Piemonte Barbera 2009, Marks & Spencer

… tastes of chunder

I fear this photo may actually make the wine look more appealing than is my intention.

Uh huh. A really, really horrid wine.

A really, really horrid wine that was nevertheless, I observe with icy authorial detachment, nominated (in its 2007 incarnation) as ‘wine of the week’ by none other than the Belfast Telegraph.

I wouldn’t have bought this (Belfast Telegraph recommendation notwithstanding), but for the fact that I was snaffling up one of those Marks & Spencer ‘Dine in for £10’ offers, ages ago, and literally had to get it. Yes, had to. There really was no alternative.

So, yes, insofar as it qualified me for the meal deal, picking up this wine actually saved me money.

That’s about all I can say in its favour, however. Because I’m afraid it actually tastes like sick.

Just as well, then, that I opened it with the express intention of casseroling the blighter to within an inch of its grim and impoverished life. But I thought I’d pour myself a thimbleful and chalk up another review — just for y’all.

Verdict

So, in what is my least nuanced review yet, I have little to add. I entitle this section ‘Verdict’ out of habit — but, once you know it tastes of bile, are you really in need of further summation? In case you’re hanging on for a redeeming feature, I’ll end your misery: there isn’t one. It has virtually no aroma. It is thin, watery, sour, bitter. I’ve only had two mouthfuls and I already feel a stomach ache lurking in the wings.

No stars for you today, M&S.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t make my casserole taste of sick.

Rating Zilch
ABV 13%
Price £5.49 from Marks & Spencer

A word on ratings

In which the venerable Parn explains (for those who care to know) the intricacies of his rating system

Well — hello. My subscriber stats tell me that I’ve garnered a bunch of new readers over the past couple of days. So if that’s you: much ‘bliged. Stick around, won’t you? This very minute I’m gurgling my way down a bottle of South African red from M&S, which’ll make its appearance on these pages soon, soon, very soon, passing soon.

Meanwhile, though, I wanted to scrawl a few haphazard words about my rating system, here at Old Parn’s.

I don’t do the ‘out of 100’ style ratings beloved of many tasters. Maybe I’ll someday graduate to those. But my own ‘system’ is somewhat more laid-back.

The star rating you see at the end of a review is an ‘overall’ mark that takes into consideration not only a wine’s qualities, but also – to some degree – its value for money. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • ????? (0 stars) – a wine with very little to recommend it. Either it’s simply unpleasant to drink, or else it’s extremely overpriced and mediocre. Example: Oyster Bay Merlot 2008
  • ????? (1 star) – a wine that may have some merit, but is let down by very notable flaws that are more or less unforgivable. Example: Banear Friulano 2009
  • ????? (2 stars) – a good order clomid online canada wine. Typical enough, everyday. Not a treat, but competently made and relatively enjoyable. A safe pair of hands. Example: Domaine de Gournier, VdP Cevennes 2009
  • ????? (3 stars) – a good and interesting wine. Nothing outstanding, still, but very good all the same. Better than most other wines of its type. Example: Loios, Vinho Regional Alentejano 2007
  • ????? (4 stars) – an excellent wine. This will either be a very fine example of its kind or else will be a very good wine with a distinctive, fascinating, unusual quality – or an extremely good price. Example: Domaine Font de Michelle 2004
  • ????? (5 stars) – an outstanding wine. I won’t give a wine five stars unless it is exceptionally good. If you see this rating, it means I judge this to be a brilliant wine (not simply a very good value one). A must-drink. Example: Waitrose Sancerre, Joseph Mellot 2009

So, yeah. There y’are. As you’ll see, most of the ratings are positive: anything above and including 2 stars is a good wine. I’m not so interested in the differences between a bad wine, a nasty wine and an execrable wine.

They’d all get zero in my book.

El Quintanal Ribera del Duero 2009, Rioja

…probably won’t metamorphose into a champion

Okay, let’s shimmy our way through a quick Rioja – one I picked up from Oddbins as an alcoholic offering to my dear parents, upon whose hospitality I was reliant over the weekend.

And I wasn’t overwhelmed. By the wine, that is. My parents’ hospitality, of course, was overwhelming as ever.

Now there’s a good welter of mouth-shrinking tannin in this wine (unsurprising, since it’s still very young) so it would doubtless improve with ageing. And its initial flavourburst is full, dark and spiced — though my bottle, at least, was petillant (that is to say, slightly sparkling), which I don’t think can’ve been intended.

