Old Parn's Wine Reviews

The collected wine-tastings & wine-ramblings of one who prefers to describe wines with metaphors, not percentages

Say it loud and there’s music playing / Say it soft and it’s almost like praying

Last time we talked, dear buttery reader, was when I blathered on for ages about drinking a Waitrose St Emilion and not really having an opinion.

I like to think that, in contrast with (say) Ed Miliband, I was at least honest about my lack of opinion, and didn’t artificially attempt to take a position purely for the appearance thereof.

One of my commenters, Maria, offered a different perspective. I quote:

‘so you bought a bottle of wine…it happened to be a Bordeaux one. did you like it, or not? what did you experinced? that is what we would like to know….next time give us 2 pages on how you buy a soap’

O Maria! O Muse!

So. This one’s for Maria.

The other day, I went into Waitrose. I quite often go into Waitrose. What can I say? I feel at home there. Apart from when weird blokes start offering me cakes whilst telling stories about the queen.

I needed some shampoo. But I know even less about shampoo than I do about wine. So I went into the shampoo/soap aisle. I cast about, somewhat, being confronted by an array of options (though, I might add, not nearly as great an array as that proffered by the wine aisle). There were a ridiculous number of potential shampoos from which to choose. So how did I pick? By the following criteria:

– Packaging
– Price

I bought the most expensive shampoo I could find that didn’t look wanky.

Do you want any more detail? Well, unlucky for you. Because THERE IS NO MORE.

It must really hurt, Maria. It must really fucking hurt that sodding thousands of people, every day, choose wine based on similar criteria to my shampoo purchase.

That’s all, really. Thanks for your comment.

The Irrational Purchase of St Emilion

Me, holding a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion 2011I have a problem with authority. Yeah, I bleached my hair and defied my school dress code to exactly the calculated degree of defiance that’d piss people off but not get me told off. But that’s not what I mean. I have a problem with being arbitrarily dictated to, sure. But I also have a problem with dictating.

You see, I’m not a rational wine-drinker. And I don’t really know that much about wine.

And I think it might actually be a turding great problem, y’know, that — when writing about wine — there’s a huge pressure to be an authority.

The only context in which we engage with wine opinion, most of us (if we engage with it at all), is a context in which the one with the opinion is authoritative and definite; objective.

But most of our own personal engagements with wine (even — dare I venture? — those of us who write about the fucking stuff) are leagues away from objectivity.

Here’s an example.

I’m, right now, drinking a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion (currently 25% off, making it £9.99). Why am I drinking it? Well. First up, it was on offer. I don’t typically buy wine because it’s on offer (as — working in retail myself — I nurture an informed suspicion of retailers’ motives in discounting). But when it’s a Waitrose own label, I figure that’s okay. Because saying a product is Waitrose own label is a bit like saying a person is Jesus own label.

So, it was on offer. Fine.

I was in the supermarket, at 7pm, buying myself dinner. My stock of wine at home was running low (normal people look in my wine cupboard and laugh incredulously when they see my idea of ‘low stock’. I realise this).

I saw the St Emilion and I picked it up. Why? I’m not sure. Rationally, I wouldn’t tend to buy Bordeaux at £10–15 from a supermarket. I’d calculate that my money would be spent better elsewhere, in terms of the quality of wine I’d probably end up with.

But I didn’t make my decision rationally. I often don’t. This evening, I bought St Emilion because I loved the idea of St Emilion. I love the fucking words St Emilion, alright? I love the fact that it’s characterised as a kind of underdog amidst the Bordeaux sub-regions, in exactly the same irrational way in which I love Armagnac for not being Cognac. I love the way it sounds so much more elegant than Pomerol or Medoc.

I didn’t think (even bearing in mind the discount) that this bottle would be the best way, objectively, of spending my ten quid in Waitrose’s wine department. Honestly, I didn’t care that much.

I wanted the idea of a St Emilion more than I wanted to make an objective decision.

And now that I’m drinking the blighter, I’m at a loss as to whether I should write much more about it. On the one hand, I shouldn’t — because I’m so far from impartial. On the other hand, I should — because I’m so far from impartial.

Y’SEE WHAT I’M SAYING?

We don’t engage with wine in objective ways and situations, unless we’re (a) in a tasting, (b) being asked our opinion in a rather serious manner or (c) the kind of dull wanker who writes a wine blog.

