Archive for the ‘Rias Baixas’ Category

10°C in 12km

July 16th, 2015

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Rolling mistIn the guide books of Galicia you might read that the region is more or less divided in two – the Rias Baixas (the lower rivers or estuaries) and the Rias Altas (the higher rivers or estuaries). The regulated wine producing area is located entirely in the Rias Baixas, and quite obviously, is why our denomination assumes that name. The D.O. is then sub-divided into zones, stretching from the Miño river in the south (that forms the border with Portugal), to the Ulla in the North, which is not too far from Santiago de Compostela.

Although the distances from north to south are not that great (we are in the northern zone of Salnés, and yet only about 60km north of the Portuguese border), there is still quite a lot of variation in the styles of wine produced. Generally speaking, the wines from the north are lean, vivacious with a fresh acidity, whereas the southern wines tend to be a bit fatter, softer and have a lower acidity.

The point of my story is however, probably more about microclimate. Our bodega is located close to the Ria de Arousa, near Cambados, whilst our home is just 12km further south on the Ria de Pontevedra (one ‘estuary’ lower down the coast). When I left our wine cellar yesterday at 4pm to drive home, the shade temperature in front of the building was 32°C (87°F), but as I started my journey I noticed that the thermometer in my car was dropping quite rapidly. By the time I had driven the 12km to my house the temperature had dropped to a refreshing 22°C (71°F) – a difference of 10°C (15°F). And the reason?…. A sea fog. During the day a dense curtain of mist had rolled slowly up the Ria de Pontevedra, shrouding the entire area in a veil of cooling cloud, completely preventing the sun from penetrating until the late afternoon. Not only did this fog create the dramatic difference in temperatures, but it is also the very same fog that occasionally hangs over our vineyards and is said to add a little saline character to our fruit….. You can really taste the sea!

Holiday 2015

March 6th, 2015

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ArousaWhen you look at today’s photograph, you might be forgiven for thinking that it was taken in the Caribbean, or perhaps the Greek Islands, but you would be wrong. Prepare to be shocked….. As the crow flies, this beautiful little island is actually a mere 12.43km (7.7 miles) from the front door or our bodega, in the Ría de Arousa, near Cambados. (For those who might not remember, a Ría is a river estuary, and the Ría de Arousa forms a part of Rías Baixas – the lowers estuaries, from where we get our name).

I am sure that I have mentioned before, our Rías are dotted with hundreds of small beaches and tiny islands, it really is a beautiful place….. when it’s not raining! Of course I only say that now because in winter it can be pretty grey and dismal, but in summer it is transformed by the sun, into a really beautiful corner of Spain. And, it is still quite authentic, in that it hasn’t been exploited by too much (foreign) tourism. True, many Spanish people holiday here, and have second homes on our coast, but you still wouldn’t bump into too many English speakers, for example.

So that’s today’s holiday propaganda over and done, apart from this link to this fabulous video of Salnés (also on our website’s YouTube page). Oh, and by the way, did I mention that we also have great wine and seafood!

Posted in Galicia, Rias Baixas

Val do SalnesI have commented often enough about wine descriptions, and the vocabulary that we use in an attempt to describe a taste or smell. Writers will sometimes go to extreme lengths to stimulate our tastebuds, and perhaps steer us towards a new wine experience. When it comes to describing a denomination of origin, such as Rias Baixas, then that is another matter….

Our good friend Xoan Cannas is a former Nariz de Oro of Spain (best sommelier), and his passion for our region is made clear in a recent newspaper article, when he describes his home territory of Rias Baixas. I should mention that I have done my best to translate his paragraph, carefully choosing words in order not to detract too much from the original:

“When I think of the sea, the wine that first comes to mind is that of Rías Baixas, that is my territory, inseparable from the sea, and its connection with the bracing winds, the salt, the image of the breaking waves, that produces such crisp, ‘electric’ wines. They are inseparable from the fish and the produce of the sea, the mussels and their platforms. Vineyards so close to the sea, that their vines are simply burnt by the salt, sea spray”

Words that really paint a picture!

Video4On our website we have a few different videos, including a rather good interview with Angela, made for a local TV channel. The problem is that the interview was conducted entirely in Spanish, and so if you don’t speak the lingo, all that’s left is for you to look at the pretty pictures. Originally, I did have the idea of adding subtitles, which is perfectly feasable, but when I took into consideration the amount of work, compounded by the speed at which Angela speaks, well, I simply abandoned the project.

Since then I have often thought that we should add something similar in English, and so that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have made a short video introducing the bodega, the region (with an emphasis on the Atlantic Ocean) and our vineyards. Indeed, there is quite a nice sequence filmed in our picturesque ‘Pazo’ vineyard, made shortly before this year’s harvest  (and just before the last minute rain storms arrived). From memory I think this is the first film that we’ve ever made in this vineyard, so it’s certainly worth taking a look. As for the interview? It’s short, sweet and to the point, falling far short of Andy Wahol’s suggestion of 15 minutes…… so if you have an odd couple of minutes to spare then why not take a look? (Click the You Tube menu)

Bus TourA while ago I wrote about the Ruta do Vino and the fact that we have opted out. The Wine Route is a more or less a map of our denomination that advises tourists which Bodegas are actively open to visits. As I mentioned when I wrote about this before the reason we have decided not to participate is that we simply don’t have the manpower to accommodate wine tourism. If we said “yes” then we could easily spend the whole of our summer just giving guided tours of the cellar and not conducting any real business.

In some countries such as Australia and the United States enotourism can actually make a healthy contribution to the sales of a winery, but that rather depends on the size of the business and the resources that they have available. Larger wineries will have tour guides, tasting rooms and the inevitable shop, where they not only sell wine, but other wine related trinkets and souvenirs. All this can generate a significant income when done properly.