But, considering the price, the wine is disappointingly quick to fade in the mouth, with a hollowness that rapidly follows in the wake of its initial assault on the palate.

For over £10, I’d hoped for better. Hell, let me tell you: my parents deserve better.

Verdict

If you happen already have a bottle of this lying around, I’d let it lie a good while longer: it will improve. But I wouldn’t buy it on the expectation that it’ll metamorphose into a champion.

It may be that my bottle wasn’t a good example (witness that incongruous fizz). But if you find yourself shuffling round Oddbins, looking for a bottle to impress your parents, I suggest you give this chap a miss. It’s not bad, but you could do much better for the money.

Rating ★★☆☆☆
ABV 14%
Price £10.99 from Oddbins

Brindisi Rosso Vigna Flaminio, 2006 (Vallone)

… will make you shout aloud with joy

There are few things more infuriating than grasping in vain for a description. Those times when you know a perfect, illuminating word or phrase exists — yet remain fumblingly unable to lay hands on it. Verbal constipation.

And there are few things more joyous (conversely) than alighting at last upon that long-sought description. Just when you were ready to give up.

Which explains the manic delight with which I found myself exclaiming ‘Tomato ketchup!’ two glasses into a bottle of Brindisi Vigna Flaminio.

Now, that may’ve given you a less than prepossessing impression. And that’s unjust. Because this is a very good — very, very reasonably priced — wine.

So, yes, there’s tomato ketchup in there. But you must believe me when I say that this is resoundingly a good thing. It binds the whole thing together in a juicy, sweet-yet-savoury kind of way.

This is a fairly light red wine, but it’s full. It practically ZINGS with high-note aromatics (both in the nose and in the gob). Oriental spices (cinnamon, star anise and the like), plum, balsamic vinegar of the finest and most viscous variety. Then there’s a crazed cameo of fizzy cola bottle, just when your tongue thought it could slope out of the room quietly.

And, like I said, that satisfying, satisfying tomato ketchup.

Verdict

I can only reiterate: don’t be put off by the ketchup thing. I know that wine writers’ descriptions can often verge on the repugnant — and I sincerely hope not to repel you, dear readers.

You should try this wine, in other words. Because it’s way more interesting than you could reasonably expect for £6.95. Yes, £6.95. That’s three quid cheaper than this old louse of a wine, for a start.

If the effervescent aromatics get too much for you, in any case, the wine tames beautifully with food (just don’t overpower the poor fellow). But, seriously, this is proof that interesting wines don’t have to have elbow-chewing price-tags.

And you’ll be able to enjoy it all the more, I might add, without the torture of working out the tomato ketchup bit.

Rating ★★★★☆
ABV 13%
Price £6.95 from The Wine Society (2006 out of stock; 2007 available)

Parallele 45 Reserve Cotes du Rhone Villages 2007, Paul Jaboulet Aine

…you can drink alone like the miserable yet discerning alkie you are

One of the reasons I love the Wine Society is its good selection of half-bottles. I often drink wine on my own, y’see (I just wanted an excuse to tell you that, really, as I’m fairly sure it makes me sound sort of cool) — and a half-bottle has that much less (round about half less, in fact) precious liquid to oxidise.

But if you take your lonesome arse into a supermarket and look for half-bottles, all you’ll find is a lamentable selection of mass-produced syrup- and vanilla-fests.

The Wine Society is virtually alone in the quality of its semi-sized selection.

And this — Paul Jaboulet Aine’s Parallele 45 Reserve Cotes du Rhone Villages — is one of the best of ’em.

So, it’s another Frenchy French wine. Full, strong, and (like our friend Domaine Font de Michelle) unapologetically gallic. Its aroma is hoofing enough to make you cough a little, should you avail yourself of a particularly generous snoutful.

Or maybe that’s just an early symptom of consumption.

Dans le gob, il y a beaucoup d’oomph. It’s simultaneously charmingly smooth and a gritty old bastard. It’d be great at film noir.

Loads of depth. Coffee-bitterness. Vegetation. A little oak to smooth it off. And wafting over the top of that are swoons of blossomy violet. Then, long afterwards, just as you think it’s all died down, a distant echo of tinned peaches and cream.

Verdict

Even if it weren’t for the boon of its half-bottle enclosure, this would be a winner. With, it, it pretty much has the rostrum to itself. I should probably add that you can also buy full-sized bottles. But that’d only mean sharing. Pah!

