Archive for the ‘Technical’ Category

BiodynamicA week or so ago I wrote about tasting the tanks of our 2016 wines, and the fact that that I had decided to taste them on a day determined by my 2017 Biodynamic tasting calendar. I have mentioned this calendar on previous occasions, but just to recap quickly, it suggests that wine will taste differently on different days of the month according to the phases of the moon. The best days are known as ‘fruit’ or ‘flower’ days, the bad days are ‘leaf’ or ‘root’.

I confess that I originally stumbled upon this idea more or less by accident, when I often imagined that our wines appeared to taste better on certain days of the week, but couldn’t really pinpoint the reason why. I subsequently read about the theory of tasting cycles and the biodynamic calendar, and despite remaining sceptical, decided to buy a copy. Of course, the power of suggestion is very strong, and we can all be influenced or have our perception changed by having a certain idea being offered to us in advance. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I find that this concept works for me, and the days that I chose to taste are now more often than not decided by a quick glance at the calendar. And I am not the only one – large organisations such as Tesco and Marks & Spencer, as well as important cellars such as Pol Roger and Maison Joseph Drouhin also use this calendar as a point of reference.

The reason that I am revisiting this subject now is simply because a New Zealand scientific study into the Biodynamic calendar has just been published. “The findings reported in the present study provide no evidence in support of the notion that how a wine tastes is associated with the lunar cycle,” the researchers concluded. The methodology was simple – 19 New Zealand wine professionals making blind tastings of 12 Pinot Noirs, four times, twice on a fruit day and twice on a root day, using 20 descriptors including  aroma, taste and mouthfeel. They concluded that the lunar cycle did not influence their perceptions. (I should mention that atmospheric pressure was also taken into account as some believe that this can also influence taste).

Perhaps the surprising point is that despite these findings, some wine professionals (including MW’s) say that they still retain their faith in support of the calendar… including me!

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.

White wineBiodynamic, organic or sustainable? What’s the difference? This is a question that causes quite a few headaches, not only for the wine industry in general, but also, more importantly, for the poor confused consumer buying the finished wine. It is also one of the questions that we are most frequently asked by our own importers and customers, and it is a question that we always answer truthfully (even when we know that being economical with the truth might help to widen our potential consumer base).

By far the most complicated to achieve is biodynamic, and for most producers in Rias Baixas is an unattainable status, mostly owing to the damp conditions that we endure in this corner of Spain. To be fully biodynamic doesn’t just mean farming grapes without chemicals, but actually treats the vineyard as an ecosystem, taking into account astrological influences and lunar cycles etc. A true biodynamic wine is also made without any of the common manipulations such as yeast additions or acidity adjustments. Just one obvious reason why Rias Baixas cannot really produce biodynamic wine is because albariño’s naturally occurring yeast flora, by itself, simply cannot sustain a complete alcoholic fermentation.

In the category of organic, there are two types of wine. Those made from organically grown grapes that don’t use any synthetic additives or treatments, or the higher level of completely ‘organic wine’ that uses organic grapes but also doesn’t add sulphites to the wine (although it can include any naturally occurring sulphites).

Sustainable wine (such as our own Castro Martin wines), are made using a range of practices that are not only ecologically sound, but also economically viable and socially responsible. We adopt many of the practices that will be used in organic or biodynamic farming but have a little flexibility to include practices that suit our individual needs. Clearly, we are not going to sit back and watch our fruit rot on the vines if we can take steps to prevent it from happening….. Sustainability also means that we focus on things like water and energy conservation, as well as the use of renewable resources.

As far as selecting your wine is concerned, the simple rule is – if in doubt, read the label!

BCM Fiche

We have just updated the ‘wine information sheets’ on our website, or at least the English versions (Spanish will follow very soon). They can be found on the DOWNLOADS page, that also includes bottle shots, labels, vintage reports and a couple of other, hopefully useful, things.

My only problem is that I never quite know what to call these particular documents. Personally, I have always called them ‘Fiche Technique’, but I guess that could because much of my wine education was made in France. Of course here in Spain that translates into ‘Ficha Técnica’, whilst I believe that in the States they are sometimes called ‘Cheat Sheets’. Whatever your language, these smart new pages are now available for download.

Posted in Technical, Websites

Corc evolution

September 4th, 2015

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Bio ClosureThere has always been a certain stigma attached to synthetic closures, not necessarily because of the way they perform, but usually more to do with the way they look. Don’t worry, at this point I’m not going to launch into one of my long lectures about the pro’s and con’s of our corcs (with a ‘c’), but merely wanted to point out that their evolution continues.

As you will probably know, the Nomacorc product that we already use is the World’s first zero carbon footprint wine closure, made entirely from renewable, plant-based polymers. They are also manufactured using 100% renewable energy and the process uses only minimal amounts of water, making them ideal for sustainable wine producers.