In the same way, we tend to choose the restaurant meal we fancy, rather than the one we judge objectively will be best.

I’m enjoying this St Emilion, incidentally. I’m enjoying it because I’m writing to you about it (natch), and you’re a really great listener. And I’m enjoying it because it’s sort of reminding me of the time when I went to look round a prospective houseshare and one of the people living there was studying for one of the various wine qualifications and was partway through a blind tasting. He gave me a glass of the wine he was trying to identify (which turned out to be a modestly priced generic Bordeaux), and the St Emilion I’m drinking right now sort of reminds me of that.

Which was goddamn ages ago. But the past was quite nice at times. When it wasn’t being almightily tedious.

I’m enjoying it because it’s Friday, and because I had a damn good martini beforehand. And I’m enjoying it because I like the idea that I’m drinking a Waitrose own St Emilion with a chunk of rare meat and a mushroom and onion sauce.

Is it good? I don’t — honestly — care all that much. I mean, it’s not bad. I’d care if it were bad. It’s somewhere between nice and very good, and might even be excellent. But might, after all, just be nice.

I couldn’t give a crap. And I hope that’s alright with you.

Cellophanity, Putin-pleasuring and Pinot Gris

Bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris and some oven ready meal instructions‘Remove cardboard sleeve and peel away plastic film.’

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But, honestly, they may as well have said, ‘Remove cardboard sleeve and give Vladimir Putin a blowjob’, for all the chance I have of accomplishing their instruction with any modicum of ease or pleasure.

I’ve written before about my intense dislike of cellophane that fails grotesquely in its sole goddamn interaction with the customer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write again. I mean, Christ. Collectively, think of the time humanity wastes on attempting to peel off a plastic seal and instead peeling off a ludicrous thread of plastic from around its rim, repeating this process at each of the carton’s four corners, before (defeated, humiliated) grabbing a knife and slashing psychopathically at the bastard cellophane until our collective shirts are spattered with ragu sauce that looks for all the world like blood.

Time that could be put to better use in — oh, I don’t know — curing cancer or eradicating poverty or watching the latest episode of Sherlock.

Oh, that Sherlock. He wears a nice dressing gown, doesn’t he? (Declare an interest? Me? Piss off.)

But don’t just think of the time. Think of the fucking psychological despoliation wreaked by this supposedly peelable cellophane. Whole generations demoralised by their inability efficiently and rapidly to prepare a godforsaken ready meal (the very words themselves a hollow mockery — for this now ungrippably-cellophanated carton in front of me couldn’t be any less ready); to follow even the unglamorous preparatory instruction — mere prelude to the complex matrix of oven types and temperatures, and frozen vs chilled states. When we see growth rates in the developed world stalling and purchases of pre-prepared food rising, do we not pause to consider the relationship between the two?

JUST AS SODDING WELL, THEN, that I have a half-bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris, 2010 (The Wine Society, £6.95) to calm my cellophane-rage. A sluicing of very pleasant-tasting alcohol to numb my brain to the injustices and indignities of the food packaging regime — analogous, one might venture, to an autocrat’s cynical pampering of an emerging middle class with the finite proceeds of a natural gas boom whose days are numbered.

SEE WHAT I DID, THERE? YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT, BECAUSE IT WAS QUITE SUBTLE. RE-READ THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IF YOU’RE NOT SURE.

It’s nice, Hugel Pinot Gris. Of the Wine Society’s praiseworthy array of half bottles (several of which I’ve written about already), it’s one of my favourites. I like the way it lies, deliciously inert (like a coma coated in syrup), in your mouth. The way it rings out with fruit, but leaves your tongue free of that ganky aftertaste of the sugary muck that often gets called ‘fruity’.

(Speaking of which — fuck. When you’re pretty much living off wine from TWS and Waitrose, you sometimes forget just how goddamn withering a bad white wine can be. I was in a pub, the other week, and forgot myself to the degree that I actually ordered a glass of white wine — somehow extrapolating from the fact that most wine I drink is quite nice a kind of rule that all wine I choose to drink will therefore be nice. A rule whose inherent fallacy was pitilessly exposed by said pub and its vinous offering.)

