Archive for the ‘Bottles and bottling’ Category

Final clueOver the last two or three months I have dropped a few clues about something new happening in the bodega. The launch of whatever this might be is imminent, and so I thought I would add one final clue before we make it official.

As you may know, I am quite a keen amateur photographer, and many of the photographs that you see both on our website and on our social media pages are taken by me. It is however, rare to see me at work, but in today’s picture (working on our new project), I have been captured in the act, so to speak. On a few previous occasions when I have been taking photos I have caught myself in a mirror or perhaps in some type of reflection, but it is really odd to actually see how others perceive me when I am working…. the photographer’s photograph, if that makes any sense?

Anyway, in a couple of weeks we will be making an official announcement about our closely guarded secret, so watch this space, as they say.

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.

CorcsPeople who know me also know that I am passionate about wine closures. As a wine buyer I could never understand why a producer would go to so much trouble growing superb quality grapes, converting them into the best wine possible, and then cutting corners by trying to save a few cents on the price of a cork. For example, it is rare for the bottle to have a significant effect on the quality of a finished wine, but the cork? That’s a whole other story….

In addition to this, I also have a theory that certain types of closure work better with certain types of wine. Of course I could be completely wrong, but at Castro Martin it has been our mission to find the closure that provides the very best protection specific to our own albariño – preserving our wine in exactly the way that we want, whilst providing a consistency of quality to each and every bottle. The only way to do this has been by extensive testing.

After a prolonged period of testing involving a wide range of different closures, extensive tastings, carefully measuring OTR (oxygen transmission rate) and generally following the evolution of our wine from tank to bottle ageing, we were eventually able to make a decision based purely on our findings. The synthetic closure that we finally selected allows only a controlled rate of oxygen transfer and therefore behaves in a much more predictable fashion than natural cork (and that is before we even start to consider TCA – cork taint). The absence of cork taint is really just an added bonus for us when using synthetic.

These days we are using the very latest closure, made from polymers of sugar cane, boasting zero carbon footprint and probably the most Eco-friendly closure on the planet. This latest ‘Bio’ corc can be seen on the far right of today’s picture, and as you can see, is barely distinguishable from a natural cork. My photo shows how our range of closures has evolved over recent years.

How old is NV?

January 4th, 2016

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2004 RoedererSo, how old is Non-Vintage? This might seem like a stupid question, but I do think that in certain circumstances, it can be quite significant. OK, so I have to admit that I am thinking specifically of Champagne when I ask this question, and this is all owing to a bit of a mix up on New Year’s Eve.

A few days ago I pulled out a bottle of Louis Roederer Champagne to chill for drinking with our meal. New Year’s dinner is, as always, quite a late event here in Spain, the idea being that the meal is finished shortly before the clock strikes midnight.

Just before the meal I popped the cork and poured…. Wow, this was seriously delicious, too delicious in fact – nutty, toasty, digestive biscuit, super complex – all the attributes of a lovely, old Champagne. Oh dear, I should have realised just by looking at the colour of the label. Closer examination revealed that it was actually a vintage 2004, which I didn’t even know that I had in my selection!

My point is that I really like old Champagne, and so when I buy a bottle of Non Vintage I rarely drink it immediately, but prefer to put it in the cellar and keep it for a year or so. Of course this is a matter of personal taste, and not all wines will improve with age. It’s just a bit of a habit that I have developed over the years.

There is, however, an interesting question that arises from this slightly odd practice. If I buy an NV Champagne from a wine shop in Spain (that might have a slow turnover), then how old is the bottle when I actually buy it? Apart from the Lot Number, which is coded, how do I know how old my bottle is? Perhaps in the case of their NV blends, Champagne houses should consider adding a bottling or disgorgement date to the label, if only to give the consumer (including me), a little more information? Just a thought.

A basket case

July 12th, 2013

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BasketsIt suddenly occurred to me the other day that of all the things I have written about our bodega over the last several years, there is one thing that I have never mentioned….. our baskets!

When it comes albariño at Bodegas Castro Martin we chose to store our wines in tank and bottle only as and when required – simply because the wine keeps better and stays fresher in tank. In an ideal world we would bottle each tank, label it at the time of bottling, and then simply sell it, but unfortunately life in the world of wine is never that simple.

