Archive for the ‘Denomination’ Category

Behind the scenes in certain Galician offices there have been some, more or less, secret discussions. Apparently, for the last couple of years, our denomination have been discussing the idea of renaming our very own wine region – Rias Baixas. Their concern has been that many consumers outside Spain are a bit intimidated by the name, especially when it comes to the pronunciation. Of course, the word Albariño is comparatively simple for most people to wrap their tongue around, but when it come to our ‘lower estuaries’, then it becomes more of a problem.

Their solution, apparently, is a slight revamping, which at first glace, I have to admit, looks a bit odd. The reason is that the new name is pretty much what you might describe as being ‘Spanglish’ – half Spanish and half English (but rolls much more easily off the tongue). In the near future an official announcement will be made, no doubt involving huge wine press coverage and some fanfare. 

I do not have the official date, but I can tell you (even though I’m not exactly sure that I’m supposed to), that very soon we will know as the ‘Low Rias’ wine region – complete with brand new logo.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but in the long term, if it makes it easier for the consumer, then it does make some sense.

For many years I have been under a slight misapprehension…. that irrigation of the vineyards was, at the very least, frowned upon, and to some extent, illegal! I think that this is probably a throw back to my early days in the wine trade, when the majority of ‘old world’ countries did not allow a single drop of water to be used in the vineyards, whilst the ‘new world’ producers (who used it extensively) were considered by Europe as charlatans, spraying water everywhere with impunity.

The interesting fact is that since around the turn of the millennium, things have been changing – but in a very quiet, almost stealth-like manner, as the traditional wine producing areas of Europe slowly adopted their wine laws to allow irrigation to be introduced. Certainly this is still done with an element of control as, for example, in some areas it is only allowed during certain summer months.

Of course, having made all the initial fuss about the ‘cheating’ new world producers, the old world soon came to accept (persuaded perhaps by the onset of global-warming), that allowing the use of water was actually quite a sensible thing. For me personally, the idea of irrigation is quite similar to the use of treatments in a vineyard – no sensible producer is going to sit back and watch his fruit rot on the vine if there is some step that he can take to prevent it. Yes, we all use products that are as ecological as possible to treat our vines, but in the end it’s all still a form of intervention. And so, logically, if your vines are wilting in the heat (and consuming all their sugars to survive), then just give them a drop of water – no so much as to inflate the berries, just just enough to keep them ‘comfortable’.

Today’s photo shows the drip irrigation that we have just added to our bodega vineyard, where the upper part can be particularly dry in hot weather. The irony is that, as I write this, it’s actually raining!

ENAC AngelaBack in 2010 the office of our Denomination set off on a journey. Their goal? To become the very first denomination in Spain to obtain official accreditation for the certification of food and agricultural products, according to the criteria set out in UNE-EN ISO/IEC 17065.

Owing to the huge diversity of vineyards and bodegas controlled by the D.O. this was never going to be an easy task – every single producer, without exception, had to comply with the required standards in order for the plan to succeed. The first and most daunting task was to produce and implement a manual of Quality Control, a process which took more than four years to complete. This quality control manual gives advice and instructions relating to every aspect of production, including vineyard management, winemaking, labelling, bottling and only concludes when every wine has been officially tasted and analysed by the D.O. It goes without saying that every step of the process also has to be carefully recorded, thereby providing full traceability as required by law.

With just over 50% of all Rias Baixas wines now being sold in export, this official accreditation is designed not only to be a further guarantee of quality, but also serves to enhance consumer confidence in all the wines produced within our denomination.

The award ceremony, when all bodegas were handed their certificates of accreditation, took place in March, when Angela stepped forward in her capacity as manager and winemaker of Castro Martin.

My D.O. pin-up

January 13th, 2016

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foto-espumososEvery month we receive a newsletter from our Consello Regulador, and for the second time in recent months I have opened the mail only to see the face of my wife staring back at me! Angela is a member of the official D.O. Rias Baixas tasting panel, that makes all the quality control tastings of every wine submitted for bottling (I made a detailed, 3 part post of this process back in November).

For some reason the Consello appears to have selected Angela as their ‘pin-up’ girl, as once again they have used her face of intense concentration in one of their mailings. Signed photos are available on request!

Turkey….. again!

December 14th, 2015

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It was only a couple of weeks ago that I wrote about the possibility of drinking Albariño with your holiday turkey – and now our denomination office appear to be sending the same message. Today they have changed the header on the official D.O. Facebook page. It is now resplendent with turkey…. Happy holidays to one and all!

DO Part 3On a couple of occasions now I have been lucky enough to attend an official tasting – but purely as a guest with absolutely no input into the final outcome. It can be very “interesting”!

