Quickly, today, while the sun shines, let me talk to you about a fabulous white Rhône to brighten and enliven your lockdown with its circus antics: Lirac Blanc La Fermade from Domaine Maby.
This wine put me in a good mood before I’d even opened it: any booze that makes me think of Arrested Development is onto a winner.
And it’s just as good as Arrested Development. Oh boy, yes.
Why? Well, this wine is a fabulous balancing act. Drinking it is like a much less stressful version of watching an odd tightrope act in which the performer dangles a huge bag of fruit and honey and butter from one outstretched arm, nothing from the other, and balances not just with ease but with goddamn panache.
Because there’s an indecent amount of fruit here (plump, juicy melon, white peach) and a honeyed richness that I might expect to find rather de trop after a glass or so, but you would not by any means call this a fruit bomb of a wine. That’s thanks to its delicious herbal, mineral edge — the circus master’s whip that rules the show.
So Maby is from Lirac, which is a region in the southerly reaches of the Rhône — pretty close to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but across the other side of the river. I warm to regions like Lirac: somewhat overshadowed by big-name neighbours, likely to punch high in terms of value for thy wedge, and (most importantly) niche enough to make one feel unwarrantedly like a connoisseur. I was further attracted to Maby on account of the blend of grapes used, which includes Picpoul. Good old Picpoul! Remind me to write to you about my favourite Wine Society Picpoul de Pinet one day, won’t you? But Picpoul isn’t a grape variety so often enountered in white Rhône, so its inclusion in Domaine Maby caught my beady, bloodshot eye. Here, it’s blended with white grenache, clairette and the fabulously named bourboulenc. I’m not going to pretend I know who’s doing what in this blend, but do you care? It’s just bloody nice — a dancing delight of a wine, full yet fresh, accessible yet sophisticated. Absolute A* stuff for £11.50 a bottle, and squarely the kind of wine one could fall in love with, even if it were your cousin.
(That closing sentence will make no sense to anyone unfamiliar with Arrested Development. If that’s you, I suggest you might use this as your excuse to remedy that unfamiliarity.)
Domaine Maby’s Lirac Blanc ‘La Fermade’ is £11.50 from the dependable ol’ Wine Society.
So. How’s lockdown been treating you? Personally, I’m struggling with the cognitive dissonance wrought by (on the one hand) friends moaning about boredom, blithely sharing quizzes and sourdough diaries to fill the time and (on the other hand) my own sodding lack of any time whatsoever.
The smallest lockdown violin, I’m aware, plays for those who are still in their (absolutely, incontrovertibly) non-essential jobs. Before the mob gathers to stone me, I’ll add that I’m aware of my good fortune. Perhaps less aware when I’m three hours into a goddamn conference call. But aware nonetheless.
April passed, I observe, and the Industrial Content Megahub that is Old Parn, Inc cranked out a total of three posts. Lamentable, eh? (Though the last one was pretty good, I thought.) But while I may not have been posting abundantly, you may be reassured that I have been drinking abundantly.
And I suppose, whether you’re running out of hairs to pull out or thumbs to twiddle, you may well have been doing the same. I know I’m far from alone — in these virus-addled, socially distanced times — in leaning all the more heavily (metaphorically, don’t worry) upon my local independent wine merchant. Fortunately, I have a rather good one: The General Wine Company. What it may lack in nominative flair it delivers abundantly in charm and (as we’ll see) fine booze. They have shops in Petersfield and Liphook and they deliver free within a 15 mile radius of those towns (or further afield, if you can bring yourself to pay for delivery, you stingy bugger).
Here are a few of the bottles with which I’ve enlivened my conference calls so far.
Now, if you’re on the General Wine site looking for Spanish wine, a word of advice: don’t use the filters. These mysteriously list more wines from Mexico (3) than Spain (0). Give me a shout if you need some help with your site navigation & tagging, chaps… Instead, follow the above link to this handsomely (if mildly terrifyingly) labelled bottle.
I found the liquid inside barely less interesting: chocolatey and smooth (thanks to a dab of oak) with a savoury counterpoint of warm spice (nutmeg and pepper) and smoke. Dark, vermillion red, it has that femme fatale assertiveness you get from Iberian reds that aren’t the usual suspects (y’know, Rioja et al), with cherry and plum and a gentle solventy punch to keep you from getting over-familiar. A wine, I’d say, that sits at the intersection between ‘accessible’ and ‘interesting’. And, as anyone who’s set up their deck chair at Oxford Circus can tell you, there are far worse intersections at which to sit.
