Draught BeerYou will probably already know that I am quite keen on cooking – a frustrated chef if you will. To be honest, cooking is an extremely common pastime in the wine trade, very obviously because of the close relationship between food and wine.

Sometimes when I am bored or just need to clear my head, I cook (and also when it’s time to eat). At home I do nearly all the cooking and most of the food shopping, quite simply because I enjoy it – to me it’s almost therapeutic. In addition to this I sometimes do ‘batch’ cooking, making several portions of a dish, vacuuming them in individual servings, and freezing them. Batch cooking is usually reserved for very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when the house is quiet. I stream an English talk radio station over the internet, roll my sleeves up, and get stuck in!

In my kitchen I confess to owning a small draught beer machine (which can be filled with several different brands of beer sold in tiny ‘barrels’). The brands available might not be the best on the market, but the machine itself suits my needs in that it keeps the beer nicely chilled, and that you can draw off as much or as little as you want – if you need a small top-up, then no problem. It works very well.

The point is that whilst I am cooking (at meal times) I will nearly always have a glass of beer on the worktop beside me. Perhaps it’s because the cooking process stimulates my taste buds, or maybe it’s just that I developed the habit, but a nice ‘cold one’ slips down very nicely thank you. It has however, created a dilemma. What do you do when you are cooking at 9am on a Sunday morning and you suddenly fancy a beer? Is this new habit turning me into an alcoholic?!!

Need a hand?

March 8th, 2017

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9 handA week or so ago it was a mystery fish – today it is a ‘helping’ hand. So what does this all mean? What is the significance of today’s hand, who does it belong to, and how does it relate to our wines? Well, it’s just another piece of our artistic puzzle, and in a month or two all will be revealed…..

 

 

 

 

Posted in Local News, Oddballs

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

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