Hmm. Somewhere between talking about presidential fellatio and rotten pub wine, I was doing a kind of wine review, there, wasn’t I? Christ alive. Sorry about that. We’ve dispensed, haven’t we, you and I?, with any kind of flimsy, cellophane-esque pretence that you’re here for in-depth or nuanced alcoholic commentary. The commentary of an alcoholic, maybe. But not alcoholic commentary. So let’s leave it at this. Hugel Pinot Gris. Easy to open (if you have a corkscrew). Doesn’t cause you to flail around with a kitchen knife. And definitely tastes better than my ready meal.

Not to mention Putin.

Pain, Lloyd-Webber, Relativism, Redditch and Macon-Villages

A photo of a white plastic mask as seen in Phantom of the Opera

‘So, Tom,’ Elaine asked softly, ‘how high is your pain threshold?’

Elaine is, it turns out, very, very strong.

10 minutes later, I am face down with Elaine’s elbow in my back, wimpering like a child.

Elaine grew up in Redditch. I learnt to drive in Redditch. There are lots of roundabouts in Redditch.

My driving teacher, a luxuriantly mulleted old love called Jerry, used to pick me up at the school gates, the strains of The Phantom of the Opera booming from his tiny Peugeot.

Our mutual love of music previously (alas) affirmed, Jerry was eager to know my opinion of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s seminal work.

I, conversely, was eager to get the fuck out of the school car park. But Jerry wanted me to practise a three-point turn.

Calmly. Carefully. Slowly.

‘…The Phantom of the Opera is there!
Inside my mind.’

Oh, please, Christ, it’s going to be break-time in three minutes.

There is a kind of theme, here. Have you noticed that? It has to do with me being helpless, vulnerable, and yet almost impossibly heroic in the face of danger.

‘Are you doing alright there, Tom?’ asks Elaine.

My hearty reply is undermined as my voice cracks pubescently. I hope that this laryngeal betrayal is muffled by the towel pressed hard across my face. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

So. I need to relax.

‘With 90% of the people who come here,’ says Elaine, conversationally, ‘I start on the back then, when that’s done, I go down to the legs. You’re not going to be in that 90%.’

Her tone of voice isn’t menacing. I don’t think she intends this as a threat.

At some point I start burbling manically about pyjamas. This happens increasingly often, these days. This time, though, I keep having to pause, mid-sentence, in a way that is, frankly, entirely lacking in rhetorical justification. The pauses are my only bulwark against a bellowing Parn-howl like that of a bear with its testicles snagged on a barbed wire fence.

And, as bulwarks go, the pauses (right now) feel pretty fragile.

‘… My power over you / Grows stronger yet…’

Briefly, I contemplate the possibility that my life may be flashing before my eyes.

Elaine likes pyjamas. (I also like pyjamas.) She is mildly perplexed at the idea of a dressing gown more expensive than her car. And she is probably right to be perplexed. From my vantage point, the concept of ‘luxury’ has, over the past hour, been rather dramatically redefined simply to denote any experience not involving an elbow in one’s back.

I guess that explains, then, why I hobbled out of that massage and immediately bulk-booked five more. Because what’s an hour of pain and humiliation when the rest of the week suddenly seems, by contrast, like glorious liberation? The Upper Richmond Road has seldom seemed more gold-paved.

And that’s why you should trust absolutely nothing I’m about to write about the bottle of Macon-Villages from Domaine Talmard that I cracked open afterwards. Because, frankly, after all that, I could probably be drinking the bottled contents of a pub urinal in Croydon and still find something positive to say about the experience.

(Well. Okay. Maybe not Croydon.)

So here’s what happens when you drink a half-bottle of Domaine Talmard after a massage from Elaine — your body smugly freed of toxins, your conception of luxury redefined.

You notice, first off, that Domaine Talmard smells a whole lot of apples. Like old, English apples that’ve been sitting around for a bit too long in a crumpled paper bag in the sun.

When you raise the glass to your gob, you experience an electric jolt of pain across your upper back, and your eyelid starts to twitch madly.

But it was worth it. Because it tastes pretty damn nice. Principally, it tastes of toxins. Sweet, delicious toxins. Welcome back to my bloodstream, toxins. I’ve missed you. You and me, toxins, we were a team. I should never have thought otherwise. We belong together.