Now there was a time in my life as a buyer, that I was tasting different wines from around the globe on a daily basis – often in fairly copious amounts (without swallowing I hasten to add!) These days however, my tasting, although reasonably regular, is often restricted to our own wines, within our own cellar. Of course this might eventually distort the palate a little, as you become more accustomed to, and able to easily recognise your own style of wine. I’m afraid that the opportunity to taste overseas wine these days is fairly restricted as they are simply not available in Galician shops, albeit there are one or two online shops where I can find an odd bottle or two.

Prior to the start of the tasting the only information that you are given is the type, classification and vintage of the wine. When I say classification it can be any one of the following:

  1. Rias Baixas ALBARIÑO
  2. Rias Baixas CONDADO DO TEA
  3. Rias Baixas ROSAL
  4. Rias Baixas DO ULLA
  5. Rias Baixas SALNES
  6. Rias Baixas
  7. Rias Baixas BARRICA
  8. Rias Baixas TINTO
  9. Rias Baixas SPARKLING


I mentioned this in my last post but a wine can only be called albariño if it comprises 100% of that variety – any other blend, even if it only 1% of another grape can only be known as a Rias Baixas wine. Any wine can then also carry the name of its sub-zone if the bodega so chooses. (An albariño wine (100%) can also carry the name of its sub-zone).

Of course, the idea is not really to criticise or comment too much on any one wine, but simply to rate it on its technical merits and quality. The key is of course to remain objective and aloof, but when most of my tasting experience in the past has been comparative, judging one wine next to another to select the best, then this does not come easily, and it is only human nature, in these circumstances, to use your own wine as a yardstick.

On this occasion we were offered the maximum permitted of 15 wines – one sparkling, four tintos and the rest white, mostly 100% albariño. The selection included two 2015 wines, which I admit, came as quite a shock, barely more than one month after the last day of picking in our denomination.

Of course I cannot comment about specific wines, but suffice to say that it was a mixed bag – some good, some bad and at least one downright ugly! The white wines of 2014 were generally acceptable, whilst one of the 2015’s showed all the typical character of what I call a ‘primeur’ wine – vinified quickly, massively fruity, but I am sure with only a very short shelf life – drink now and enjoy while you can! It had a very exotic, almost banana, sweet pear drop fruit that I would normally associate with Beaujolais nouveau rather than a young albariño (very appropriate on today of all days)! This sensation probably originates from the same ester called isoamyl acetate (which is sometimes formed during low temperature fermentations and carbonic maceration depending on the type of yeast used).

The one ‘barrica’ wine on show was, erm…. poor, to say the least. Heaven only knows what type of wood was employed in the making of this wine, but I wrote in my notes that it had a bouquet of beetroot! (Not a usual attribute of albariño). Finally, the majority of reds on offer gave the impression of being a bit green and under-ripe, and thankfully I think the panel agreed with me as I don’t think that any single tinto passed the tasting.

It wasn’t my first D.O. tasting as a guest, and I hope it won’t be my last, but it certainly was a bit of an eye-opener.

DO Part 2Our D.O. office has a very nice, new tasting room. Light and airy, with individual booths, each with lamp (to aid in the visual phase) and a small sink for spitting – bottled water is also supplied. Every wine tasted has its own tasting sheet, and of course can be any type of wine recognised by the D.O. – 100% Albariño, blends of recognised white grapes (these are classified as Rias Baixas and cannot be called Albariño unless 100%), red wines, and the latest addition, sparkling wines. The maximum number of wines for any one tasting is 15.

Tasting sheets are divided into six sections – visual phase, orafactory phase (intensity + quality), tasting phase (intensity + quality), and finally ‘harmony’ or balance. Now this is where (in my opinion), the system is a bit whacky! The better the wine, the lower the score! A wine that is considered excellent in any phase actually scores zero points for that phase…. The scoring system varies from 0 points for excellent to a maximum of 27 points for a completely defective phase, with more points being allocated to the more important phases such as taste and balance. There is actually a column on the sheet whereby any wine can simply be eliminated out of hand, should it be so bad!

It’s a bit complicated to explain, but results in each wine having a final score – up to 62 points will pass the tasting, but anything higher will automatically fail, and can be submitted for re-tasting at a later date. (Two failures means that it cannot be sold as a I should mention that wines can, and do sometimes fail the tasting, but the names of the wines that pass or fail are never given to the members of the tasting panel, even after the tasting is completed.

Assuming that the wine passes the tasting the ‘tirillas’ can be allocated. These are numbered consecutively, meaning that they can be traced back to the tank/bottles in question. However, for some reason they are not issued immediately, and by regulation the bodega has to wait a further three days before they can be collected – but wait….. this doesn’t mean that a bodega can simply grab the tirillas and start bottling at will. When the tank in question has passed and is finally ready, the bodega still needs to provide the D.O. office with 24 hours notice of intention to bottle! This then gives the D.O. the opportunity to organise an inspection (always at random) to finally ensure that the correct tank is being used, in conjunction  with the correct tirillas.


