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Grapes into wine

September 18th, 2017

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At this time of year, when I am writing about our harvest, I am always very aware that I am probably repeating the same stories over and over again – such is the nature of our business – a cycle that repeats itself every year. Of course there will be differences, especially as it is nature that plays a very large role in dictating the quality of our fruit. As mere passengers all we can do is adjust to the harvest that we are given. Fortunately 2017 has been very kind to us, and as I have already mentioned, we have some very good raw material to work with.

Having said that everything is repetitive, I really should qualify that by saying that we are always looking for ways to improve what we do and never standing still. We examine our procedures to make them as efficient as possible (getting the fruit from vine to tank as quickly as possible is our prime objective at picking), and once inside the cellar we sometimes make small adjustments too. I say small adjustments because generally speaking we are quite happy with our overall results year-on-year, and so never want to do anything too radical to change that. We always want our albariño to taste, well….. like albariño, or perhaps more specifically, Salnés Valley albariño.

In the past I have mentioned that we are obliged to seed our must with cultured yeasts (as the natural yeasts that occur are simply not strong enough to support a complete fermentation), so clearly this involves a very careful selection. These days it is all to easy to mask the natural fruit with aromas and flavours that are not necessarily representative of our grape variety, and so our first objective in selection is always to make sure that albariño remains at the forefront. Each year we might experiment a little, by making one small tank of wine using a new yeast, and comparing the result to our more usual wine making recipe. It is interesting to note that this year, by co-incidence, we will be using three different yeasts – one of French origin but coming from Australia, one from Auckland in New Zealand and another from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Who said that wine making is not an International business?!

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The MaskToday’s photo is actually a little premature, but as today is Halloween I couldn’t resist a little joke at Angela’s expense….. The (horror) mask that Angela is wearing is actually a vital piece of safety equipment that we wear each time we are handling sulphur dioxide. The end of the fermentation is the time of year that we add by far the biggest dose of sulphur to our wine. Whilst all the sugar has been consumed and transformed into alcohol, the raw wine is still a bit unstable at this moment. In order to stop any unwanted reactions completely, and to prevent any potential secondary fermentations, we add sulphur to each tank simply to ensure that everything remains completely under control. It serves as an antibiotic and antioxidant protecting our wine from spoilage by bacteria and oxidation.

The pure sulphur dioxide that we use is potentially deadly – even when we use it in a diluted form we still wear a mask – it is quite toxic and can be pretty nasty stuff, but at least when we use it in our wine it’s presence is measured in parts per million. SO2 is already present in our atmosphere, released naturally for example, by volcanoes. Both here, and in our wine making, the quantities in evidence are miniscule. 

Anyway, the end of our fermentations are still probably about a week away, but I thought that being Halloween this photo might scare a few people…. it does me! 

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Cases in El PazoSuffice to say that today’s weather is still fine and sunny, and with all set fair we started our presses earlier than ever. The first load was under way at shortly after 11am, which is just about as early as we can manage. The picking team swoop in at 9.30am (once the fruit has lost any overnight humidity), they load their 20kg baskets, and these are whisked away without any delay to the bodega – a perfect start to the day, until…… Yes, the inevitable technical problem, but this year not one that we would normally anticipate. The large industrial scale that we use for weighing the pallets of grapes as they are unloaded, decided to start giving us completely nonsensical readings – for example, according to the system I now weigh minus 3kg (the new diet must be working better than I thought!). This weighing system is connected directly to the computer that checks in every single load, and whilst we could read the sugar, the pH and the acidity, the weight of each basket remained a total mystery. Time to call the engineer and wait for a response.

Of course the inevitable result of any such delay is the dreaded backlog – once the pressing process is stopped at any point whilst the grapes are still arriving then things, quite literally, begin to pile up. Thankfully the engineer responded pretty quickly, and within a couple of hours we were back up and running. The grape reception area needed some sorting out as the pallets were lined up for weighing, but eventually order was restored, and we carried on on our cool, calm and collected way….. (well, that last part might be a bit of an exaggeration). 