‘Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation…’

Lazy, perfumed lemon and (yes) those apples, and a bracingly serrated edge of bitterness. And, in your slavering, toxin-thirsty gob, it feels intoxicatingly plump.

Domaine Talmard, you see, didn’t ask me about my pain threshold. Innocent in its demure half-bottle, it just sort of shuffled up close and lent on me a bit. And (unlike that fucking weirdo on the Tube the other day) Domaine Talmard is quite welcome to do that.

But I’ll be going back to Elaine next week.

Because comfortable, snuggly Chardonnay is all very well. But nothing’s going to be quite the same any more.

‘The Phantom of the Opera is there
Inside my mind.’

Wine Macon-Villages, Domaine Talmard, 2011
Grape Chardonnay
Price £5.75 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

Wise up and smell the Casillero del Diablo

Bottle of Casillero del Diablo red wine label

Winemakers, in general, need to wise up. Okay, sure, practically everyone (myself almost certainly included) needs to wise up. But winemakers need to wise up, specifically, because they are lamentably bad at communicating with normal people.

(Notice the ease with which I refer to normal people. Almost as though I knew some.)

Winemakers generally do a shambolic job of any kind of branding or advertising. In fact, a recent study revealed that 76% of actors taking parts in wine adverts subsequently suffered savage assault on grounds including (but not limited to)

  • Their ostentatious clinking of wine glasses
  • Their smug, bastardly laughter
  • Their smarmy hair
  • Generally being goddamn annoying

[Blah, Christforsaken blah. Listen, I'm quite tired, alright, and I'm just writing this because the charming @CuriousWines said something nice about me on Twitter. I have a crick in my neck and everything.]

The point? Oh, right, yeah. The point is that — as Robert McIntosh said, considerably more eloquently, a week or so ago — most winemakers don’t get branding. But one of them seems to have more of a clue:

I like branding. Doesn’t mean I always trust it, by the by. But I like it, and I respect the skill that goes into it.

Anyhow, having read Robert’s piece on the ad, I cracked open a bottle of Casillero del Diablo (albeit not the wines promoted in the ad) I had rolling around in my cupboard. A 2011 Chilean Reserva Malbec.

So. There’s a lot of coffee. Coffee all over the sodding place. Coffee is the first thing that hits you when you snout around in it, and coffee is pretty quick to grab your tastebuds when the wine gets itself into your mouth.

After that, though, it’s surprisingly sharp. A bit like a typical article in Vice Magazine: going out of its way to give an impression of depth, but actually rather harsh and one-dimensional.

TAKE THAT, VICE. YOU JUST GOT ZINGED.

Yeah. It’s not awful, but it’s a shame, nevertheless. And it’s sort of confusing, too — because this isn’t really the kind of wine that feels like it’s come to you from some tepid focus group — all blandness, sweetness, superficial charms. No, it’s a bit too aggressive to be a crowd-pleaser (I’d have thought).

What I’m saying is, I don’t know who’s the, y’know, target audience.

What I do know is that, for the price, there’s better to be had elsewhere. Some old fart will probably say that they should be spending less money on advertising and more money on the wine, I guess. To that old fart, I say: IN THAT CASE, MAKE YOUR OWN WINE AND DISPENSE ENTIRELY WITH THE MUCKY REALITIES OF CAPITALISM, WHY DON’T YOU?

Jesus, a humanoid figure just flew past my window. He seemed to be made of straw. God knows what that was about.

(Boy, how you must’ve missed me.)

Rating ★★ 2 stars (fair)
Wine Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2011 Reserva, Chile
Price £7.99 in Tescos and doubtless similar in many other places

Yeah, it’s been ages. No, I’m not sorry.

Bottle of Ghemme Ioppa with a teapot in the background

Smell. Smell is the most evocative sense, innit? The one that can yank you (via a chance waft of teenage perfume) back to that time when you first kissed that girl. You know. That one. Or to that time when you walked out in the field and the air was heavy with summer and you knew that in two weeks’ time you’d be going into the big school. Or to that time when a dog pissed on your bag.

Yeah. Smell.

So let’s talk about the smell of a wine called Ioppa. I like the fact that it’s called Ioppa, because it sounds like the kind of word a maladroit Italian waiter might exclaim as a plate of food slips from his helpless hand and crashes onto the floor.

