Fiesta time!

August 5th, 2016

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Tunnel 2016It’s already that time of year again, as we celebrate the LXIV (64th I think) Annual Albariño Festival in our local town of Cambados. If you have read my posts over recent years you will probably know that I am not a great fan of the Festival itself, most especially in the evenings, when it tends to get a little boisterous (and that is being VERY polite). Great if your in your 20’s and want to test your drinking capacity, but certainly not what you would describe as a tasting. It’s just a party, or as some might prefer, celebration.

If you’re a serious professional and want to actually taste (or even just a consumer interested in knowing more and comparing wines), then the place for you is the Tunnel of Wine. Not so much a tunnel, but actually just tables laid out with the wines where you can taste as little or as much as you want, at your own pace. Held in the Salón José Peña in Cambados, it is open for the duration of the Festival, for a couple of hours in the morning and then a couple of hours each evening.

I know I probably say this every year, but for me at least, it is the best opportunity of the year to taste the vast majority of albariños of the vintage under one roof. Yesterday I tackled the first half of the room, about 70 odd wines in two hours, and today I will go back to finish the rest. Of course, the secret (as with all serious tastings), is to make copious notes of each individual wine, and secondly to spit! You might think that spitting is an obvious thing, but I can tell you that yesterday, in a room full of people, I don’t think I actually saw one other person spitting…. Enough said.

Spitting and making notes does however, attract attention, the result being that I was interviewed by one of our local papers, asking my opinion. They quoted me perfectly in this respect, that it is simply the best albariño tasting of the year.

Posted in Fiestas, Tasting

A life at sea

August 1st, 2016

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The WorldCastro Martin already proudly sells wine to cruise ships, including the famous Cunard ‘Queens’, and the new P&O flagship Britannia. In addition to this our wines are now sailing on board a completely unique type of ‘cruise’ ship – The World – a Residence at Sea.

To explain this format in simple terms ‘The World’, at 644ft, is the largest private residential ship on the planet, providing floating luxury accommodation for those who can afford it (and want it). Guests, or should I say residents, of this huge floating home simply spend their whole time sailing around the world, again, and again, and again! The accommodation for each resident is not so much a cabin, but is actually a self contained apartment , with pretty much all the amenities of home – except perhaps the underground parking.

As you might imagine, the ship is loaded from top to bottom with different forms of entertainment – fitness, yoga, swimming, diving, kayaks, golf (the water hazards are quite impressive), and even a full-sized tennis court. Apart from numerous bars and restaurants it also caters for a wide multitude of hobbies (including wine tasting), boasts a cinema and theatre, and also has it’s own library. I am sure that this lifestyle will appeal to some, if not many, enjoying a different view from your window every day, but I’m afraid to admit that it certainly wouldn’t work for me.

On the plus side they do stock a great albariño!

Posted in Business, Travel

Farsons wine shopNot only do our wines appear on various cruise ships around the Mediterranean, but now they are also available on dry land, in the middle of the Med on the island of Malta. Historically one of Europe’s most strategic islands, located between Sicily and the North African coast. Over the centuries it has fallen under the rule of many a different regime and/or country including the Romans, Phoenecians. Moors, Spanish, French and the British, before finally achieving independence in 1964.

Our new customer – the Farsons Group, is not only a wine import company, but also owns a large brewery, manages some very well-known food franchises, and is an important food importer and distributor on the island. We are naturally quite delighted that such an important business has decided to represent our wines.

Of course , with it’s warm Mediterranean climate Malta is the perfect place to enjoy a chilled glass of albariño this summer (or any summer for that matter)!

As this video explains, grape producers and wine makers invest an enormous amount of time and money (not to mention the love and attention), to grow the best fruit and make the best wine, and then entrust it’s entire future to one very small, and yet vital element – the closure. They say that a chain is only as string as it’s weakest link, but in the wine business we should be saying that our wine is only as good as the closure that we chose. So why do some people try to save a few cents by using a mediocre quality cork? The future of your wine depends on it!

Here at Castro Martin we have invested an enormous amount of time and effort in studying this, by testing various types of Nomacorc closures, and then monitoring carefully the almost imperceptible amounts of oxygen that penetrate the cork (using NomaSense equipment). Each type of closure allows different levels of OTR (Oxygen Transmission Rate), and by making various tests we can actually chose the perfect closure for our wine. The wine maker is, in effect, given a further opportunity to actually have an important influence over how their wine evolves (assuming that other storage conditions are constant).