Wine Grade: B Label Grade: A+ Website Filter Grade: F (Jokes, jokes. I know it’s not easy for small businesses to manage websites. That, after all, is why I have a job — and, indirectly, is also to blame for all these damn conference calls, come to think of it…)
Brunilde di Menzione Aglianico del Vulture (£13.49, General Wine)
Booof! Well, this is what is referred to in technical wine critic terminology you probably wouldn’t understand as a damn full gob of booze. It’s dense as hell: a really nice, chewy fellow. There’s some tannin in there but it’s still pretty accessible. Perhaps a bit of marzipan and candyfloss too? Hell, sounds good, doesn’t it? Or possibly horrendous. But it’s not horrendous, dear, I promise you. I’d whack this into a decanter: it mellows and takes on a delightful creaminess. I’m sort of regretting the bit about the candy floss now. Please don’t be put off.
In summary: full and super rich. Like an oligarch who’s just been to a restaurant.
Wine Grade: A Russia’s Implementation of a Market Economy Grade: E
Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois ‘Emma’ 2017 (£11.99, General Wine)
‘O dark dark dark’ wrote TS Eliot. He may not have been writing about a bottle of Minervois. He’s dead, so perhaps we’ll never know for sure. (He wasn’t.)
This wine has something of an identity crisis, as it’s called Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois (y’know, normal wine type name), but also has ‘Emma’ written on the label, in a manner disconcertingly reminiscent of the logo of the mattress brand of the same name. I do not think this is the mattress-flogger/French winery collaboration for which tone deaf marketeers have been howling, but I’m not sure. It is odd.
Fortunately, the wine is less confusing. Indeed, it’s rather delicious, inky stuff, with gentle tannins but plenty of fruit: raspberry, cherry and so on. Not rubbishy fruit, obv, and this is not a fruit bomb, thank god.
Fairly typical of Minervois, I’d say (which is good as far as I’m concerned), and pretty decent value.
Okay, that’ll do for now. You’ll notice I’ve kept it summery with three hoofing great red wines, but that’s just how Old Parn rolls. I’ve had some nice General Wine whites, too, but given my shoddy post-count, I should probably spin this out and save those for a follow-up.
While you’re waiting, do fill your eCommerce baskets with some good booze, won’t you? Have a look at General Wine if you’re in my neck of the woods. And if you’ve loads of time on your hands, do me a favour and keep it to yourself, you bastard.
It’s 2004. Brexit, President Trump and Coronavirus are all inconceivable, and I — with a freshly laundered English degree flapping uselessly around my ankles — am the worst Library Assistant Oxford has ever seen.
I’m still not sure how I fluked my way onto what is actually a pretty competitive and respected graduate traineeship, given I had no intention of becoming a librarian — or, indeed, doing anything more than pissing around in Oxford for another year toying self-indulgently with a truly awful idea for a novel. But fluke my way onto it I somehow did. Looking back, it was a bloody great gig: nothing more taxing than shelving unreasonably bulky Biochemistry textbooks (ye Gods, why so big?), scanning barcodes, and awkwardly flirting with Junior Research Fellows.
I strongly ‘prove of Pothecary Gin. One might say I ‘preciate it. Over the course of the next few paragraphs, I’ll present to you my ‘praisal.
Aside from its excellent name, I bought a bottle of this fine liquor for three reasons. Firstly, it’s local — another Hampshire Gin — albeit from the other end of the county. Secondly, it’s won a few awards and I’d heard good things murmured (or read good things twittered, more like) about it. And thirdly, the man behind the brand, Mr Martin Jennings, has an excellent social media game. When I read one of his brutal takedowns of [redacted Gin megacorp] pretending to be indie, I thought: if this bloke’s gin is as punchy as his online persona, I want to try it.
I’ve been wondering whether it’s tasteless to recommend a cocktail called Corpse Reviver during a pandemic. Then I realised the UK Health Secretary can’t or won’t answer how many NHS staff have died and some police forces think it’s okay to start threatening to check the contents of people’s shopping baskets without any remote legal justification. So I think blogging about a Corpse Reviver is pretty fucking tame, all considered.
Anyway. Let’s not get political, eh? Let’s instead justify this as the goddamn perfect Easter cocktail, commemorating probably the most famous corpse revival of all.
Bloody hell. My quarantined buddies, there are a lot of gins in the world. I have tasted a fair few of them. Enough of them, at least, to render me somewhat blasé about cracking open a new one. What surprises, after all, can remain to a seasoned gin hound such as Old Parn?
You see, Dà Mhìle’s Seaweed Gin is exceptionally good. Your schnoz tells you it’s going to be rather special as soon as you sniff the newly uncorked bottle. And your schnoz isn’t wrong. Your schnoz is so seldom wrong. Dependable schnoz.
It’s been a while since I last told y’all about a vermouth. Let’s change that, courtesy of the rather charming specimen below: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge. It has a very long name and a very handsome bottle.
If you’re a vermouth geek, another thing that might catch your attention is the fact that the stuff is fortified (ie. its alcohol content is increased) by the addition of Pineau des Charentes rather than a neutral spirit of the kind more usually employed by those who cook up vermouths.