And I like the fact that it smells a-fucking-mazing.

It smells of sweet, sweet, squashy red fruits, heaped with dark (satanically dark) muscovado sugar. It smells like all those memories you goddamn wish you had. But you don’t. You loser.

Then you drink it. And it slides into your mouth like something that shouldn’t be there but really should. Sinuous and lithe. Before exlopding into soil and life and violence.

It’s powerful, and it is very damn nice. You should probably try it.

It’d give you something to remember.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Wine Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004
Price £10.95 from The Wine Society

Gin Corner: Greenall’s Bloom — The Slug’s Choice

Macro photo of a bottle of Greenall's Bloom, with logo in focus

Oh. The leafy, herby, juicy green aroma of corriander. Heck. It’s like you’re a slug munching your way through a herb garden. (You are such a slug.)

Greenall’s Bloom is, I suppose, aptly enough named. It is a big ol’ herbaceous gin.

Here at Old Parn labs, we put Greenall’s Bloom through a rigorous and scientific testing procedure. I made a gin and tonic with it, and I made a martini with it. Then I repeated these tests several times (purely for scientific purposes, natch). Here’s what the results sheets said.

The Greenall’s Bloom Gin and Tonic

Yeah, it’s all about the corriander, here. In tonic-wedded form, Greenall’s Bloom isn’t as punchy as some (loyal readers will know that I like my G&Ts like I like my women: punchy and bitey*). When I made a Greenall’s Bloom and Tonic with my usual proportions of gin:tonic (don’t ask me what they are; I just feel it, y’know?), the result was a little bit lacking. A tad sweet, even.

But, next time round, perhaps my hand slipped. You know what I’m saying? MY HAND SLIPPED. And I ended up with a higher proportion of gin. And that, a bit like taking the path less travelled, made all the difference.

Suddenly, I was drinking an assertive, confident bastard of a G&T. One that’d just had a massive Thai stir-fry piled with obscene amounts of corriander, I guess.

Pretty nice.

The Greenall’s Bloom Martini

No surprises here, given what I’ve said already: the Bloom Martini is as green and herbaceous as you’d expect. Lighter, more hippyish than your usual Martini. And, yeah, nice for the novelty value. But I’ve not been tempted to make them for non-experimental purposes. Greenall’s Bloom strikes me as more of a G&T-friendly kind of gin; it doesn’t really gel in the context of the Martini. That magical masculine-feminine chemistry isn’t there; it’s all a bit too verdant, too lush, too goddamn fertile.

The verdict

So long as you atone for its slightly less bolshy character by adjusting your gin:tonic ratio, this is a pretty nice G&T gin. I like the grassy, herby ebullience of it — though probably more as an occasional curveball to the palate than as an everyday highball-filler.

I’d recommend putting it with a lighter tonic (something like Fever Tree Naturally Light) — or, if you want to sample the hippy Bloom Martini, try using The Wine Society’s Chambery as your vermouth, and go for a twist rather than an olive.

* That’s not even remotely true. But didn’t it sound cool?

Lemons, stones and sunshine for a sodden marmoset

A bottle of Verdejo; in the background, the blurred, rainy street lamps of London

What do you need after battling through the bleak London rain? What do you need after huddling shivering and sodden on the back seat of a bus whose windows have been inexplicably flung open by some masochistic Chelsea commuter?*

You need a glass of Tresolmos Verdejo, you miserable, trauma-eroded marmoset, you.

Because it’s very nice. And (which is One Of The Reasons For Which I Love The Wine Society) it defibrillates your tastebuds with a flavour you can’t pick up off the shelf at your local express supermarket, that’s for sure.

Defibrillation for £7.50. Save the NHS a few quid and do it my way.

So, as I jerk back to consciousness, my gob’s suddenly alive with bitter, gripping zest — lemony pith. But alongside the electric, citric jangle, there’s that fullness. That almost indecent fullness, set alongside all that bite and the zing. But it’s not a bit oily, not a bit flabby. It’s like a slim, clean sort of chap who goes to yoga five times a week: he may look slender, but he’s strong.

I drink Tresolmos Verdejo and it makes me think of being outside when it’s not actually freezing and hosing down with rain. If you can picture that scene even vaguely. Makes me think of lemons and the oil of lemons on my fingernails. Of stones and sunshine.