Here’s my advice: if you want to be cool, stick to the half-bottles. Alone.

Rating ★★★★☆
ABV 14%
Price £5.75 (half-bottle) from The Wine Society (Agh! Bastarding hell! It’s no longer available!); £8.95 (full bottle of the 2008) from Wine Direct

Oyster Bay Merlot Review

…will alternately patronise and assail your tastebuds

I was about to give Oyster Bay Merlot a bit of a break. But then I looked it up to find that a bottle (admittedly of the 2009 as opposed to my 2008) goes for £9.99 at Majestic. So no break for you, Oyster Bay.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The only reason I have this bottle is that I was given it. By an organisation, I hasten to add, not an individual. A ‘thank you for your business’ kind of thing.

But, yes. I don’t buy wines that look like Oyster Bay Merlot. Nail me into a broomcupboard and call me Satan if you wish (and what else would you do with Satan but nail him in a broomcupboard, I ask you?) — but that’s the unvarnished truth. It’s prejudiced, I realise, but my experience of mass-market wines that look like this and are called things like ‘Oyster Bay’ fills me with a dark, viscous dread.

But the misery of it all is that I was going to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Yeah! I was going to tell you that. Up until I realised that bottle — had I bought it myself — would’ve cost me a sodding tenner, rather than the £6-7ish I was expecting, given the name/label design combo.

Hell, I was never going to recommend it, you understand. But I was ready to concede that simply not being revolted was a kind of triumph.

Well, at £9.99, excuse me if I’m a little less forgiving.

So. The first thing that hits us? Ribena. Or Kia Ora. Or (Christ save us) Snapple. The kind of thing they’d market as ‘Very Berry’ flavour.

To be fair, this initial bouquet is hands down the worst feature of this wine (aside from its price: did I mention its price?). Because once (if) you get through it, you’ll actually be surprised at the amount of bitterness. There’s a touch of vanilla, but most of the finish is dominated by the woody depths of the tannin.

A schizophrenic wine, then. All kiddy sweetness to begin with, then cagey gruffness to finish. And there’s no transition to speak of: the flavours shift abruptly, without ceremony. Quite bizarre.

Verdict

So, as I may already have implied, a price tag of £9.99 on a wine like this is an absolute joke. At £6, I’d have expected the Kia Ora — but been grudgingly surprised at the unexpected tannic depth. It would certainly not have succeeded in making me commend the wine — but it would have succeeded in being better than most of its ilk.

BUT IT IS NOT £6.

Paying ten quid for this is like paying ten quid to have an unattractive gigolo spend an evening patronising you with syrupy platitudes and discussing Nietzsche. In alternate sentences.

Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Me, I chucked the rest of that gigolo straight into a casserole. Yum.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 13%
Price (for the 2009) £9.01 from Waitrose online, £9.99 from Majestic. But don’t, alright?

The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne, Cotes du Rhone, 2007

… reminds me, alas, of my one-time DT teacher — but is nevertheless actually rather nice

You know how it is when, try as you might, you’re unable to find much to say about something? Not because you don’t like it and are trying to be polite; just because, well, it’s just it.

Thing is, there are some times you need to find something to say. If you’re writing a wine blog, for instance.

Or if you’re a teacher at parents’ evening, faced by expectant parents.

Indulge me, then, as I cast my mind back to Mr Kingston, my teacher for Design Technology — a man who, at parents’ evening, saw fit to inform my mother and father that I was ‘a nice enough lad’. Whilst I’m sure they were relieved at this insight, I suspect they also felt somewhat shortchanged with regard to critical analysis of my DT skills.

(Which were, incidentally, lamentable.)

So, via Mr Kingston then, allow me to meander my way to The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne 2007. It is, without doubt, a Nice Enough Wine. But I know you, dear reader, expect more of me than this. So I’ll try a little harder.

Well, for starters, it is (like me) actually a good bit nicer than ‘nice enough’. It’s certainly a lot nicer, for instance, than Mr Kingston. I mean, I actively like it. Believe me.

It’s deep and long — again in contrast to Mr Kingston — but, like him, it possesses a degree of acidity alongside a good amount of stoutness and body. Both Mr Kingston and The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne are not delicate creatures — and yet, in spite of it all, both turn out to be a little softer, a little smoother (steady on) than you’d expected.

(It turned out that Mr Kingston ran a tabletop wargaming club for eager small boys.)