DO Part 1This three part posting, over the next few days is actually quite interesting…. I think! You may have noticed that every bottle we sell has the official Rias Baixas denomination sticker on the back, denoting that the wine has been tasted, and passed, by the official tasting committee of the D.O. Every tank of wine produced in our region has to undergo this process before it can be bottled, of course meaning that every single tank has to be tasted! I should perhaps mention that the official sticker is known locally as the ‘tirilla’, and I have inset an example in the corner of today’s photo. (Tirilla comes from the word tira, which means strip (as in label) or band – tirilla means small strip).

The process starts when a tank of wine is ready for bottling – but this has to be planned well in advance as the approval process can take up to 2 or 3 weeks (especially at busy times of year). The first step is that the bodega has to send a sample drawn from the tank to an official, government accredited laboratory for analysis. Depending on proximity of the cellar to the lab will determine how long this takes, but usually between 2 and 4 days. Once the bodega has the analysis in hand, it can then notify the D.O. office in Pontevedra, who will send a member of their technical team to draw six bottles from the tank to be tasted. When the sample is taken, a seal is put on the tank, as well as on the six bottles – one of the bottles is left in the bodega as a reference. Normally the D.O. will collect the sample within a few days of asking, but at peak times this can extend to one or two weeks. There is no doubt that the busiest time of year is during the build up to the harvest, simply because bodegas often need to empty tanks to accommodate the new wine coming in. Under normal circumstances the D.O. would hold one or two official tastings a week, but at harvest time, this can increase to daily tastings in order to keep up with the high demand.

When the sample bottles arrive at the D.O. office, a second sample is immediately sent to the official D.O. laboratory for analysis, and in this way it can be compared to the analysis supplied by the bodega, to ensure that they are indeed, one and the same! Once this is done the sample bottle can finally be put before the tasting panel.

All tasters on the panel are obviously experienced people (often Rias Baixas winemakers), but they are still tutored and have to undergo assessment to ensure that they are not only up to scratch, but also that they are completely objective, and rate all wines in a similar way, using the official tasting scale. There are always a minimum of 5 official tasters on each tasting panel, and as you may guess, the tasting is always conducted completely blind.

LXIII FiestaI have been in the UK for a week, and unfortunately I have missed one of my favourite tastings of the year. The tunnel of wine tasting at this year’s albariño festival, where nearly all the wines of our denomination are lined up under one roof. For me, this is by far the best opportunity to assess the quality of the latest vintage. Of course you can read all the reviews, recommendations and ratings that you like, but the only real way to know is to taste for yourself! To be quite honest, I don’t always agree with the official ratings anyway, quite apart from the fact that they can only provide a very generalised overview, whereas a detailed tasting can reveal good and bad in every vintage.

The tunnel of wine is by far the most civilised way to taste wine during the five day festival, and offers a much more comprehensive selection than the festival area itself. As I have mentioned in previous years, the festival area can become very ‘animated’ in the evenings, and is certainly not a suitable location for serious wine tasting. So the conclusion is quite simple – serious tasters and professionals should use the tunnel – drinkers and party-goers the festival area.

By the way, this years festival could go down as the longest in history. The official website actually advertises the festival as running from 29th June to 2nd August (instead of 29th July to 2nd August)!!

Albariño + SushiIn recent years I have perhaps been a little outspoken, even critical, of some of the advertising campaigns of our denomination. I have always thought that they were a little bit staid and old fashioned, often not representative of our region, and certainly not attention grabbing. For me the whole point of advertising is to grab the attention of the public – of course this can be done in many, many different ways, whether it be something stunningly beautiful, something unusual, something that makes you look twice (a double-take), or as used in a few cases, something controversial or shocking. Whatever approach you chose it has be done to provoke a reaction – to get people talking, if it’s to be successful. I’m afraid that a simple picture of a vineyard with lots of greenery simply doesn’t cut it anymore, even if the view is very pretty.

I was therefore delight to spot some radically new Rias Baixas advertising a month or so ago, with some attention grabbing food shots, and a simple bold headline. I have found two examples so far, there may be more to come. Today’s photo is the Japanese sushi (and nigiri) shot, which as I type this, is actually making my mouth water….. in other words having the desired effect – provoking a reaction. Creating a craving for a glass of fresh, chilled albariño – simple but effective.

There is however one small nagging doubt that I have – is this advert politically correct? Abbreviating the word Japanese to Japo, might just be considered offensive to some. Now I am not a native Spanish speaker, but in the one Spanish dictionary that I referred to, the term “Jap” was listed as “offensive”. I guess the best answer might come from the Japanese themselves, as I’m sure that eventually this new advertising will filter over to their country. I just hope that it doesn’t cause some sort of diplomatic incident!

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