And of a beautifully aerated number 22 bus.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Rueda, Spain
Grape Verdejo
ABV 13%
Price £7.50 from The Wine Society. But — ye gods! — I now find it’s sold out.  Back in stock!
* Yeah, so, according to guardian angel of the online wine community Robert McIntosh, the fresh air is good for me. What-ev-er.

Slovenia vs Slovakia (wine and geographic confusion)

Slovenia, Slovakia; Slovakia, Slovenia. Two nations that, I realise, are entirely distinct and just happen to have names that a mindless idiot like me is always getting mixed up. I’ve never been to either (perhaps, had I done so, my confusion would cease). But I have met several people from both countries, all of whom have been delightful human beings.

On this principle, I approached both Slovenian and Slovakian wine — neither being exactly easy to find, here in the UK — with optimism. And decided to crack open a bottle from each and to pit them against one another in an attempt to use the medium of wine to overcome my inability to remember which country is which.

(Okay. That’s one of the lamest excuses I’ve come up with to open two bottles of wine. And that’s saying something.)

A bottle of Pinot Gris from Tilia Estate, Slovenia

So — the outcome of this meaningless and artificial clash of two proud nations? Something of a one-sided contest, I’m afraid. Because — alas! — my Slovenian contender was less than championship material. A Tilia Estate Pinot Gris (★, £12.99) that I bought from Naked Wines a while ago — which was, honestly, just a bit depressing. Sort of like Luton airport, but without the prospect of being en route anywhere better.

I mean, it’s not undrinkable or anything. But it’s slack in the gob; rather heavy and sullen. A pudgy child who’d rather be playing Call of Duty than turning up to PE. There’s nothing outright offensive about it. I just, well, hoped for better.

The label of a bottle of Alibernet by EleskoWhich is just as well. Because better is exactly what I got, courtesy of Slovakia and Adam Priscak, who kindly brought me back a bottle from his latest trip home. Step forward one wine made by Elesko called Alibernet 1, neskorý zber, suché, 2009 (★★★★). Which is a lot of words that I don’t understand. Nice, eh? Adam tells me that this wine is made in small quantities. Fine by me, so long as I get some of it. Because it is sodding lovely. As deep as a very deep hole (with some mushrooms growing in it, perhaps). Ripping and earthy and proud. There’s a kind of polishy quality to it (as distinct from Polishy, which is a bit further north — for the benefit of those of you using this blog as a guide to central/eastern-European geography. You poor, poor buggers.)

It’s full and fruited, but not remotely glib. Dark, big and extremely good. Thank you Adam; thank you Elesko. Fine representatives of your nation.

So it looks like the scoreline is currently Slovakia 1; Slovenia 0. Based on a ludicrous and utterly unrepresentative sample. Just the way we like it. So I’m putting out a call for recommendations of Slovenian wines that could even the score… Suggestions in the comments, s’il te plait.

The Best Tonic for Gin and Tonic

This post is part two in a three-post series devoted to the gin and tonic. Part 1 endeavoured to find the best gin. Now, in part 2, the mission is to find the best tonic for gin and tonic…
A closeup of a mini can of Schweppes Tonic

Some time ago, we had the gigantic joust of the gins. Now, at long last, it’s time for the titanic tiff of the tonics.

Oh, fuck, how much of a wanker does that pair of alliterations make me sound? DON’T ANSWER.

Today’s mission, then, is to find out which tonic makes the best gin and tonic. The deal here was pretty much the same as with the gins: taste ‘em blind in one joyously ginny lineup. The gin used was my favourite common brand, Tanqueray.

(When I say common, I don’t mean lower class; I mean the kind of gin you’d be able to find at any half-decent UK supermarket or off-license.)

And I make no apologies for the fact that the lineup includes no slimline tonic varieties whatsoever. Because slimline tonic is the corrosive piss of satan.

Anyhow, here — from worst to best — are the results…

The best tonic for gin and tonic — results

9. Schweppes Tonic Water

Oh Schweppes, oh Schweppes. You fell, my boy. You fell bad. You landed on your arse.

I grew up on Schweppes G&Ts. Since my first mini-fridge at university, I always had a rank of yellow-and-silver mini-cans available, on ice. Alas.