Verdict

I feel slightly odd in recommending a wine I struggle to find much to say about. But I drink ’em; I blog ’em. And this is a nice wine. It’s good with food, weighty, full and balanced. I like it. I just don’t have much more to say.

But at least I tried, eh Mr Kingston?

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 14%
Price £8.95 from The Wine Society

Domaine de Gournier, Vin de Pays des Cévennes Rouge, 2009

…doesn’t strip to its underwear while you’re still pouring the drinks

The label of a bottle of Domaine de Gournier, a French red wine

Okay. Let’s rattle through this one quickly, shall we? I mean, we’re all busy people.

So. Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes. It’s red. Dark red. Heavyish.

Both to the nose and in the mouth, it’s far from being an exhibitionist. You need to work at it a bit. The one flavour that presents itself unashamedly is plum. Caramelised plum, what’s more — which is a pretty nice kind of plum if you ask me.

(Marks & Spencer does a plum danish pastry. This is like those plums.)

Aromatically, we have yeasty, herby things (rosemary? Thyme?) going on. Squint your nose a bit and you might, like me, be put in mind of rain-laden pine-trees.

Taste-wise, alongside the M&S plum, there’s a peppery spiciness. Soil. Leather. Coffee. It’s the kind of wine, in other words, that’d wear tweed and wellies.

It’s also a smidgin on the harsh side (I do mean a smidgin): that little tight rasp at the back of the throat. But what did you expect?

Verdict

If you’re looking for a rough-and-ready, vaguely Bordeaux-style weekday wine that doesn’t strip to its underwear while you’re still pouring the drinks, this will do a fine job. And it won’t decimate your bank balance.

Unless your bank balance is £57.50.

Drink it with food, I think. Being a robust kind of character, it could stand up to most things you’d throw at it.

Thoroughly respectable without being exceptional — though at this price, that in itself is not to be disparaged.

Rating ***
ABV 13.5%
Price £5.75 from The Wine Society

Stella Bella 2008 Chardonnay, Margaret River

…is a vocal quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass. And clean underpants.

It took me years to trust Chardonnay. I’d just tasted too many horrible wines. You know the kind. Cheap. Rough. Oaky. Sweaty.

Robin Hood’s underpants in a bottle.

And I wasn’t the only one. If there is one grape that people consistently cite as the one they don’t like, it’s chardonnay. People who otherwise love wine and drink open-mindedly.

Perhaps you’re one yourself? Are you?

Well, take a mouthful of Stella Bella 2008. Listen. Hear that? That’s the sound of your preconceptions jamming their fingers into the mains socket and crackling like cartilage on a bonfire as they fry.

Because this is a really, really nice wine. And it’s a chardonnay.

More than that, it’s an Australian chardonnay.

But I don’t think they serve this one in Wetherspoons, sadly.

The first thing you notice? Well, the fact that you have a choice about the first thing you notice. Nothing thrusts itself in your face: the wine has a lovely discrete quality. It’s peachily soft, melt-melt-melt-melting. A sophisticated seductress.

But it’s not all about the perfumed kiss; there’s real tonal range here. The slightest hint of the chargrill — a savoury, mouthwatering bitterness. Then there’s pineapple and cream; lemon curd. And on top of that the vigorous watery snap of fresh green chilli.

Verdict

If you’ve formerly shied away from chardonnay, you owe it to yourself (and to me, damn it, to me) to try this. It proves beyond any doubt that Australia is more than up to the job of handling this grape. It’s shiningly good.

Perhaps the best thing about it is its range and balance. It’s a vocal quartet with soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

And they’re all wearing meticulously clean, beautifully scented underpants.

Rating ****
ABV 13%
Price £12.50 from The Wine Society (no longer in stock), £12.95 from The Drink Shop

Côtes-du-Rhône, Domaine Jaume, 2007

…doesn’t pretend to be TS Eliot

Aromatically, Domaine Jaume’s Côtes-du-Rhône isn’t especially forthcoming. There’s a bit of polish, a bit of woodiness. But I’ll admit that, on the evidence of first whiff, my expectations weren’t all that high.

But what a nice gobful it turns out to be. Big, full, confident. Swish it round and round your mouth for several seconds like a godawful prat if you like: it won’t turn to paint-stripper on your palate (unlike many big, roughish reds at this kind of price); it’ll certainly set the front of your mouth tingling like a recovering dead limb. But that’s invigorating, isn’t it?