To end the day Angela had one minor disaster of her own – preparing some tank treatments in the laboratory her Blackberry slipped out of the breast pocket of her white coat and landed straight in a bucket of sugary grape must – I think that’s what you have to classify a ‘sticky end’, but if you could chose, I guess it’s not such a bad way to end your working life!

Choosing your wine

March 19th, 2013

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Whether you find yourself in a shop, a supermarket, or in a posh restaurant, making your selection of wine is not only a very, very daunting task, but it is also, of course, purely subjective. The wines that I like or recommend could very easily be hated by someone else. I know this from experience, as in my previous life as a wine buyer the question that I was most often asked was “what wine should I drink”? My reply was always the same….. “drink what you enjoy” – in other words no one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t like.

The next problem might be that if you do find yourself in an expensive restaurant then your situation becomes even more complicated. Firstly, you don’t want to make what could be a very costly mistake, and secondly you don’t want to choose something that is repulsive with your food – hence the fact that there should be an experienced sommelier to help you. If they know their job properly then they should be able to guide you safely through the minefield that is their wine list, and make the appropriate recommendations.

So what do you do in a supermarket? Buy the same wine week-in week-out just to be on the safe side? On a supermarket shelf the two bottles adjacent to each other might be from the same country, but they could be wildly different in style. So what’s the answer?

One UK supermarket chain has at least come up with an original idea – to arrange their display by wine style rather than just by simple geographical origin (as most do). Instead the signs in their aisles will direct you to Fresh, Smooth, Sweet or Intense wines. The supermarket in question, William Morrisons, have also taken the idea one step further…. they have devised a test to help guide you to a specific category of wine that you might enjoy. Perhaps a bit too sophisticated an idea for your average supermarket shopper, but an idea that breaks the mould and for that reason alone, has to be applauded. Incidentally, I took the test myself and was just a little perplexed by the result, telling me that my preference was for sweet wine (which is actually not the case), so if you want to play along just click here and take the test yourself. It’s simple, it’s fun and it’s actually quite well made even if you don’t agree with the result.

Table for two?

January 31st, 2013

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Now, call me old fashioned, but when I book a table for two I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect a bit of space and relative privacy as we enjoy our meal. These days however, in some restaurants at least, tables can be wedged together, resembling some sort of production line, so close in fact that you can easily share the condiments (and perhaps the conversation) of the table next to you!

For example, in today’s photo, you would be forgiven for thinking that the diners shown are actually eating together, maybe attending a banquet and sharing one long table. Closer examination reveals that they are in fact a series of small tables for two, and that all the diners are eating separately…… well, sort of. I’m afraid to tell you that this is pretty much my idea of hell, and that given the choice, I would actively give such restaurants a miss. I really hate it where there is so little space that you have to re-arrange the table to accommodate your main course plate, or that there is so much noise that you can’t hold a private conversation.

If my memory serves me one of the earliest examples of this style of ‘cosy eating’ was (and perhaps still is), Quaglino’s in London. Created in the early 90’s by Sir Terence Conran, I can clearly remember that the place caused quite a stir, not simply because of it’s overall size, but also because of the close proximity of it’s smaller dining tables – diners were virtually rubbing elbows with their neighbours sitting at adjacent tables.

I remember once going to a small, intimate restaurant in London – our first experience was fantastic. On our second visit they located us on a tiny table at the top of a stair case – a table so small that our cutlery was practically falling off the edges. There was never a third visit!

Yet more warnings!

August 20th, 2012

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It was only a day or so ago that I was writing about the abuse of alcohol, and how (as responsible producers) we should never condone heavy drinking. I’m sure that I have written on many previous occasions about the huge number of health warnings appearing on wine labels around the world, and this trend continues with every day that passes. One by one countries are adding compulsory warnings to their labels, the most stringent of which is probably the US. The vast majority of warnings are quite obvious and just plain common sense, such as, do not drive or operate machinery, do not drink whilst pregnant, do not allow children to drink etc. The collective message? Use alcohol responsibly and never abuse its use…..

