Vulcan wineI was recently sitting in a small village restaurant, grabbing a quick ‘menu’ lunch, to the inevitable accompaniment of the television in the corner of the room. The regional news was interviewing a local winemaker, who they were reporting makes the only vegan wine in Galicia! (I should immediately point out that wine classified as vegan is not to be confused with biological, biodynamic or even ‘natural’ wine).

A couple of months ago I made my own discreet investigation into biological and biodynamic wines by speaking directly to the Technical Director of our D.O. I simply asked him how many wines or bodegas are legally certified as such?

His reply was quite unequivocal. There is only one certified biodynamic vineyard in the whole region, but the wine made from these grapes is not…. biodynamic grape growing and biodynamic wine making are two completely different things and are certified independently of one another. To summarise, biological or biodynamic wine of the D.O. Rias Baixas do not exist at the time of writing.

Vegan is however, a whole different classification, and you could easily be forgiven for assuming that all wines might potentially be suitable for vegans. The problem is that there are quite a number of fining agents (commonly used to precipitate out the haze-inducing molecules), that are prohibited in vegan products – casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). Fining, or clarification, leaves the wine clear and bright and is often enhanced by a final filtration that adds a bit of extra ‘polish’ to the finished wine.

The good news for vegans is that these days there are an increasing number of wine makers (including Castro Martin) who are using clay-based fining agents such as bentonite – particularly efficient at fining out unwanted proteins. Activated charcoal can also be used to produce vegan friendly wines.

So I am pleased to confirm that vegans can safely drink Castro Martin wines, happy in the knowledge that they will live long and prosper!

Rain Man!

February 28th, 2017

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ChoivaThe last couple of times I have mentioned the Galician weather in recent weeks something strange has happened… Call it “Sod’s Law” or whatever you will, whenever I have mentioned how dry it has been in our area, it has almost immediately started raining! Of course this could be a very useful trick if it worked every time – for example, I constantly wrote how dry it had been last summer, but unfortunately to no avail. The other upside would be that I could control the elements from my computer keyboard rather than doing a silly rain dance in the middle of our vineyards. (Not a pleasant mental image).

The rain is forecast to be with us for the rest of the week, and so it will certainly put a bit of a ‘damper’ on all the local Carnival celebrations that we have scheduled over the coming days. For those who are celebrating I wish you a “Happy Fat Tuesday”!

(By the way, the message on the motorway gantry in today’s photo is written in Galician – but we get the gist)

Posted in Oddballs, Weather

Craggy Range, Hawke's BayHaving been in the wine business for so long, and having travelled so much, it’s inevitable that I have befriended one or two wine makers around the world. Happily, I am still in contact with quite a number of them. We don’t always chat about wine, but at this time of year my friends in the Southern Hemisphere, have only one thing on their minds – the 2017 harvest.

On the other side of the world (geographically opposed to our location here in North West Spain), is Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. Christchurch has had a pretty tough time in recent years – a series of damaging earthquakes, followed this year by drought and forest fires. Very recently hundreds of residents around the city had to be evacuated, 11 homes were destroyed and one pilot was killed when his firefighting helicopter crashed whilst dropping water.

The relevance of this story is that the summer of 2017 in New Zealand has been warm, dry and windy, and they had been anticipating a very good harvest. In the last few days however, one or two areas have suffered some rainfall, but fingers crossed, this will not be enough to do any lasting damage to the fruit – only time will tell. (Don’t forget that this weather pattern very much mirrors our own experience here in 2016).

Meanwhile, out in our own vineyards, we have just about broken the back of this winter’s pruning. Until now, our  2017 weather has been mostly dry, and apart from one short, wet period during the first two weeks of February, the sun has continued to shine. Last week our daytime temperatures were pushing 20°C (68°F), which to be honest, although very pleasant, is really just a bit too warm for this time of year.

Something fishy?

February 20th, 2017

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9 fishSpoiler alert: Is there something “fishy” happening at Castro Martin? Well, perhaps fishy might not be the correct terminology, because it’s really more a question of some changes that we have in the pipeline. Don’t worry, we’re not talking about personnel (I’m not retiring just yet), but just some ‘upgrades’ to different parts of our business. If you want to keep abreast of new developments then you will simply have to watch this space!