Yeah, so it’s not a dignified, subtle wine; it’s a hoofer. But a very nice, balanced and (above all) reasonably priced hoofer. I drank it with homemade cottage pie, which was about right, I’d say.

There’s a bit of tannin there, but not lots. Understated but firm. Like a good teacher, who barely has to raise his voice in order to maintain classroom discipline. Or some such tortured metaphor. It keeps the wine focused and structured, prevents slackness at the fringes.

What else? Sweet cherries, varnished wood, liquorice, a not unpleasant hint of vegetation. Accents of black pepper and perhaps even cinnamon. And a very satisfying nuttiness to finish.

Verdict

This isn’t the most complex or subtle wine. But you don’t always want complexity and subtlety, do you? Otherwise you’d be reading bloody TS Eliot instead of this old bollocks, right?

Yeah. Sometimes you want a good, honest gobfiller. That’s this.

And if someone gave me a glass of Domaine Jaume, I’d almost certainly guess it was three or four quid more expensive than it is. Which has got to count for something, right? Especially for a ‘well known’ French region like Côtes-du-Rhône, which is often horribly overpriced and mediocre, relying on name alone.

So, a fine value hoofer, then. Stock up.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 13.5%
Price £7.25 from The Wine Society

Cave de Turckheim Gewürztraminer 2009, Alsace

…lingers, lulls, sedates

“COURAGE!” he said, and pointed toward the land,
“This mounting wave will roll us shoreward soon.”
In the afternoon they came unto a land
In which it seemed always afternoon.
All round the coast the languid air did swoon,
Breathing like one that hath a weary dream.
Full-faced above the valley stood the moon;
And, like a downward smoke, the slender stream
Along the cliff to fall and pause and fall did seem.

That’s Tennyson to kick us off, retelling an episode of The Odyssey in which Odysseus and his sailors discover a land of placid ‘Lotos-Eaters’. These islanders do the company no harm, but instead feed them their delicious, soporific fruits — sapping the sailors of their resolve to leave and continue their quest.

Well. If Lord Alfred’s ‘mild-eyed melancholy’ islanders had been drinking wine, I’ll warrant they’d’ve gone for Cave de Turckheim’s Gewürztraminer.

It’s heavy-yet-light, floral, perfumed. The scent is sweet; muskily grapey, heady. Each mouthful lies heavy on the tongue.

Slow. Still. Smooth.

Lazily it lingers in the mouth, unhurried, drowsy. There’s a subtle, appealing bitterness in there — which further enhances the wine’s narcotic character, as well as providing balance to the blossomy aromatics. Unfortunately, it’s a touch too alcoholly, meaning that there’s a slight rough note amidst its swooning diminuendo.

And after a glass or so, what first seemed winsome acquires a slightly desultory air. A vague, lethargic emptiness.

But I don’t complain particularly vociferously.

I’m just too — tired.

Verdict

With a little more balance, this would be a very good wine. As it is, it’s interesting (especially in view of its languorousness), but becomes a little repetitive and empty. Only a little, mind you. And for the price, I’d say it’s a pretty good specimen.

Rating ?????
ABV 13%
Price £8.25 from Waitrose, £8.99 from Majestic, £7.95 from The Wine Society

Domaine Font de Michelle 2004, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

…thrusts an unapologetic gallicism in your direction

The label of a bottle of Chateauneuf du PapeThis wine is French. It’s very French.

That’s a good thing, by the way.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I mean by that, except that everything about its smell and taste thrusts an unapologetic Gallicism in your direction.

Much like General de Gaulle did, I’d imagine.

Its relatively rare — and very welcome — for a wine both to evoke an overflowing of fruit (here, ripe, fat cherries and crushed raspberries particularly, as well as dark, rich prune) and to maintain an almost austere, savoury complexity, bound in by a fruit-kernel-bitter structure.

Verdict

This is a massive wine, a fireball blooming in the mouth. Suck and chew on it for several seconds and you’ll see what I mean. Its intensity and depth is port- or brandy-like. But despite its massiveness, it doesn’t overreach. It keeps its structure and integrity right through its development: no telling belch of alcohol or flab of fruity decay.

I’m not sure if you can still readily buy the 2004 Domaine Font de Michelle: I got it a while ago from the Wine Society, but it’s no longer available there. Other vintages, though, seem to be available at Waitrose and Lay & Wheeler. On the strength of this one, I’d recommend trying others.