The only problem is that new research (God help us) has now apparently determined that even moderate drinking can be related to the onset of dementia in later life. The risk, ranging from mild cognitive impairment to full blown dementia, was higher among those who reported drinking more alcohol. It’s hardly surprising that regular binge drinking (for example, our regular weekly Botellon here in Spain), increases the risk dramatically. Among the thousands of men and women they studied, those who reported heavy bouts of drinking – at least one episode per month – were more likely to experience dementia-like problems. The more regularly they binged, the more the risk increased.

Apparently alcohol can cause your blood pressure and blood cholesterol to rise which, in turn, can damage the blood vessels supplying the brain, causing problems such as vascular dementia.

Of course, this is only one side of the story, as on the other hand there is still research claiming that taking alcohol (in moderation) can help your digestion, and possibly keep your heart in good shape. So it’s not all doom and gloom for wine drinkers!


February 1st, 2012

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No sooner had we made reservations for our flights to Dusseldorf for the annual Prowein wine fair, than the airline that we had booked on suddenly went out of business.

Despite living in an area with three regional airports, all vying for the same business, there are actually very few international flights, and so to get to Dusseldorf from Galicia entails two flights on two different airlines. Our second flight booked from Barcelona to Dusseldorf on Spanair (albeit ironically, the flight is actually operated by Deutsche Lufthansa).

A day or two after booking Spanair suddenly disappeared from our radar, leaving passengers stranded around Europe, and us holding flight tickets that were absolutely worthless (Lufthansa would not honour them as our payment had been made to Spanair).

After much scrambling around on the internet we finally re-booked with Lufthansa (at a premium price), leaving Angela making claims through our credit card company in an attempt to recover the money from our lost flight……

If you are new to our blog, or maybe just bored with the way it looks, then I have just discovered a completely new and pretty dynamic way that you can view it (it’s an especially good way to look back through our archives, and to view some of my lovely pics!)

Simply add the word ‘view’ to the end of our normal URL – in other words try
Once you are there you will find a drop down menu in the top right hand corner of the page, which offers you several different options of how you change the layout.

Try it! It’s a bit of fun…..

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I’m sure that we have all had some widely varying experiences when it comes to in-flight dining on aircraft, from the sublime to the downright inedible (ever tried Ainsley Harriott’s cup-a-soup on Iberia?) But when did you last stop to consider the amount of work that goes into selecting the food and wines that are served during your flight?

Of course many airlines boast Michelin starred chefs to select and design their menus, and indeed I have heard rumours of regular transatlantic flyers being persuaded to a particular carrier based on the quality of in-flight catering on offer…. and why not?

At Castro Martin we are lucky enough to have had our wine selected for service at high altitude, but did you know that how you perceive your glass will be determined by the length of time that you spend in the air? Cabin pressure can play havoc with your tastebuds over time, and the wine that you adore on the ground might taste tough and bitter after several hours cooped up on a plane.

During the forthcoming ‘Taste of London’ event later this month, our friends at British Airways will be showcasing their experiences on how food and wine works in the air, and explaining the science behind some of their menu and wine selections.

Personally, I find this subject truly fascinating, and by way of a ‘taster’ would highly recommend taking a look at this video of an in-flight wine tasting.

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You would think that someone may have had the sense to either postpone this mailshot, or at the very least, change one of the photos.

At the very height of the E. coli scandal in Germany, with people allegedly dying from eating Spanish cucumbers, would you send out a mailshot effectively saying “we have a safer way of transporting your produce”, and then include a photo of a sliced cucumber? Perhaps they are implying that the produce might have been sabotaged whilst in transit? Whatever the intention I am not quite sure whether this is an example of very opportunistic marketing or it is just plain stupid!

Spain is now faced with a huge problem (regardless or not as to whether the outbreak did originate from these shores). The speculation alone has done untold damage to the export of  a large proportion of fresh Spanish produce around Europe, in a typical knee-jerk backlash. Millions of euros are being lost on a daily basis, and in the midst of an enormous economic crisis, Spain can ill afford it.

I must say that I find it uncharacteristically irresponsible of the Germans to point the finger at Spain without conclusive, irrefutable evidence. Talk about kicking a country when it’s down….

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