As I have mentioned on previous occasions, as we increase the number of overseas markets that we sell to, so the range of different labelling requirements becomes more complicated. It’s not because we are inventing different brands for each market, but it’s simply that the legal label requirements vary so much from country to country. So, for example, if we are bottling a tank of our Castro Martin Family Estate wine, then the question is, how many cases do we label with the EU back label, how many with the U.S. back label, how many with the Australian back label, and so on. The simple answer is that we never know, and so there is only one solution….. to bottle at least a part of each tank without any labels at all. Of course this may sound slightly illegal, but as long as we keep copious bottling records and mark each batch very clearly, then this means that we can store the unlabelled bottles in large metal baskets until required. This wine without label is known as ‘clean skin’ stock. 

Each time we receive an order for a market that requires its own specific back label, then we simply select the appropriate baskets, take out the wine, and label it accordingly. Job done.

NomaSense

April 19th, 2013

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NomaSense

Unless you make and sell a really inexpensive wine I have never quite understood the mentality that would lead you to cut corners when selecting your closure. The saying goes that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and in the same way your bottle of wine is, in effect, only as good as the quality of closure that you use. Why would you go to all the time trouble of growing grapes and then converting them into a fabulous beverage, only to be ruined by a piece of cheap cork? It just makes no sense.

Perhaps I’m banging on about it a bit too much, but we really do take the selection of closures very seriously. As we bottled earlier this week we were again measuring the levels of oxygen both in the tank and in the bottles that we were preparing. Indeed, we have recently decided to make a very slight change to the Nomacorc closure that we use, but this minor adjustment is based purely on the results of two years of both testing (by machine) and tasting (with the tongue!). I have said it before and I will say it again, for Bodegas Castro Martin we are constantly looking for even small improvements to what we do – we will never just rest on our laurels.

In the meantime, our friends at Nomacorc also tell us that there is something new and exciting on the horizon, so please watch this space!

Underwater bottles

I think it was last summer that I wrote briefly about a new development in wine storage and ageing – keeping bottles underwater. At that time I mentioned a French producer that had gleaned a lot of publicity for storing his bottles on the seabed for a while, but I guess the real question is…… is this just a fashion, a publicity stunt, or does it add some real value to the finished wine?

Certainly there are many plus points for ageing wine on the seabed. The light is subdued, the temperature usually does not vary by too much (depending on where you are) and oxygen penetration is really not an issue. Finally you could add to the plus side that the storage itself is free, but then only if you don’t count the cost of submerging your stock and then retrieving it when required. Of course once the bottles are eventually brought to the surface, then they will certainly require a good scrubbing down before they can be labelled.

Other downsides include (besides the added cost of such an operation), that it is possible the salt water might actually penetrate and contaminate the wine. This would bring a whole new meaning to the expression often used for albariño “you can taste the sea”. Perhaps in these health and safety concious days, health inspectors might eventually start to pay closer attention should this idea begin to catch on.

Finally, perhaps a more obvious problem might be security. It is possible that a new profession as ‘wine pirate’ might emerge as thieves start to plunder this unguarded underwater booty!

Stelvin

The other day we were approached by Systembolaget (the Swedish Monopoly) as they launched a tender for the purchase of albariño. The tender document is always quite comprehensive and gives details not only of how much they are willing to spend, but sometimes also, the style of wine that they are looking for. (From my own point of view the product style would simply read “typical”, in other words a true representation of what it is supposed to be).

The other part of the tender document includes all the technical stuff, such as the case size etc., and I have noticed that on the last couple of tenders they have started to specify that the closure should be screw cap. Now, to the best of my knowledge there are only a handful of bodegas (out of nearly 200 in our denomination) that are currently able to supply albariño under screwcap, and Bodegas Castro Martin is not one of them. No doubt this will restrict the number of bodegas that are able respond to the tender, and as such appears to be an odd way to filter their choice of suppliers. After all, a producers choice of closure has nothing to do with the quality of wine that they are able to produce!

For our business the single most important reason for not choosing screw cap  is quite simply that we already have a closure that we know works very well with our wine. We have been using Nomacorc, the synthetic closure for almost 10 years now, and to date I cannot recall any serious problem or complaint (touching wood as I say this). Our decision to use Nomacorc was not made by accident, but only after very extensive testing over an initial period of twelve months. However, we did not stop there, and have since taken our testing to the next level, measuring results over a two year period. This is not done simply by tasting sample wines, but also by examining the Oxygen Transmission Rate (OTR) of the bottles. The fact is that Nomacorc behaves very much like a natural cork in that it allows minuscule amounts of oxygen to penetrate the cork over a period of time. The significance is that if a closure is 100% hermetic (as in the case of screw cap), and allows no transfer at all, then this can be detrimental to a finished wine.