To address the problem of their appearance Nomacorc have now released a new design, that we have just used for the first time this week. Today’s picture shows the old design on the right, and our modified, new design on the left. My guess is that without giving our new corc a very close inspection the vast majority of consumers will not even notice that it’s synthetic!

MouseThere is a chemical compound that can sometimes develop in wine called 2-acetyltetrahydropyridine, or ACTPY for short. The aroma is described as being like “caged mice and cracker biscuits”, and believe it or not, it is actually very difficult to smell (simply because it is a basic compound). It is much more likely that you will detect it on your palate as it’s release will be triggered by your own pH. Wine is obviously acidic and it is only when you put the wine in your mouth that the pH increases and the compound returns to its aromatic form, allowing it to be tasted.

Owing to the time it takes for this reaction to take place the evolution of the mousey flavour can be delayed…it might take about 30 seconds or so to develop on your palate. If you taste it in a line up of several wines it is important to identify the right wine as the culprit, and make sure that this off flavour isn’t carried over from a previous wine! The sensation can also persist in your mouth for several minutes and therefore it can be difficult to taste other wines afterwards.

There are two main origins of this off-flavour– microbial and chemical. If it’s microbial, it comes from strains of lactic acid bacteria or yeast, and if its origin is chemical, it is associated with the process of hyperoxidation (when hydrogen peroxide is used to remove SO2 from juice or wine). Thankfully, the latter is not a process that we use at Castro Martin. At this time there are no methods for measuring the level of mousiness in wines, and detection is still reliant on tasters, sensitive to this off-flavour. The other bad news is  that there’s also no verified ways to remove the character, other than blending away the affected wine.

As with any microbial and chemical fault in wine, prevention is always better than cure!

Posted in Tasting, Technical

No more headaches!

December 2nd, 2013

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HangoverSulphur dioxide (SO2) is widely used in winemaking as a preservative and antibacterial agent, but for some people it can have a very unpleasant side-effect. The quantities used in a finished wine are strictly regulated and are so small (measured in parts per million) that they shouldn’t really cause any health problems. However, it is alleged that some people can suffer from headaches or have breathing difficulties triggered by drinking these trace amounts of SO2 (although this statement is probably quite unfair as there are other compounds, such as tyramines and histamines that can also contribute to the problem).

Eliminating the need for sulphur in wine would therefore be more than welcome news for these consumers, and it might just be that researchers at Penn State University have come up with a suitable alternative – chelator. Chelation is a process where molecules bind with metal ions, and it is suggested that this technique could be used to remove trace metals in wine. By simply adding compounds that bind to the iron, such as phytic acid (found naturally in grape juice), oxidation in wine is prevented. In addition to this it was also discovered that these chelators could inhibit the formation of acetaldehyde, which robs a wine of its fruity, freshness and is the precursor of vinegar-like acetic acid. Celebrations all ’round…. well, maybe not quite yet.

The question is how much this could it affect the other properties of wine or whether it could have any other, unwanted side-effects, such as changing the way a wine matures over time. Only time and a lot more testing will reveal the answers, but the days of adding sulphur to wine might just be numbered.

Vines - The Next GenerationI think it would be fair to say that there is almost never a quiet moment in the calendar of the vigneron – it’s pretty much non-stop, there’s always something going on, even in winter. Usually, once the harvest is completed, the wine making takes over, and often before this has even finished we have to start on the pruning. By the time we finish all the pruning and tying the shoots to the wires, the growing season has started once again, and so the cycle continues….

At the end of the pruning, once the wires have been cleaned up ready for the new growth, this is really the best (and only) moment to carry out repairs and general ‘rejuvenation’ of the vineyards. A week or two ago I wrote about the repair of broken wires, but probably the most important of all the spring chores is the replanting/replacement of any damaged, broken or diseased vine plants. Very regrettably some of the vines that we have to replace are simply the ones which have reached the end of their productive life cycle. The dilemma is that as the vine gets very old so the yield of the plant is greatly reduced, but this will often produce the very best quality grapes of the entire vineyard. This is why many wineries make a special ‘Old Vines’ Cuvée (always at a premium price) – a very low yield wine, but of very high quality and with great concentration.

The best solution to this ‘old vine’ conundrum, is therefore something of a compromise. To replace vines almost on a ‘rolling’ basis whereby we never arrive in a situation where we have to replace large sections of any one vineyard at any one time. The best permutation is always to have a good cross-section of mature vines, producing good quality fruit, whilst always maintaining a viable working volume.

Today’s photo shows some of our latest new arrivals – our next generation of fruit producers direct from the nursery. Not any old nursery I should tell you, but an officially registered producer of vines, where every plant is certified and comes with its own complete traceability. We are however, still able to select from a handful of different clones, and our choice is of course based on both experience and the style that we want to achieve in our finished wine – the results of which will only be seen several years down the line.

Posted in Technical, Vineyards


April 19th, 2013

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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!


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?

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