I think this video explains the story quite well.

Wine and Spirit 3No sooner had I written that medals and reviews can sometimes work against you, than we start to pick up new accolades. Within the space of days, a silver medal and a 92 point rating – in two entirely different markets.

In the UK we received a silver medal for our Bodega Castro Martin 2014 at the International Wine & Spirits Competition. (I should quickly mention that no Albariño achieved gold medal status, meaning that we were at the very top of our category – we will have to try harder next time to achieve gold!).

Meanwhile, over in the United States, the Wine and Spirits Magazine (August Issue) just awarded our Castro Martin Family Estate 2014 an impressive 92 points, putting us at the top of their tasting and  listing us as both “Year’s Best Galicia” and “Best Buy”. Their tasting note was as follows:

92, Castro Martin, 2014 ‘Sobre Lias’ Albarino (Best Buy): From 50-year-old vines in Salnes, this wine aged for six months on its lees, developing an unusual combination of juicy pineapple flavor and stoniness. It’s nervous in acidity, tightening around the leesiness to create an intense, savage albarino. Far from the simple and creamy whites that populate Rias Baixas, this explores new territories, its full-on fruit flavors and mineral notes giving a deep and immersive complexity. You can drink it now with fried scallops, or cellar it for two or three years.

As I always say, don’t just take their word for it, buy a bottle and judge for yourself!

TemperaturesIt’s a great British past-time to complain about the weather – too wet, too cold, too windy, too foggy (the famous myth of London weather), or sometimes even too hot! These days it is also quite apparent that there are more extremes of weather around the globe, with both severe flooding, drought, extensive forest fires etc., now becoming much more commonplace.

Until early June our local weather had been pretty miserable. We had endured a cold, wet winter (actually quite normal for Galicia), which extended throughout the spring to the point where we almost had no spring at all. And then our summer suddenly arrived ! Since more or less the middle of June temperatures have been regularly reaching the mid-to-high 20’s, sometimes touching 30°C (mid 70’s to mid 80’s °F). This coming week we will start to exceed that. Of course we are lucky that we are only a few km the Ocean which helps to keep us a bit cooler. In the city of Ourense for example, which is located only about 60km further inland, the thermometer is now touching 40°C (over 100°F).

Posted in Weather

Copper topWe all like to receive compliments, a bit of ‘positive stroking’ never did anybody any harm. And the same applies to our wines, we love to see positive reviews and read positive comments written about us, but then, in this age of social media, it is also possible that this can sometimes produce a negative effect too. Don’t get me wrong, the very positive thing about the internet is that everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion, but then the downside is also that everyone is given the opportunity to voice their opinion!

Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of receiving great reviews (points or stars), is that you are immediately put on a pedestal just inviting the would-be critics to shoot you down. For example, if someone is given very high expectations of your food or wine, then this could, in turn, lead to a bit of a disappointment, if what they actually experience is not quite as good as they had anticipated. When you find yourself at the very top of your game, then perhaps the only way is down, and so, in this way, it is almost better for the consumer to have no expectations at all in order that they can taste or eat with a completely open mind – the power of (pre)suggestion is always a powerful thing.

To be honest it’s not quite so bad for wines, which are rarely ‘rated’ by the public (there is no Trip Advisor for wines as yet), but for restaurants and hotels this can really be a total nightmare. I recently read about a very humble Barbecue restaurant, the Copper Top, located in a very small town on highway 395 in California. With some 250 great reviews on Yelp, and hardly anything negative, my guess is that some algorithm suddenly decided that this small barbecue (built on the back of an 8ft trailer), was now the No.1 dining experience out of 600,000 in the United States. You can probably guess what happened next…. the place was simply overrun, not only by normal consumers, but also by professional food critics and the press. With queues down the street, running out of their now famous barbecue food in record time, it wasn’t long before the crowd started to turn ugly. Not only were customers complaining for every small detail, but then other local business waded in with false reviews, simply in order to drag them down. The critics were merciless! So a rating that looked and felt good on paper at least, had now backfired horrendously for the poor unwitting proprietors.

My own opinion of this system has never really waivered – if you want to read the reviews of Castro Martin then fine, but why not simply buy a bottle, pull the cork and make your own judgement? In the end it’s your own opinion that really counts!

