Not an April Fool’s

April 1st, 2019 | April Fools

To be honest, I was scratching my head trying to invent a story for April Fool’s that would be both funny and yet plausible, but then it happened all by itself. A trivial story, but so stupid that it’s almost beyond belief.

I am expecting an envelope from Portugal (Porto to be more accurate), which was sent on Friday via UPS.

It left Maia, the main UPS depot just north of Porto on Friday evening (only about 150km from it’s destination here in Pontevedra), and arrived back in Maia at 4 o’clock this morning. Apparently it had been for a little weekend excursion to Köln in Germany (for reasons best known and understood only by logistics companies), adding a mere 3,200 km to it’s journey.

And here we are doing as much as we can to reduce our carbon footprint!

Does variety matter?

March 25th, 2019 | Food & Wine

Imagine walking into a restaurant where the information on the wine list was restricted to merely the wine colour and country of origin. For example, you would be offered French red or white, Spanish red or white, Chilean red or white and so on. It would be a complete lottery and you probably wouldn’t be too happy about it… By simply adding the grape variety it would add a whole new level of information, and you might be at least be a little more confident about your selection.

Of course, the importance of varietal does not only apply to grapes, but also to many other fruits and vegetables. However, the problem is that retailers don’t always pass this varietal information on to the consumer. In the case of apples, pears tomatoes and a few other products variety is usually clearly indicated, but there are still just too many exceptions for my liking. Here in Spain there is one, nearly always omitted, that particularly annoys me. Potatoes!

Over here, potatoes are usually only distinguished by use or recommendation. For example, for frying, for boiling, for garnish (whatever that means), and my personal favourite, potatoes for cooking! The latter leaves me wondering how many people eat them raw?

Whilst I realise that for the majority of people this might be sufficient information, there are still two problems that arise. Firstly, the potatoes sold under each grouping are not always consistent, and more importantly, they are not always as advertised. For example, ‘frying’ potatoes that simply do not brown and refuse to crisp (even at super high temperatures). By simply including the variety it would then be much easier to avoid repeating this mistake again it the future.

Anyway, enough about potatoes!

Secret invasion?

March 21st, 2019 | Festivo

Before you read my text, take a look at the picture and see if you can spot the glaring mistake (from the Guia Peñin).

Did you see it? Well, apparently Mexico City is now in Russia, or perhaps Moscow is in Mexico, there certainly seems to be some conflict in the message (but hopefully no conflict on the ground). The only things I can say is that it’s a good job that Peñin make wine guides and not atlases!!

Meanwhile, back in Spain, we have had a short week. Tuesday was Father’s Day (or San José), and so in at least some parts of the country it was a festivo (bank holiday). Of course, many businesses, including ourselves, added a ‘bridge’ day and enjoyed a long weekend.

I can safely use the word ‘enjoyed’ because the weather is extremely sunny, and will be for at least the whole of the coming week. Our vines are already well advanced for the time of year and the sunshine will only help to accelerate this even more. The only (slightly) good news is that the air temperature is deceptively cool, especially at night. The airflow that we have is from the north, meaning that night time temperatures are falling as low as 6°C (42°F) and during the day barely reaching 20°C (68°F). Certainly, if it wasn’t for the cooler airflow we would probably be well into the mid-20’s. If this continues we could be in for an early harvest in 2019.


March 15th, 2019 | International News

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of New Zealand, but most especially with the friends and families of those who were so senselessly killed and injured on this terrible, black day.

Squid in a clog? (Calamares al zueco)

March 13th, 2019 | Food & Wine

In a restaurant I want my food served on a plate, it can be any shape or colour, I really don’t mind, but on a plate please. An exception might be a scallop served in it’s shell, or other types of seafood – but even then they would still be served on a plate or platter of some sort. Fast food is of course, a whole different matter.

I follow a site called “we want plates” which contains photos of some of the more outrageous and bizarre examples of how food in sometimes offered – some are quite hilarious.

My favourite is actually a local Galician delicacy served “in the Dutch style”…. served in a clog!! Can they really believe that this looks appetising?

Natural wine (and food) – conclusions

March 11th, 2019 | Bodega

In all honesty, we will probably never be able to produce biological, biodynamic or completely ‘natural’ wines here at Castro Martin. Having said that, we do, and always have, used minimal intervention in our entire fruit growing and wine making processes, for as many years as I have been here (and probably long before that). As always, there are two main factors that stop us from overcoming the final obstacles in achieving official certification. Our weather, and at least a few of the controls imposed by our denomination.

For example, no commercially minded person is going to sit back and watch their fruit rot on the vines if there is something that they can do to prevent it – simply for the sake of preserving their biological or biodynamic status. On the one hand, and in certain vintages, it could be a viable option, but year-on-year it would probably be difficult to sustain. (By coincidence I have just introduced a key word – sustainable, and that is exactly how we are classified). We are sustainable producers, in other words we practice ‘mindful winemaking’ – always. always, always with one eye fixed firmly on the environment, and what we can do (within reason), to preserve it.

Of course, I also mentioned the controls of our denomination. By this I mean that if we were to produce a wine completely without filtration (to retain more texture), then if the wine should any single trace of cloudiness or was not crystal clear, then it simply would pass the control tasting and could not be sold as a Rias Baixas wine. This is just one example of the many controls that guide our wine making process.

Apart from only using a very light filtration, one of the steps that we could (and might) take to enhance our wine is to eliminate cold-stabilisation completely. We do this stabilisation to eliminate tartrate, that can, potentially, be precipitated by the tartaric acid in the wine to form (unsightly) tartrate crystals in the bottle. Unfortunately, most people don’t understand that this is actually the very same substance as the cream of tatar that we use in cooking – completely natural and completely harmless. Many consumers simply do not recognise this and could possibly return the bottle as being faulty. Just one of the downsides of minimal intervention.

