Archive for the ‘Food & Wine’ Category

Albariño & Dumplings

February 16th, 2018

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Xīnnián kuàilè – New Year Happiness! Today is Chinese New Year. It is the year of the dog, the dog being  the eleventh animal of the twelve year Chinese calendar cycle.

The typical dishes served for Chinese New Year are those that we have all come to know and love – the dishes that we find on the menus of our favourite local Chinese restaurants – spring rolls, noodles, dumplings, vegetables, steamed chicken and steamed fish. In addition to this, the centre piece of a special New Year meal is often a Chinese hot-pot known as huõ guō, and there will almost certainly be rice cakes (nian gao), which can be served as either sweet or savoury.

Many of these dishes, such as the dumplings, will be either filled with, or accompanied by Chinese cabbage, onion, pork, shrimp as well as egg, bamboo, meat and vegetables. Of course, many of these items are the foods that often recommend with albariño, and so, for this important celebration, with hand on heart, we can truly recommend our Castro Martin albariños with your Chinese New Year meal.

Posted in Fiestas, Food & Wine

Christmas tipple

December 26th, 2017

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I have to say that this year’s choice of wine for our Christmas lunch at home was something rather special… Yet again, it was a bottle that I found undiscovered in a dark corner of my private cellar. Unfortunately I think this is the last of my ‘dark corners’! I was looking for something to go with a huge rib of beef that I had bought (which, by pure luck, just fits into our oven). I knew that I still had at least one or two Bordeaux Châteaux that I bought many years ago (not quite ‘en primeur’, but shortly after, whilst they were still affordable). I was under the impression that they were mostly 85’s until I discovered one single bottle of Château Gruaud-Larose 1982! Even today, in recent tastings, this wine has still been rated in the mid-90’s, and is worth more than just a few Euros (I hate to think). Well, it won’t keep forever, I thought to myself.

Apart from the usual difficult cork (no matter how carefully you attack it), the wine was quite astonishing. For a wine that is now some 35 years old (the same age the first vintage made at Castro Martin), it had a deep garnet colour, showing surprising little ageing at the rim. Although the nose showed elements of maturity, with hints of leather and cigar box, it was full, ripe and very concentrated – typical of many of the Cordier wines from around that time. The palate was bold and ripe with a core of dark bramble fruit – still quite youthful for a wine of this age. With a good balancing acidity, it was a very memorable glass indeed.

I guess my only regret is that this was just a single bottle…. Bottoms Up!

You say kabob, we say kebab (and the Spanish say kebap)!

OK, so this has absolutely nothing to do with wine, and would be a bit of a push to classify as ‘gastronomy’, but like any food, a well-made kebab and fresh salad can still sometimes hit the spot. It’s not that I am a particular fan of kebabs, but more that I am simply confused about the name. Depending on where you live, your shish, doner or whatever can be written kebab, kabob, kebap, cabob, kebob, albeit the true origin of the word (coming via Urdu, through the Arabic, meaning roast meat) is actually none of the above – it’s kabāb!!

Around the world there are many different types of kabab, but the single element that most have in common, is the skewer on which they are cooked. This is said to originate from Eastern Europe when the Turkic tribes cooked meat on their swords over open fires.

Many of us who enjoy the occasional doner kabab, might not know that this is also known as shawarma or gyro – a rotisserie or spit often placed vertically (Arab – shawarma, Greek – gyros). How we actually enjoy eating our shawarma, is yet another story! The ‘doner’ is claimed to be quite a recent invention – sliced, served in pita flatbread, with fresh salad, vegetables and/or pickles squished on top. Said to have been created in the 70’s by a Berliner, Kadir Nurman, albeit the Lebanese will tell you that the kabab, meat sandwich, has been around for centuries. It is the this new ‘doner’ which is currently under threat and could be made illegal across Europe, because of the phosphates that some variations contain and their links to cardiovascular disease.