The problem with screw cap is usually caused by sulphur. Nearly every wine that we buy these days is treated with suphur dioxide before bottling (which acts as a preservative), and hence the back label proclaiming ‘Contains Sulphites’. In low oxygen conditions, where oxygen cannot enter, the sulphur is trapped and can develop volatile compounds called mercaptans, which impart unwanted flavours and aromas. As screw cap closures eliminate almost all oxygen, then in a way they can be considered as too efficient.

Certainly the modified evolution of wines under screw cap has now caused some new world producers to reconsider their position, and one or two major players in South Africa and Australia are now reverting back to cork. 

Meanwhile, back at the Systembolaget in Sweden, through my contacts I actually managed to relay a message to the buyer asking if screw cap was absolutely necessary – the reply came back that in his opinion all young, aromatic wines should be bottled with this closure. The problem is that I don’t necessarily agree with this view, and not only that, why would I want to move away from something that I already know works perfectly well for our wine?

Christmas Fizz

December 7th, 2012

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I wrote a few days ago about our denomination’s new sparkling albariño, and whilst there will be a few bottles on the market before Christmas, it’s very unlikely to be appearing in your local supermarket any time soon (if at all). Not because it isn’t a good product, but more because it is likely to be very much a niche product – a curiosity that will never be produced in any great volume.

In stark contrast to this small, limited production it is quite clear that there must be some sparkling wines appearing on the Christmas market which are produced in some quite serious volumes. The reason behind this sweeping statement is actually quite simple…… their price! Picking out recent examples from the UK market (sold by a supermarket which shall remain nameless), they are promoting sparkling wines from as little as £3.29 a bottle, and a handful of others all under £5.00. When you consider that all sparkling wines sold in the UK attracts a higher level of excise duty, £2.43 a bottle to be precise, you might begin to understand where I am going with this. The Value Added Tax on a £5.00 bottle is £0.83, which added to the duty, makes £3.26, leaving only £1.74 for the wine itself (on the £3.29 bottle the residue after tax is only £0.31). Now, when I use the word ‘wine’ this does not actually mean just the liquid in the bottle, the £1.74 (or £0.31) has to account for the liquid, the bottle, the cork, the label, the capsule, the carton, the shipping, the warehousing, the distribution, and oh! I nearly forgot, perhaps a bit of profit for the producer and the retailer. These numbers do not really add up for the £5.00 bottle, and therefore even less so for the £3.29 bottle. The latter must be what is known as a “loss leader” – a product perhaps sold at a loss merely to attract custom and get people into the store on the basis that they will buy other, more profitable items. Also known as “cross town deal” – a deal so good that customers will go out of their way, or possibly make a special journey just to take advantage of it.

I’m very sorry to admit that personally I am never tempted by these offers, especially when it comes to Champagne or sparkling wine. I’m a great believer in the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’, and if an offer is too good to be true, then there really must be a reason.

Glass corks?

November 25th, 2012

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In recent years we have invested quite a lot of time and effort in attempting to find the ‘perfect closure’ for our wine (not that there really is such a thing). Actually, to be more accurate, what I should say is that we have attempted to find the closure best suited to our wine, and for us this appears to be Nomacorc. Of course the latest fashion in sealing a bottle of wine is screw cap, and at least a few of the markets that we work with have asked about the possibility of introducing this. As yet we have not made the change, and this is largely for three reasons – Firstly, we do not believe that the Spanish market would accept it. Secondly, it would mean a significant financial investment at a time when many businesses are more concerned with belt-tightening. Finally, and most importantly, Nomacorc has worked well for us since 2002, and I would be very reluctant to make a change purely on the basis of ‘fashion’.

A few days ago we received an envelope through the post which upon examination looked like it might contain a handful of glass marbles (the type we used to play with as children). I confess that I did not imagine that it would contain samples of glass wine closures – a system called Vino-Lok. In truth I had seen this system before, but only on paper, I had never actually seen one of their glass stoppers.

Made in Czech Republic, I believe they are most widely used in the German market, including Lufthansa Airlines (this might be something to do with the German obsession for re-cycling). Of course with a glass closure there can be no problems with cork taint and bottles can be opened and resealed quite easily, but the downside is that this is quite an expensive product which, as with the screw cap, requires a significant modification of the bottling line.

A nice idea, but perhaps not for us.

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