In the end, it is just not as straightforward as some might think – we can only strive to do our best, whilst respecting the controls and the climate that we have to live with!

Carnival weather!

March 6th, 2019 | Fiestas

There is a certain irony to this weeks weather.

For the last couple of weeks we have been experiencing unseasonably warm, sunny weather with daytime temperatures of around 20°C (68°F). Far too high for the month of February, and not that great for our vines either.

This week we have moved into Carnival season that extends (officially) from 28th February until 5th March (albeit that today is still a Carnival holiday in Pontevedra). It varies from town to town and from village to village, and as you may gather from this comment, many towns and villages hold their own distinct Carnival processions on different days.

The problem is that, from the very day that the calendar changed from February to March, so the weather changed too. Stormy, torrential rain and high winds swept in from the Atlantic, putting a bit of a damper on the normal Carnival spirit… Oh, to be in Brazil!!

Natural wine (and food) – Part 5

March 4th, 2019 | Bodega

Of course, I should have pointed out from the offset, that there is no official recognition or certification for the category of ‘natural wine’ – but clearly, as the name implies, they are simply made in the most natural way possible, with nothing added and as little as possible taken away. As I have mentioned before, the downside can be that the wines themselves are inherently unstable. For example, a natural wine might have no sulphur added (leaving them prone to oxidation), they might not be fined to remove proteins (leading to protein instability and cloudiness in the wine). They are also largely unfiltered – a process that cleans the wine, but also removes body and flavour (according to the type and level of filtration used). In the case of natural white wines, they will certainly not be cold-stabilised (and can therefore develop tartrate crystals in the bottle). If the consumer is happy with this, and accepts a multitude of potential flaws, then why not?

To be honest, all wines are ‘natural’ – certainly they will be manipulated by technology or perhaps ‘chemically’ at some point, but never to the extent where flavourings or colourants would be added. For example, some commercial wines (in some wine growing areas) might allow the addition of grape concentrate to sweeten, or tartaric acid to correct the balance, but even these additions are strictly controlled and limited. (I should add that in the case of albariño, we never need to add acidity – the balance in our wine is simply achieved by chosing the optimum moment to harvest).

Perhaps the only way in which the ‘flavour profile’ of a wine can be manipulated is by the choice of yeast added. For example, in some extreme cases, exotic fruit flavours can be infused into a wine by the use of certain yeasts (which can either mask the natural fruit completely or distort it, almost beyond recognition). At Castro Martin, whilst we are obliged to seed our wines with yeast, we always select a very neutral strain that allows the albariño fruit to shine through. OK, we add yeast, but the flavour of our wine is still natural.

Over my last few posts I have broadly outlined many of the steps that we already take to keep our wine as natural as possible, and in my next post I will talk about possible future developments that we are considering.

What’s in a name?

February 27th, 2019 | Bodega

The oldest brand that we have in our portfolio (which is almost exclusively sold within Spain), is Casal Caeiro. We decided not to use it too much in export as some people struggle a little with the pronunciation of Caeiro. (It should be Kye-yeh-roh, more or less). This name dates back to the time when the current bodega was built in 1981, on a site in the municipality of Ribadumia called O’Caeiro. Coincidentally, there’s another place only a few kilometres from the Bodega called O’Casal, but that is not the origin of the name in this instance. Casal also means large house, so in effect, the wine is named after a large house on the site of Caeiro.

This rather old looking, new map shows all the old, local names.

Natural wine (and food) – Part 4 – Sulphites

February 25th, 2019 | Bodega

A couple of weeks ago we attended a very interesting seminar – ‘Making wines with low SO2 (sulphur dioxide) content’.

One of the most defining characteristics of a ‘natural’ wine is that it will certainly be low in sulphur – sometimes with no added SO2 whatsoever. Added sulphur has two roles to play in a finished wine: Firstly, it acts as a microbicide, killing bacteria or any remaining yeasts that could eventually lead to spoilage. Secondly, it prevents oxidation of the wine, by preventing or reducing interaction of wine with oxygen.

During fermentation yeast will naturally produce a very small amount of SO2 (and so it will always be present), the question is – is this enough to protect a wine in the medium to long-term? For example, it’s worth noting that premature oxidation is actually a very common fault in ‘natural’ wines.

Our seminar talked of this, and offered alternative solutions, products to be used in the grape must to replace SO2, yeast strains that produce very little natural SO2, and pre-bottling additives – all apparently quite natural. We tasted two Spanish white wines from the 2018 vintage made using the low-sulphur products….

When I was a wine buyer, one of the most important issues for me was not only the quality, but mainly the longevity of the wine – looking into its future and trying to imagine how it might evolve. (Bearing in mind that many of my purchasing decisions were made in the producers cellar, tasting raw wine from tanks and barrels). If a wine tasted ready for drinking from the first sip, then the likely hood was that it would not last the course. It is rare that a good or great wine will show it’s true colours during its infancy – and that is where the buyers judgement comes into play.

I say this because of the two 2018 wines in the tasting. They were fine for drinking NOW, very commercial styles, but simply ready to give a bit of ‘instant gratification’. Perhaps perfect for the two wines in question, but not really for our albariño, which can often be consumed two or three years down the road. I’m sorry to say, that we will almost certainly continue with our current policy of adding a little pre-bottling SO2, simply because it works for us, and our export customers (who require an extended shelf-life).


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