Posted in Local News, Oddballs

OrujoAs a former buyer I am quite used to many a serious tasting in the early part of the day…. but these were always tastings of wine. The secret was, and still is, always to start with a fresh, untainted palate (avoiding such things as fresh orange juice at breakfast, and rinsing well with water after using toothpaste etc). Yesterday however, was quite different – a tasting of aguardientes – licor and orujo of Galicia (based mainly around distillations of albariño grape skins).

You may remember seeing pictures of our pomace (grape skins) being collected in containers after pressing, ready to be sent to the distillery. Perhaps what many people don’t realise is that we actually sell small amounts of the resulting aguardiente under our Casal Caeiro label. Despite the fact that the sale of these few bottles doesn’t represent an important part of our turnover, we still continue with our quest for quality, constantly re-examining and reviewing what we do. As a consequence of this policy we are now investigating a new, super quality distillery, and in keeping with all such important decisions, the first step is always to visit and taste the product!

This gold-medal winning distillery certainly didn’t disappoint, with a very high quality of orujo and licors throughout the range. From the pure, refined and beautifully clean Orujo de Galicia, to the soft, creamy, almost buttery licor tostada, macerated with caramel (a caramel made at the distillery). Another highlight of the licors was the delicious coffee blend, which oozed the authentic flavour of freshly roasted coffee beans. Delicious.

Now we just await the tariff, before we (most probably) embark on a complete overhaul of our modest licor selection.

Posted in Galicia, Tasting

Wine slurpersThis week we have bottled a couple of tanks to replenish our depleted bottle stocks. At the start of every bottling I always take a sample directly from the machine just to make one final check on the quality of the wine. Today, however, I learned something quite new about tasting!

After many years as a buyer, and even more years in the wine business in general, I’m afraid to admit that I’m a bit of a slurper…. Well, what I actually mean is that when I taste wine I always draw in air over my tongue in order to oxygenate the wine a little and hopefully increase the taste sensation in my mouth. Other people are ‘rinsers’ (washing the wine around their mouth as they taste, rather like using a mouthwash), but I am very much a member of the Ancient Confrerie of Wine Slurpers. Of course the problem is that it becomes something of an occupational habit, and I have been known to do it, quite loudly, in the middle of a busy restaurant. Naturally, this can attract some rather odd stares from neighboring tables, who probably believe that I am just some sort of wine snob who wants to show off a bit (either that or I am having serious problems with my false teeth)!

So, what was so new about my tasting after all these years? Well, when I work on a bottling I normally wear special foam earplugs to protect against the noise. Eight hours of whiring machines and rattling bottles will more than likely give you a headache, or at the very least, ringing in your ears. Anyway, the point is that I forgot to take the earplugs out when I went to taste, and I can tell you that the noise was quite an eye opener (or should that be ear opener?) To be quite honest the loud slurping noises were very, very distracting and made it quite impossible to concentrate on the real job in hand. Suffice to say that I had to remove the plugs and start again. In conclusion this is not a tasting technique that I would recommend to anyone.

Posted in Odds & Sods, Tasting

Wine marriageIn our business we often talk about the ‘marriage’ of food and wine, but I have always maintained that this is often a matter of personal taste. There can sometimes be an element of wine snobbery attached to pairing food and wine, but happily as consumers, we don’t always have to agree with the experts and so if we prefer, can make our own wine choices.

Don’t get me wrong, sommeliers do a fine job, and will often help consumers tiptoe their way through the minefield of an extensive wine list. Wine ‘flights’ were, and still are, another alternative (nearly always offered to accompany the chef’s own tasting menu). These are simply a selection of hand-picked wines, served by the glass, specifically chosen to ‘marry’ with each dish on the menu. Some selections will be International encompassing wines from around the world, whereas some might be a selection of local wines, chosen specifically to accompany a menu highlighting local produce.

Of course the beauty of a wine flight is that it offers the opportunity to taste several different wines, possibly every one a new experience, and not least of all, that each one will make the perfect accompaniment to the food. But what happens when they’re not??

A while ago I ate at a top Galician restaurant (which shall remain nameless for purposes of this story) and selected their best tasting menu. I was offered a choice of two different wine flights, one basic and one more ‘up-market’. I opted for the better one of the two, including five glasses of ‘superior quality’ Galician wines. Of the five wines I thought that two were very good and went well with the dishes. The third, a floral, honeyed white blend from the D.O. of Monterrei was served with a dark, rich, slow-braised cheek of beef. Sorry to say, but this selection was simply not a ‘marriage’ in any way, shape or form….