Rating ★★★★
ABV 14.5%
Price £20.99 from the Wine Society (no longer available)

Thomas Mitchell Marsanne, 2008

… puts on other beverages’ clothing and hangs around in bars

A bottle of the curiously butch Thomas Mitchell MarsanneWell, for most of today I have been half-deaf. Yeah, that’s why they call me Old Parn. The mundane and somewhat distasteful reason for my deafness is a blocked right ear.

Anyhow, mindful of those stories that tell of people deprived of one sense enjoying increased acuteness in all others, I wandered (ensconced within my curious, insulated realm of semi-silence) into the Oddbins that nestles mere metres from my doorstep.

And decided to pick something I’d never normally: a big South East Australian white.

(I mean a big South East Australian white wine, obviously.)

You know what? It’s not at all bad. Unusual, certainly. Possibly not even to my tastes. But not at all bad.

First thing that hit me upon cracking the blighter open? The smell of beer. Really. I’m not messing around: this actually smelt, at first waft, bizarrely lager-like. You’d think that’d be pretty offputting, non? But I didn’t find it so.

This is a rich, full, golden wine. A wine that has a great deal of heft. It’s butch. But perfumed, all the same. And there’s nothing wrong with being butch and perfumed, let Old Parn assure you right away.

And what perfume it is. So once the beer has subsided, welcome to the land of fruit juice. There’s loads of pineapple (fresh and slightly acid, not cloying and overripe) — in fact, there’s a distinctly cocktailish character to the thing. But not in the same way as that mediocre Friuli from last week. A hint of herbaceousness balances the fruit … and there is a definite fruit pastille presence. The green one.

It’s staggeringly huge in the mouth (yeah, yeah, as the actress said … whatever …) — not remotely subtle or restrained, it throws itself at your tastebuds and wraps them in a matronly embrace. Impressive, if you like that kind of thing. Indeed, its dessert-wine-esque hugeness leads to its most notable downfall: it’s too full-on. I’m more fussy than many about this — but I don’t like my wines to taste alcoholly. By which I mean, to have that somewhat raw, unrefined alcohol blast when left too long in the mouth. It makes them taste cheap.

And this wine otherwise tastes more expensive than it is.

Verdict

For the price, and if you like whackingly domineering white wines full of alcohol and fruit (but still dry), this is a pretty good choice. Don’t pair it with delicately flavoured food, though; I’d probably stick to drinking it on its own, or alongside strongly flavoured/spiced dishes. Don’t worry too much about obscuring its subtleties.

To be honest, it’s not the kind of thing I often fancy. But who’s fighting for the fancies of a half-deaf old codger anyway? Certainly not big, butch, perfumed South East Australian whites.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 13.5%
Price £7.99 from Oddbins

Waitrose Sancerre, Joseph Mellot 2009

… will light up your palate with a triumphant blaze of verdant Spring

If I had to walk into an unfamiliar (or familiarly unreliable) pub and order a glass of white wine, I’d go for Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s a forgiving grape: a bad Sauvignon Blanc (hereafter ‘SB’) tends still to be drinkable, because it’s such a fruity wine. The hoofingly powerful gooseberry-type flavours that almost inevitably dominate SBs can throw a veil over many sins.

But there are two sides, of course, to this. Safety and reliability can all too easily become predictability. And SBs can be a bit like Walkers’ Cheese & Onion crisps: appealingly, tastebud-bombingly gratifying in the short-term, but leaving an acrid artificiality lingering in their wake.

Thank Christ, then, for wines like this damn, damn nice Sancerre (100% Sauvignon Blanc, y’know).

It’s fruity, sure. But it gambols over the pit into which so, so many of its fellow SBs tumble: that of being too fruity — overwhelming, concentrated, one-dimensional.

It slides silkily onto your tongue, before lighting up your palate with a triumphant blaze of pure, verdant Spring — dancing, tingling, mouthfilling — and yet manages to follow this extroverted exposition with a demure, elegant development. Just at the point when a lesser SB would be beginning to strain, to reveal its limitations, this chap eases into a lovely, smooth 5th gear. And goes on.

And on.

It has an excellent finish, in other words: the youthful greenness (gooseberry, yes — but also the crisp spurt of biting into raw green pepper) blossoms into late-summer roundedness. Peach, firm-fleshed young plums — where the golden flesh is turning vermillion, close to the stone. It is mouthwatering, seductive, addictive. So impressive is the lack of any bump in the transition between the initial excitement and the subsequent warm expansiveness that one’s almost mesmerised. I find myself taking mouthful after mouthful (yeah, any excuse), continually marvelling at the finesse with which this transition is accomplished.