Despite this latest scandal, I have to confess that in the early 80’s I would enjoy the occasional shawarma from my local Kebab Kid in Fulham, made with fresh lamb meat (not minced and reconstituted). It was so good that the shop is still there today, and still highly rated.

Continued from Part One….

Don’t ask me why but this second wine was actually called ‘Antika Mickey Mouse’ (I later discovered that this was simply because the owner is a fan, and was probably a better name option than his other wine which is called Antika Podfuck). This Czech wine was completely ‘natural’, hailing the South Moravia region of the Czech Republic, and when I say natural, I really mean natural. The 8 hectare vineyard of Milan Nestarec was created as recently as 2001, and the wine is made in such a way that there is pretty much no intervention, either in the vineyard, or in the wine cellar. A blend of Chardonnay, Traminer, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner with fermentation on the skins for a period of 10 days, followed by period of ageing in oak barrels. There is no filtration, no clarification, and that’s it. The resulting wine almost defies description, and to honest, I was happy that I was only offered a glass to sample, and didn’t buy the whole bottle (it would be impossible to finish). In the glass it was a murky brown opaque colour – visually not inviting. On the nose…. well, I just don’t know – not like any wine I have ever sampled before. Weeks later I am still searching for a way to describe it – Earthy? Wet straw? Some type of acetone plastic? Bizarre! The palate was a complete surprise – it had some weight to it, but with a really savoury and quite salty flavour – for me a wine that you could sip, but not drink. Natural or not natural, I didn’t really like it.

Today’s post ended up being a bit too long – so I will split it into two parts.

There is a lot of interest these days in Natural, Organic and Biodynamic wine. Without entering into the technicalities I can tell you that these wines do not exist anywhere in our denomination – there is only one certified vineyard, but no certified wine cellars. It is quite simply that our climate makes this classification almost impossible. However, that’s not to say that we are not open minded, and we certainly enjoy trying these wines when the opportunity arises, sometimes with mixed results.

Earlier this summer I had the opportunity to try two such wines, one from France and the other from the Czech Republic.

As you may know, I am already a great fan of the wines of the Jura region of France, and more especially of the Savagnin grape variety. There are many small ‘artisan’ producers in this region, and they often produce varied and fascinating wines. I was offered a ‘Vin de France’, effectively a table wine without AOC, but I was soon to discover why. The wine ‘Le Zaune à Dédée’ was made from a blend of late-harvested Savagnin grapes from the Jura, and Gewürztraminer grapes from the neighbouring Savoie region. A wine macerated and then vinified ‘sous voile’ (aged under a fine ‘flor’, or film of yeast in the barrel, similar to many other wines of the Jura, and also a technique used in sherry making). The resulting oxidative style of wine is extraordinary. Not only is the wine slightly opaque, but it is pretty much orange in colour – many people would probably refuse it on sight alone! It has a nose that is so interesting and complex, that I could sit all day just smelling it (but come up with a different nuance every time). It has an overpowering aroma of honey, burnt orange, and perhaps a hint of lychee from the Gewurzt. From the honeyed smell you would be forgiven for thinking that it might be sweet on the palate – but not at all – it really misleads you in this respect. On the palate there are just so many exotic flavours, fused with hazelnuts and perhaps just a hint of salinity. But if I thought that this wine was difficult to describe, then the second left me with a blank tasting sheet!

We are officially back in the wine cellar today, and so, technically, I shouldn’t be posting any more holiday ramblings – but there was one more comment that I wanted to make about chefs, food and up-market restaurants. Give me my food on a plate please!

I remember back in the early 80’s when an English chef called Antony Worrall-Thompson opened a very trendy restaurant in Knightsbridge called Menage-A-Trois. Only starters and desserts were served – very small portions using highly imaginative food presentation – the technique then widely known as ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’. It was all the rage. Having said that, despite all the playing around, arranging the food on the plate to create a pretty picture, as far as I recall, it still tasted pretty good.