I drink a lot of wine from The Wine Society. That’s because The Wine Society is bloody good, and you should join it if you haven’t already. However, it seems rather tiresome to write a review of every bottle of Wine Soc booze I sink, especially for those of you who aren’t members (though, as I said, you should be) so instead I plan to run through a few bottles of theirs I enjoyed on a monthly basis. Starting with February.
February always seems to be a month of consolidation for me. That’s partly meteorological (weather that encourages hermithood) and partly financial, insofar as it follows January — a month notable not just for its post-festive belt-tightening, but also the arse-rending existential agony of buying my annual South West Railway season ticket. If there’s a more appalling way to spend more than £5k, please do let me know.
In the South Downs, February was mud and blossom, uprooted trees, sudden breathtaking islands of sunshine in the ocean of grey. And I wanted wine to be the metaphorical equivalent of those rare bouts of sunshine.
It’s February and the world is bleak. Storms with implausible names rage outside, and I suggest you make yourself a Martinez.
There’s an Old English poem called The Wanderer, which is basically about being cold, having no home and everyone being dead. Mood.
‘Walls stand battered by the wind,
Covered by frost, the roofs collapsed.
The wine halls crumbled; the warriors lie dead,
Cut off from joy’
As you can see, the Wanderer doesn’t sugar-coat things. Probably due to the lack of wine halls. What he needed, it seems to me, was someone to leap out from behind a nearby ruin and hand him a Martinez. A cocktail that’s absolutely cold, but also rather warm, and entirely season-appropriate.
Let’s talk about Wessex, shall we? Back in the Dark Ages, there was no England (which must be a concept that’s upsetting for people like Mark Francois). Instead, an ever-changing mishmash of kingdoms, of which Wessex was one, incorporating, at different times, a sizeable chunk of the south of what’s now England.
One of the last kings of Wessex was Alfred, who seems to have been a fairly good chap. Not long after his reign, seemingly on the basis of much of his canny political manoeuvrings, Wessex expanded and became the dominant party in the newly unified English nation.
We’ve sampled gin in a tin. We’ve sampled a heinous vermouth and tonic. What convenience beverage next for our thirsty commuter? This week, the fine folk at Waitrose have provided an enticing can of pink wine…
Now, I don’t usually buy rose in a bottle, let alone a goddamn can. But against the siren song of a yellow Waitrose reduced label — together, of course, with the prospect of masochism for your amusement, dear reader — I’m powerless.
About as local as gin gets (for me, that is), this distillery is practically my neighbour. And the best kind of near-neighbour: one that supplies me with bloody good booze.
Why do none of my actual neighbours do that?
I mentioned Hampshire Gunpowder Gin before, en passant. But it deserves a proper review, I think. One of the things I want to do this year is — in a spasmodic bout of localism — to write more about drink and food from my surrounds, meaning Hampshire, Sussex and thereabouts (where I live) and perhaps also London (where I work). So what better, SEO-friendly means by which to do this than by reviewing something that’s actually got the (key)words Hampshire Gin in the name?
An excellent Martini concocted by the fabulous foragers of Native Restaurant.
A quick one for you, today: Native. Amy and I had an excellent supper there, a couple of daysweeks months ago. I could probably spout a few hundred words on the food, but let’s keep the focus boozy, shall we? Let’s talk about the Native Martini.
Today. Today is not a good day, and was never going to be a good day. Today is a day on which to find objects of gratitude rather than (as is the temptation) of rage.
So, today, I bought sardines.
Sardines, four of the buggers — whole — for under £1.50, are the kind of thing I buy whenever I see them — irrespective of weather, mood or recent national tragedy. Sardines are the polar opposite of the choice in front of me on yesterday’s ballot paper: you can’t go wrong with sardines.
There are several disadvantages to drinking red wine. You’re familiar, no doubt, with many; I shalln’t try your patience and morale by enumerating them. I like to think that we go into this (this, y’know, drinking) with our collective eyes open as to its downsides. But it turns out there are risks, dear reader, of which even I was unaware.
Let me take you back to a Friday night some time ago. A Friday night that came at the end of a day spent working my mouse-finger to the bone, selling cheap shit to idiots on the internet.
That was a favourite joke of Mr Jarvis, my A Level English teacher. To the degree, I seem to remember, that he had to ask someone in the class to provide him with the setup question in order that he might triumphantly deliver the punchline. Which is nice for you to know.
What’s also nice for you to know is that Copperfield Gin may be the most handsomely packaged gin I’ve seen. Obviously I dig it because it’s literary, innit, and given that my idea of a perfect sitting room is one bedecked with books floor to ceiling, how could I not be seduced by a book-themed gin bottle? Or, at least, one so bloody well executed. Hats off to the designers, who presumably like Dickens.