In our own region cellar door business is not very common, and it is only the very largest cellars and co-operatives that are set up properly for tourism. However, there is an initiative coming up that will hopefully open a few more doors for some cellars. In the coming weeks our D.O. have organised a ‘Wine Bus’ that will follow the Rias Baixas wine route visiting three cellars a day. The bus ride will cost participants a mere 12 Euros each, which seems like pretty good value to me, assuming that the Bodegas will include a small tasting in the tour.

I suppose the only downside is the timing, as the tours start this month and continue until the end of October – this coincides perfectly with the 2013 harvest. As I mentioned before at Castro Martin we do not have the resources to accommodate tours or tour buses, and the thought that 50 curious visitors might turn up at our door on a busy harvest day would simply fill me with terror!

Posted in Rias Baixas

Taste the sea

August 19th, 2013

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Sea mistThe other day I was interviewed for a video (that may or may not end up attached to our website, depending on how it turns out), the significant point being that the person asking the questions appeared to be a little transfixed by the Altlantic Ocean and the effect that it had on our wines. It is of course true that the Atlantic does have a huge influence on our albariño and could possibly be the reason that this unique grape was planted in Galicia in the first place. Not only do particular varietals thrive in particular climates, but also the local diet often plays a large part in the style or type of wine that dominates in a given area. Being by the Ocean and having direct access to a huge amount of fresh fish and seafood has no doubt played its part over the centuries, and is probably one of the main reasons that our local wine history has evolved the way it did.

The style of most albariño is very distinctive, and many of the adjectives that are used to describe it are actually synonymous with the sea – we use terms such as fresh, zesty, crisp, clean and even salty, all words that could just as easily be used to describe the breeze from the Ocean. Indeed, the smell that we do experience from the sea rather depends on where you are, as different areas of coastline combined with a differing local climate can certainly change your perception.

So where does this distinct character come from? Well, quite naturally, a huge proportion comes from the grape itself, and whilst we have only one variety that dominates, there are of course many clones in existence, each of which might yield a slightly different taste (although the differences are very subtle and will not trouble most consumers). The rest comes from what the French would call ‘terroir’ – not just the soil, but all the different climatic nuances that surround a vineyard or wine growing area. In Galicia many of the soils are sandy, alluvial soils, deposited by the rivers (or Rias) along the coast. Obviously the soil itself will contain mineral deposits that could include varying amounts of sodium (salt), whilst the underlying base of granite in some areas, can increase the acidity and add to the ‘mineral’ character of the grape.

As far as the weather is concerned, being immediately adjacent to the ocean (as we are in the Val do Salnés sub-zone), has the effect of moderating our climate, keeping it cooler in summer, and more mild in winter. However, moving as little as 30 or 40km inland from the coast there can be a significant difference. Around our local town of Ourense for example, in summer it is quite common for the thermometer to hit 40°C (over 100°F) during the peak of summer. From a grape growing point of view this is far from ideal as the berries can rapidly lose their acidity.

Finally, we have the sea-mist – witnessed quite a lot in recent days. One minute we are bathed in hot sunshine, and then, within a matter of minutes we are plunged into a somewhat chilly blanket of a briny, saline sea-mist (or néboa in Galician), as it suddenly rolls in from the Ocean. This can be seen quite dramatically in today’s photos (click to enlarge), all taken within a period of 15-20 minutes. This sea-mist sometimes shrouds the vineyards even at the height of summer, and there is no doubt that this not only will influence the development of the fruit, but can also possibly, add just a touch of salty zest to the bunches.

Posted in Rias Baixas, Weather

Neal Martin flies in

September 26th, 2012

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At the beginning of last month I wrote about the scandal surrounding the former Master of Wine Pancho Campo and his relationship with Jay Miller, writer for the Wine Advocate. Whatever the definitive truth behind this story, Jay Miller eventually resigned from his post as a contributor for Robert Parker Jr. and has since been replaced by the English writer Neal Martin.

Shortly before Mr Miller resigned we received notice that he would be visiting the offices of our denomination to make an extensive tasting of our Rias Baxias wines. At first the tasting was postponed, until it was eventually cancelled completely later in the year. We were never given any official explanation and heard nothing more until now – a new tasting would be conducted by a new taster, or ’emissary’ as he was described in our local press.

From my days in the UK trade I am fortunate to know many English wine writers on a personal basis, but I have to confess that Neal Martin is a name that is new to me. After working in Japan, Mr Martin discovered wine more or less by accident, working for a Japanese export company where one of the commodities on their export list just happened to be wine. After completing various courses with the WSET he set up his own wine blog wine-journal.com, and then, just a few short years later was approached by Robert Parker Jr. to become a contributor to the Wine Advocate, covering Spain and parts of South America. He is also a keen music lover.

Posted in Rias Baixas, Tasting

Before the 2011 harvest kicked off, the experts of Rias Baixas had calculated that the total harvest for the denomination would be around 37 million kilos….. they were wrong! It transpired that 2011 would be memorable for two different reasons – not only was it one of the earliest harvest that we have ever witnessed, but it also exceeded all expectations in terms of volume too. The final count for the Rias Baixas denomination was some 41,787,783 kilos.

The previous record, set only last year (approximately 31.5 million kilos), was shattered – surpassed by more than 30% – an incredible year-on-year increase.

By far the biggest contributor to this total was our own northern sub-zone of the Salnés Valley, with around 27 million kilos, which is why this area is always known as the ‘heart’ of the denomination.

Whilst there are two or three other permitted varietals in Rias Baixas, more than 40 million kilos of those harvested was Albariño. Loureira and Treixadura accounted for around 700,000 kilos, and red grapes, less than 1%.

Posted in Rias Baixas