do not ‘celebrate’ April fool’s day on April 1st, but they do have a similar day of practical jokes on December 28th that is known as the Día de los inocentes.

To be truthful, I can’t see my wife Angela planning any dastardly jokes, but don’t say that you haven’t been warned!
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