The final two wines were just….. well, poor and not very well made. A Rias Baixas red, made from a blend of Pedral, Souson and Espadeiro was just unripe and highly volatile – sour and unpleasant. Then finally a “dessert” wine (I use inverted commas deliberately), made I believe, from a late-harvest albariño. Only 9% alcohol, watery, hardly any concentration or viscosity and completely lacking body – ordinary at best, and certainly not memorable in any way. Oh dear!

On one final, more positive note, the food was outstanding and I will certainly be back there soon. It goes without saying however, that the next time I will be making my own wine selections!

Posted in Food & Wine, Tasting

Weather addendum

February 3rd, 2017

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FloodedOnly one week ago I mentioned that the weather had been very dry, far too dry for this time of year. And yes, more or less the following day the inevitable happened – the heavens opened. Since then there have been a few days of light rain, but also a couple of days with significant downpours and the odd bit of thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure. Today strong winds have also joined the party!

Great for the vineyards, but maybe not so great for our guys working out there, pruning our pergolas with driving rain in their faces….

Posted in Vineyards, Weather

LanguageLet me start by admitting that my Spanish is quite appalling. Considering that I been living in this country for so long it is clear that I should be speaking the language like a native (well, maybe not Galician, but certainly Castellano). The truth is that I am lazy, and I expect everyone in our office to speak perfect English like what I do! Our guys in the bodega, maybe not, but our office team certainly. My other problem is that I have satellite channels on my TV – in English, and so even when I am at home I am not learning any new vocabulary……

I’m happy to say that Paula (who is comparatively new to our office), is setting the example by attending English classes to improve her understanding. OK, so she is a good deal younger than me, and still benefits from the mental capacity to learn new things, whilst I conveniently cower behind the old adage of “old dog, new tricks”.

She explained to me that she recently had an exam of her spoken English, and so I asked her how it went. I was a bit surprised when she told me that the subjects allocated for this conversation (with no prior warning) were ‘consumerism in developed versus old economies’ and the ‘pros and cons of volutarism’. Wow! Even as a fluent English speaker (more or less!), I think that even I would struggle with these subjects, not to mention that it really requires quite a bit of specialised vocabulary in order to cope well.

To be honest I thought it slightly ridiculous, and that it would make far more sense to allocate topics more closely related to our daily lives. Of course, I can also add this example to my list of excuses for not attending Spanish classes!!

Posted in Bodega, Odds & Sods

BiodynamicA week or so ago I wrote about tasting the tanks of our 2016 wines, and the fact that that I had decided to taste them on a day determined by my 2017 Biodynamic tasting calendar. I have mentioned this calendar on previous occasions, but just to recap quickly, it suggests that wine will taste differently on different days of the month according to the phases of the moon. The best days are known as ‘fruit’ or ‘flower’ days, the bad days are ‘leaf’ or ‘root’.

I confess that I originally stumbled upon this idea more or less by accident, when I often imagined that our wines appeared to taste better on certain days of the week, but couldn’t really pinpoint the reason why. I subsequently read about the theory of tasting cycles and the biodynamic calendar, and despite remaining sceptical, decided to buy a copy. Of course, the power of suggestion is very strong, and we can all be influenced or have our perception changed by having a certain idea being offered to us in advance. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I find that this concept works for me, and the days that I chose to taste are now more often than not decided by a quick glance at the calendar. And I am not the only one – large organisations such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, as well as important cellars such as Pol Roger and Maison Joseph Drouhin also use this calendar as a point of reference.

The reason that I am revisiting this subject now is simply because a New Zealand scientific study into the Biodynamic calendar has just been published. “The findings reported in the present study provide no evidence in support of the notion that how a wine tastes is associated with the lunar cycle,” the researchers concluded. The methodology was simple – 19 New Zealand wine professionals making blind tastings of 12 Pinot Noirs, four times, twice on a fruit day and twice on a root day, using 20 descriptors including  aroma, taste and mouthfeel. They concluded that the lunar cycle did not influence their perceptions. (I should mention that atmospheric pressure was also taken into account as some believe that this can also influence taste).

Perhaps the surprising point is that despite these findings, some wine professionals (including MW’s) say that they still retain their faith in support of the calendar… including me!

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