Posted in Press, Social Media

Plate mapJust a quick post to say Happy Independence Day to our American friends and customers!

Meanwhile, here in Galicia, the summer holiday season and festivities are also well and truly under way. Our local beach (which is already overcrowded in summer) played host to a five-a-side soccer tournament this weekend. Not only did the temporary arena that they built take up about a quarter of the total beach area, but then it was accompanied by thumping music and a commentator screaming excitedly into his PA system all day…. Very relaxing for the visiting tourists!

So, if everyone is on the beach, then why not escape to the city for a bit of peace and quiet? Well, that wouldn’t quite work either….. An all-day concert in the bullring of Pontevedra sent loud music booming around the streets of our fair city. Too bad if you needed to open your windows just a little in the hot weather. Ah, the joys of summer!

Brush fireLast weekend we had a small but dramatic event in our village, but more significantly, almost in our bodega vineyard…. a brush fire! A week or two ago I wrote about a small area of forest clearance at the back of our bodega, restoring our view of the Atlantic Ocean after some years of being masked by trees. Well, the bad news is that a different area of eucalyptus forest immediately adjacent to this (forming a boundary with our vineyard) was left untouched. Under Spanish law it is the responsibility of every land owner to keep undergrowth in a forested area well trimmed and under control, precisely for the reason of reducing fire risk. Unfortunately, in the case of this forest, it had not been done.

In the early hours of the Monday morning we received a call from our neighbours, living next to the bodega, to say that firefighters wanted access to the back of our property – the forest was alight! The good news is that the blaze was bought under control quite quickly before it managed to really take hold, and in the end was more or less confined to the undergrowth. Had the trees themselves gone up in flames, then it is actually quite possible that it would have spread to our vineyard, and so we have to be quite thankful to our local fire fighters for their prompt and effective actions.

If the fire taken place later in the summer then it is possible that our fruit could have been tainted by the smoke, but I think that this fire took place early enough in the growth cycle to have very little or no effect whatsoever. I once recall tasting a wine which had become tainted by smoke and I can tell you that it is nothing like the toasted oak effect that comes from a barrel, it is simply quite unpleasant. I am happy to report that, in our case, the only temporary damage might be to my t-shirt that reeks of smoke after I ventured into to the forest to take a few photos!

Sad but true

June 27th, 2016

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Sauzet 2010The other day I went out for lunch – not very exciting or unusual I have to admit….. but I went to a ‘Vinoteca’ in Pontevedra (our local town), and was more than delighted to discover a rather interesting wine list that immediately transported me back to my days as a wine buyer. Of course I have found one or two other places that offer a more varied selection than normal, but in this part of the world the are few and far between, which is why I feel compelled to write about them.

Under normal circumstances, and quite understandably, local restaurant wine lists are usually dominated by local wines (a fact quite common to many a wine producing area around the world). That’s fine if you’re a visitor and want to sample the local cuisine and accompanying wines, but if you’re a resident, it can become a little boring and predictable, and that’s why I get just a little excited when I discover something slightly unusual (it doesn’t take much these days!).

As I entered the restaurant there was a display of old (empty) bottles, including quite a few Burgundy producers that I knew, who’s Domaines I had visited, and who’s wines I had bought over the years. Michel Lafarge (Volnay), Etienne Sauzet (Puligny), Alain Michelot (Nuits St Georges), François Raveneau (Chablis), to name but a few. The memories came flooding back, even by just seeing the bottles!

By the time I made my selection, the cork had been pulled, and that first whiff of the bouquet – well, I had been transported to another planet. I had almost forgotten how good a well-made, mature white burgundy could be. As our menus are dominated by fish and seafood I had selected a simple, generic Puligny Montrachet 2010 from one of my favourite producers in the village, Domaine Etienne Sauzet (the others being Jean-Marc Boillot, Paul Pernot and Domaine Carillon). The 2010 vintage was perhaps overshadowed by 2009, but after a difficult flowering, a poor summer and consequently small harvest, the best producers still managed to make some excellent wines. In a classic white Burgundy style they have a firm acidity, are succulent and elegant without being over-concentrated – 2010 was perfectly suited to the style of Puligny (rather than say the slightly richer, fatter wines of Chassagne or Meursault).

I don’t even remember the food that I ate because I was so ‘lost’ in the wine (and a few memories)….

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