Verdict

I know it’s not a cheap wine, but for this level of complexity — this excellent balance — I’d happily pay a lot more than £12. Deservedly award-winning, this is a very fine wine indeed. Serve it to somebody you want to impress — or somebody you’d like to intoxicate in the most beguiling way imaginable.

Rating *****
ABV 13%
Price £11.39 from Waitrose

Banear Friulano, 2009

… will kick you like a university student’s cheap homemade cocktails

(Sorry, not the best photo; only iPhone camera to hand)

There are a shocking number of extremely poor Italian wines being sold in the UK. So I suppose I oughtn’t to be surprised that Banear Friulano is emphatically mediocre.

At least it’s not terrible. And this is a price point (£5.50) around which congregate a great number of offensively horrible wines. But that’s not really an excuse. And I’m afraid that, taking all the above into account, Banear Friulano still has very little to recommend it.

There’s a slight soapiness of the kind that often lingers also around Soave. And it’s one of those whites that manages simultaneously to be empty and over-concentrated. Leave a mouthful of this too long without swallowing and it’ll kick you like a combination of vodka and nasty cheap grapefruit juice. Like a fresher’s homemade cocktail.

It’s a shame, because before that vodka-grapefruit hits, there’s the tiniest beginning of a creaminess that, had it been permitted to bloom, could’ve made all the difference.

Verdict

I’m being somewhat negative, although this isn’t — as I’ve said — terrible. It ticks various ‘adequate’ boxes, but I can’t find much to compliment, really. I suppose it’s ‘fresh’ and ‘zingy’, yeah — and a few more of those meaningless Wetherspoons-menu adjectives. And it’d be a fair enough appetiser, if only because, after a glass of it, you’ll be gasping for something else to cast onto the arid plain that your tongue has become.

M&S has a pretty good Friuli for a similar kind of price (I’ll find out its details next time I’m there and update this post accordingly). Drink that instead, and be reminded that neither Italian whites nor this region specifically are necessarily disappointing, even at a reasonable price.

Update: Yeah, that M&S wine I referred to is M&S Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc — seems to be a mere £6 at the moment, though I think it’s a bit more at full price. Buy it instead of Banear.

Rating *
ABV 13%
Price £5.50 from the Wine Society

Loios, Vinho Regional Alentejano, 2007 (J Portugal Ramos)

… will fill your mouth with cherry; crushed, dark and bleeding

Tonight, I was grilling lamb. Lamb rubbed with cumin and paprika, alongside a broad bean salad with coriander, garlic and, yes, more cumin.

So that called for a red wine, and one that would stand up to the Moorish spices and charred intensity. I picked a Portugese red from the region of Alentejo, in which (according to Hugh Johnson) ‘A reliably dry climate makes rich, ripe reds’.

This is a good wine.

There’s a nice balance between savoury and sweet. On its own (I taste wines first without food, then with), its complexity is obvious. It’s not a glug-before-dinner wine. There’s a fair bit of tannin there, which makes it a chewable mouthful.

Very first impression (microseconds) is ever so slightly empty. But then there’s an explosion of flavour. Which almost makes that initial first-sip emptiness a virtue. From there on, no emptiness whatsoever.

Flavours are cherry (cherry stones particularly), but of the deep, ripe variety; not firm and ruby, but crushed, dark and bleeding. The savoury tannins entirely keep the fruit in check (which could otherwise be sickly) — balance is excellent.

Add food (and mine was very nice, thank you) and the benefits of those tannins become even clearer. Ever drunk a fruity wine with food and been confronted with a sudden almost cloying sweetness? That was probably thanks to the lack of tannins.

Loios won’t do that to you. No indeed. Without ever becoming exactly soft, the wine mellows and broadens. Juicy. If I do say so, this turned out to be a perfect match for my lamb, and stood up brilliantly to the paprika and cumin.

Verdict

This is a very good wine. It’s serious, and you’d want to pay it attention, not gulp it mindlessly. Most people will want to drink it with food. To be sure of getting a French red of this quality, you’d have to spend a good whack more.

£7.25 is an excellent price, and I’d buy this again. Dinner party calibre, certainly.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 13.5%
Price £7.25 from the Wine Society