These days chefs continue to present food in creative ways, but then one of the latest trends might just be pushing the envelope a bit too far. Chefs are now using some very odd ‘platters’ on which to serve – and when I say platter, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything ceramic. It started with wooden boards and pieces of slate, but has now extended to plant pots, flooring panels, shovels, a dog bowl and even a shoe….. yes, I did say a shoe.

Apart from the obvious hygiene implications (that some of these materials are porous and therefore difficult to clean), my belief is that it’s all gone a bit to far, and in a way, chefs should get ‘back to basics’ – stay in the kitchen, make good tasty food and present it nicely… on a plate! Sometimes it’s all just too easy to get carried away, and lose focus on the real job at hand.

And for me, now, it’s back to work – just focusing on making great wine!

ClosuresIt was not too many years ago that popular belief pretty much dictated that albariño needed to be enjoyed whilst it was young, in it’s infancy, almost as a ‘primeur’ wine. Since that time (and especially here at Castro Martin), we have been working non-stop to educate our customers that this idea is simply a myth. However, in order to improve and preserve the longevity of any wine there are still many factors that need to be taken into consideration. Of all the different factors that can influence ageing potential some of the most important/obvious include:

  • The structure of the wine itself – that it is well balanced and vinified accordingly (for example, extended lees ageing will add longevity, whereas rapid fermentation at warmer temperature will often produce short-lived wines).
  • That it is bottled correctly, and protected as far as possible against oxidation – this includes the correct levels of sulphur and most importantly the type and quality of closure used.
  • That the wine is transported and stored correctly, preferably in a cool, dark cellar.

As you may already know we take the business of closures very seriously, not just from the point of view of avoiding taint, but perhaps more importantly, in order to ‘manage’ the ageing process. There are actually several types of closures on the market these days that allow contolled levels of OTR (Oxygen Transmission Rate) which enables the wine maker to maintain at least some degree of control over the speed at which their wine will evolve (assuming that at least some of the steps mentioned above have been followed). Of course, there can be no absolute guarantees attached to this idea, and then added to this equation is the experience and/or personal taste of the individual consumer. Some will prefer to drink their wine fresh and fruity, whereas other might prefer to wait for wine to mature, developing slightly more complex ‘secondary’ aromas and flavours.

I should mention that on our recent trip to the States (in Spring 2017), many customers were actually blown away by our 2013 and 2014 albariños. Not specially selected cuvées, simply wines with a bit of bottle age tasted straight ‘off the shelf’.

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?!!

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

New Year Fizz

January 2nd, 2017

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GorgolaI think it only appropriate that my first post of the New Year should be about sparkling wine, as it is very common to associate popping corks with this time of year. Without wanting to sound too arrogant I do consider myself to be something of a Champagne aficionado, and pretty much every Christmas and New Year for as long as I can remember, have always pulled the cork on a nice bottle – except for this year!

A few months ago whilst sampling a ‘wine flight’ in a good restaurant, I was served a glass of Albariño ‘espumoso’ as an aperitif. I have tasted (and actively disliked) almost every sparkling albariño that I have tried before, but I had now, finally, discovered an exception! A wine called Gorgola made by Cabana das Bolboretas. I believe that this Galician name could be something to do with the small bubbles that break the surface of the sea creating the foam (I will have to research this more).

Gorgola is made by hand, on a very small scale using very traditional Champagne methods. The bottle I tried was a 2013 ‘vintage’, made using only base wines of this single cosecha and using exclusively albariño grapes – this being the case no blending was required. It was disgorged in Spring 2016 after some 26 months of secondary fermentation/bottle ageing. Classified as ‘Extra Brut’, it was very dry (between 3g and 6g residual sugar), and so there was no discernible sweetness.

Technically a ‘Blanc de Blancs’, it had a dry, almost flinty, mineral fruit, but then a unique characteristic that made it quite recognisable as an albariño to the discerning palate. It had the typical salty zest on the tongue, that gave it a special character, and in my opinion, certainly worth giving a try.

(By the way, the Echezeaux 1998, Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg wasn’t too shabby either!)

Posted in Fiestas, Food & Wine