Archive for the ‘Rias Baixas’ Category

The other day my UK journalist friend Tim Atkin wrote an article about typicity. In the context of wine, this simply means the typical characteristics that you would expect to find in a particular type of wine – a combination of factors typical of the denomination, of the grape variety, all ultimately influenced by the local climate and/or vintage. 

In Rias Baixas the definition of a typical albariño will certainly vary according to the sub-zone. Although there is only 60km seperating the north from the south of the denomination, climatic and soil variations can already produce some widely differing styles. These days, unfortunately, flavour profiles can also be manipulated by the use of cultured yeasts whereby a wine’s typicity can be can be rendered almost unrecognisable. At Castro Martin however, we always opt for a very ‘neutral’ yeast, doing our very best to preserve and protect the delicate aromas of the albariño grape. Our extended lees ageing period helps not only to enhance this, but also adds further to the complexity of the finished wine.

In our view an albariño should always have a delicate fruit, perhaps slightly floral nose, sometimes offering a hint of salinity. On the palate flavours are often piercing and intense – a lively sweet and sour mixture. Notes of freshly cut fruit dominate – citrus, green apple, pear  and can include more exotic fruits such as melon, apricot and white peach. On the finish is can have a ‘nervous’, granitic edge and a streak of a salt-lick zestiness. It sounds like a real mouthful – but this is exactly what the typical albariño should be.

A few weeks ago I took a photo of a guy in the middle of a forest, close to our bodega, cutting trees and making a clearing. Little did I know at that moment that his plan was to plant a small vineyard – but it did start me thinking. Was there any logic whatsoever behind the site that he selected, or was it just a small plot of land where he fancied growing a few grapes? I rather suspect it was the latter.

I have asked myself this question many times, about the seemingly random situation of many of our Rias Baixas vineyards, and how they actually come to be selected. My guess is that, for the vast majority, it is more about convenience than making any type of detailed study to find the best site. This could explain why, in a denomination of only 4,000 hectares, there are nearly 22,000 different vineyard sites!

In the wine business we talk about ‘Terroir’, which many think is simply related to the soil on which a vine is planted, but I can tell you that it is actually much, much more complex than that. Terroir is a combination of factors, including nearly every physical aspect of a vineyard location that you can think of – soil, soil type, drainage, aspect, sun exposure, local rainfall, protection/shade, wind, sea mists etc., etc. All of the individual components that will ultimately determine why the quality of one grape varies from another (assuming that they have been properly cared for).

My photo shows this new planting, bathed in a bit of early morning sun. But what the photo doesn’t tell you is that this location is one of the coldest corners of Ribadumia. The vineyard is on a north facing slope, and apart from this brief touch of sun, it will spend the rest of the day shrouded by trees, with almost no direct sunlight and very little warmth. In a few years I will be interested to explore what it produces.

Only a few days ago, during a conversation with another wine professional, I very quickly realised that there is still some confusion surrounding the difference between an ‘Albariño’ (made in Rias Baixas) and a Rias Baixas wine. (If that statement is not already confusing enough!)

In some regions of the world different grape varieties can be blended to create a wine, but then the label might only mention the predominant grape variety. A Sauvignon Blanc for example, might have a small percentage of Semillon in the blend, but then this fact might only be mentioned on the back label. These wines will most likely originate from the ‘new world’ where the strict rules of a D.O., D.O.C., or A.O.C. do not apply, and where perhaps, the mention of a very specific geographical area is not required. Rias Baixas is different.

As far as “Albariño” is concerned the rule of the Rias Baixas denomination is actually quite simple. For a wine to be called Albariño it can only be made from 100% Albarino grapes (originating from within the D.O.) Albariño grapes from within the different sub-zones can be blended together, but every single grape has to be 100% Albariño. Simple!

Our D.O. actually permits six different white grape varieties to be used, but even if only 1% of a second grape variety is added to a blend containing 99% albariño, then the wine cannot be called, or sold as Albariño. A wine of different blended grapes from our denomination can only be known as ‘Rias Baixas’.

Whether the wine is 100% albariño or not, it can still also carry the name of it’s sub-zone of origin (assuming that all the grapes are gathered from within that zone). So, for example, you can have a Rosal Rias Baixas (made from the different grape varieties of Rosal), or you can have an Albariño Val do Salnes, Rias Baixas (made from 100% Albariño grapes ALL originating from Salnes Valley).

Posted in Rias Baixas

OK, perhaps I am biased, but I have to admit that I am rather fond of our 2016 Family Estate wine. That’s not to say that I don’t normally like it, it’s simply that I think that the 2016 is singularly good. From their tasting notes below, I would say that our Australian friends appear to think the same. This is perhaps one of the most detailed tasting notes I have ever read, and to be honest, I haven’t even heard of half of the fruits that they mention!

Castro Martin Family Estate ‘Sobre Lias’ 2016

A fine sandy colour with a touch of green, this is a young varietal Albariño with a significant future.

A golden fruit nose carries granitic sand’s talcy-minerality. The fruit is sliced apple and nashi flesh with a hint of spicy breakfast radish and waft of paddymelon skin. To taste, the gorgeously rounded prickly pear fruit has an enlivened sweet-sour tug, thanks to a tangle of subtle green elements – tarragon, watermelon skin, mint, lime. But the mouthfeel really is the thing! At first, trademark Salnes Valley acidity is prominent, along with Atlantic saline and granitic edginess – these are textural and flavoursome, far from simply sharp, and house a wine of great fleshy depth. Below and within the acid frame, a surprisingly powerful bell of lively, spiced rich fruit pushes out, revealing the hidden, raw power of Albariño, from a very fine tank of supremely textural fruit. Astonishing already, with 2-3 years of positive development ahead of it, this delicious wine sets a new benchmark for Albariño.

A recent article from the Wine Enthusiast would also appear to support the’typicity’ of this wine:

Val do Salnés: The Birthplace of the Grape

Whenever we have welcomed visitors over the last few years, we have usually taken them out for a trip around the vineyards, and to explain the geography of the Salnés Valley – where we are situated in relation to the Atlantic Ocean etc. We have discovered that best way to do this is actually quite simple – to drive them up a hill, above the valley, and admire the wonderful view of Salnés extended out in front of them. 

Dotted around Galicia, there are quite a number of ‘Miradors’ (look out points), designed almost exclusively for tourism purposes. (They are also often used by locals as picnicking places, as many include stone tables and benches, perhaps even a built-in barbecue).

Our very favourite for showing off Salnés is the mirador of San Cibran, located only a few km from our front door, which is, as you might imagine, mostly an uphill journey! However, recently, we have developed a bit of a problem….. no view! 

Very unfortunately, the surrounding hillside is planted with Eucalyptus trees (not indigenous to Galicia, but extensively planted some years ago to produce cheap timber). Now they are taking over, not only blocking the views, but also creating the perfect environment for forest fires. You may recall that at the end of May last year I wrote about how our own Ocean view, at the rear of our bodega, had been restored when some trees were felled, and it now seems that St Cibran is desperately in need of a bit of TLC as well. Regrettably, a mirador without is view, is now essentially, just a hill!

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

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