Schweppes came out bottom of the taste test. Not marginally; clearly, and by some distance. It has a back-of-the-throat catch that I associate with artificial sweeteners, and a cheap, metallic quality to it. That said, it does also have bite. And it’s sure as hell better than sodding Britvic, which is a heinous tonic I didn’t even bother to include in this tasting. Compared to other tonics (including all the supermarket brands) it made for a sweeter, blander, more tacky gin and tonic. A saccharine blagger of a tonic, a little too confident that his illustrious background will win your admiration. The kind of tonic who hangs around in Chelsea and talks shit all the time.

I should add, though, that even the Schweppes G&T was nice. I criticise it relative to the others, but, Christ, let’s keep a sense of perspective.

8. Marks & Spencer Tonic Water

M&S only seems to do tonic in big 75cl bottles. A silly omission. In a G&T, M&S tonic is inoffensive. It’s got an unexpected bready sort of quality, but not much bite. It’s refreshing, but rather nothingy. A diffidently pleasant tonic without much to say for himself. Probably enjoys listening to Coldplay.

7. Fever Tree Mediterranean

The first of three Fever Tree variants, this character didn’t combine enormously well with Tanqueray. Like M&S’s effort, it sits toward the inoffensive side of the spectrum. It’s also a tad on the sweet side. A slightly wet ex-hippy of a tonic.

6. Waitrose Tonic Water

A gin and tonic with Waitrose tonic is a balanced sort of affair. It too has a slight breadiness, which I rather like. Again, though, there’s a tendency towards oversweetness — though neither as extreme nor as artificial as that of Schweppes. A balanced, middle-of-the-road kind of tonic. Squarely a Radio 2 listener.

5. Fever Tree Naturally Light

Nice. The gin and tonic made with Fever Tree Naturally Light — perhaps unsurprisingly — was less tonicky than most. With a bolshy, no-nonsense gin like Tanqueray, that’s not particularly necessary, but for the more subtle, aromatic, delicate gins (Greenalls Bloom, for instance, or Hendricks), this would be rather a splendid thing. A sensitive, quietly-spoken tonic; a good listener.

Closeup of the yellow label of a mini-bottle of Fentimans Tonic Water4. Fentimans Tonic

Here’s where things start to get interesting. Fentimans makes for a damn good gin and tonic. It’s crammed with flowers (violets!) and citrus. I’d gleefully drink this tonic on its own; in many ways it has more in common with something like bitter lemon than what I think of as tonic — there’s so much goddamn fruit in there. The gin and tonic it makes is delicious, lemony, full of zing and zang. But, I have to say, it’s nothing like my idea of a classic gin and tonic. An unabashed attention-seeker — the kind of tonic that ignores the dress code — but you can’t help liking it, nevertheless.

3. Sainsbury’s Tonic

Wow. This one came in from left-field. The coveted Old Parn Value Award goes to Sainsbury’s for this fantastically strapping tonic. Savoury, bready, confident.  Really far in excess of my expectations of a supermarket own-brand tonic, it’s a diamond in the rough — a good looking charmer in a down-at-heel nightclub.

2. Fever Tree Regular

Yup. It’s good. It’s very good. This is Fever Tree’s most successful tonic for a straightforward G&T. It’s balanced and rather delicious. What keeps it from topping the poll is a slight oversweetness. Far less pronounced than elsewhere, but I’d still prefer a bit less sugar; a bit more bite. Nevertheless, a very fine tonic indeed. Generous, charismatic and considerate.

A bottle of tonic water by 6 o'clock1. 6 o’Clock Tonic

And, finally — just sneaking in ahead of Fever Tree — comes 6 o’Clock Tonic. This is goddamn outstanding. A pity it’s a bugger to find (I’ve so far only been able to locate it in Whole Foods and online), because it has everything I want in a tonic water (including pleasantly minimalist packaging design). Why do I like it? Because it’s dry, it’s grown up. There’s a leafiness to it, a sharp, bracing sting. It’s not even slightly confected, not sugary or patronising. Set a gin and 6 o’Clock Tonic alongside a gin and Schweppes tonic and compare the two. You will be astonished at the difference — at how facile and glib the Schweppes one tastes.

A self-confident tonic with a dry wit and fucking excellent style — and deservedly crowned Old Parn’s best tonic for gin and tonic.