What I’m Doing (mid-Feb edition)

All the stuff I’m up to that I either haven’t been concentrating enough to write about properly, or else can’t quite be bothered to. If that sounds like a compelling pitch to you, god help you. Cocktails at Hide Below, Oysters at Bentley’s, alcoholic wisdom from Morgenthaler and more…

You ache, don’t you, for further insights into my almost inconceivably rich and varied lifestyle?

Well let that ache be soothed! Here’s a new series in which I rifle through the receipts crumpled in my wallet and the memories crumpled in my brain. To be published at a frequency of whenever-I-can-be-arsed. Here’s what I’ve been doing so far in February.

Continue reading “What I’m Doing (mid-Feb edition)”

Booze of the Week: Jameson’s Whiskey

The confluence of aesthetic principles and undergraduate pretension? Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, apparently. God knows why; I suppose you’ll have to read my Booze of the Week to find out.

I don’t think we should underestimate the role nostalgia plays in our alcoholic predilections. We’re all just walking bags of meat and memories, after all.

Continue reading “Booze of the Week: Jameson’s Whiskey”

The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic — 2019 edition

A vain quest, you might say, to find the best gin for gin and tonic. I might agree. But it’s an enjoyable quest nevertheless. And not all gins are equal. Read on for a taste test of 10 common gins and a ranking of their G&T prowess…

You have cash in your pocket, and you have a thirst. Specifically, a thirst for that most noble of drinks, the gin and tonic. But you don’t just want any gin and tonic. No. You’re better than that. You, my friend, want the best. And that means you need to know what is the best gin for gin and tonic.

Continue reading “The Best Gin for Gin and Tonic — 2019 edition”

Lone Wolf Gin Review

Lone Wolf is the kind of gin of which the captain of secret police in a repressive, totalitarian regime would heartily approve. Question is, does Old Parn feel similarly…?

Come in! Come in! Fortunate favourite of Old Parn — or else not so fortunate.

Continue reading “Lone Wolf Gin Review”

Asterley Bros Estate English Vermouth Review

Many things are nicer than a bout of labyrinthitis-induced vertigo. Asterley Bros English Vermouth is one such thing. You possibly shouldn’t drink this until your room spins, but far be it from me to dissuade you… It’s bloody good.

What’s worse than a hangover? I’ll tell you: the symptoms of a hangover (the absolute worst kind), lasting for days, without the benefit of actually having been drunk beforehand.

Reader, welcome to the world of labyrinthitis.

Continue reading “Asterley Bros Estate English Vermouth Review”

The Perfect Gin Martini Recipe

Right, listen. This is important. You either make a perfect martini or you don’t make one at all. Read on for Old Parn’s rhapsody on the innumerable savage charms of this noble drink — and, natch, the recipe for the aforementioned perfect martini…

Your first gobful of martini should brace you even as it slams you. You should gasp. Your mouth should thrill, your blood should pump, your heart should sing. Continue reading “The Perfect Gin Martini Recipe”

Wine & Shrooms & Cheese

What do you do when you find wanky shrooms? You buy wanky shrooms, stoopid. And you buy a bloody nice wine to go with them. Also: cheese.

Well — the other weekend, I opened a bottle of Ferraton Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph 2011 (£24 from The Wine Society) and it was bloody excellent. Beyond that, I’m not going to write much more about it. Why? Continue reading “Wine & Shrooms & Cheese”

The Negroni Manzanilla with Sacred Rosehip Cup – Recipe

As if a normal negroni weren’t good enough… Thanks to Poco Tapas, Old Parn discovers the majesty of the Negroni Manzanilla and Sacred’s Rosehip Cup.

I love a negroni. And before I went to Poco Tapas Bar during a visit to Bristol last summer, I believed I made a pretty damn good one.

Poco Tapas Bar’s Negroni Manzanilla took that belief of mine to one side and gave it a bloody good shoeing.

Continue reading “The Negroni Manzanilla with Sacred Rosehip Cup – Recipe”

Parn Essentials: Clos la Coutale, Cahors

The finest car interiors you ever smelt. Thwack a few bottles of this bloody decent Cahors into your wine rack, if you please. Then go off and read the next chapter of Melmoth the Wanderer.

Bottle of Clos la Coutale Cahors from the Wine Society

‘This is a good one, isn’t it?’

That’s Amy, just based on an initial snoutful of Clos la Coutale. She’s not wrong. Continue reading “Parn Essentials: Clos la Coutale, Cahors”

Floyd on Parn

This blog had lost its way. It took the charismatic inclusiveness of the wonderful Keith Floyd to reanimate the somnolent Old Parn. The result: a new beginning of sorts…

I haven’t written here for ages. Come on, pretend you noticed. I think my silence has been a result of increasing discomfort maintaining an authoritative tone on booze. That’s a shame (or perhaps a blessing, depending on your perspective), as I continue to think that the legitimisation of ‘normal’ (ie. untrained) voices talking about wine is an important thing.

In many ways, more important than democracy, scientific progress or the rule of law. Continue reading “Floyd on Parn”

Clos Triguedina / Clos Putney High Street / Cahors Blimey

Jesus, if this is what Putney smells like, no wonder SW15 property prices are so bloody high.

Bottle of Cahors. Bloody rare chunks of bavette steak. A*‘Ah, that smells good! It reminds me of Putney.’

Stick that on your label, Clos Triguedina, why don’t you? Putney! Sweet, odiferous Putney, home to possibly the most polluted highstreet in London. Putney, the place in which weekly wipe-downs of my kitchen windowsill would stain cloths black. Ah, Putney!

‘I mean, it’s the kind of wine you used to give me in your flat in Putney.’

O reader! What the hell went wrong, I ask myself, since Putney? Why am I not giving Amy wine like this every sodding evening (or, at least, weekend, in moderation, in a manner consistent with government guidelines on alcohol consumption)? I mean, Christ, I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job, here in Ealing, but no; relative to my barnstorming debut in SW15, my domestic sommelier performance in W5 turns out to be the ‘difficult (ie. shit) second album’. I guess I’ll have to try harder.

…Which might, I suppose, just mean ordering a few cases of Clos Triguedina.

Because it’s bloody good. I mean, you should know, I guess, that the level of aggression behind my fandom of Cahors is sufficient to put your average English football hooligan to shame. I’d certainly start chants about it, if not all-out fistfights. If I could be arsed, I’d steer this already ludicrous comparison off onto some otiose tangent whereby I’d exploit the fact that the letters QPR not only stand for an English football club (so I gather) but also for the phrase ‘quality:price ratio’. But you and I, my buttery little reader, we are beyond such fripperies, aren’t we? I’ll give you the dots; you join ’em. #engagement

Anyhow. Because it’s a Cahors from The Wine Society, I’m predisposed to like this quite a lot. But even bearing that in mind, it’s jolly nice. Dark, blue-tinged, rich, spicy. Tantalisingly vampiric. And all the usual good stuff. Hedgerow fruits, tobacco and darkness.

If I were a patient man, I’d perhaps have kept this a tad longer; I’m pretty sure it’ll be even nicer in a year or two. But I had a thick chunk of bavette steak and a thirst. And perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of my lizard brain, a hankering to cast myself back to those soot- and Malbec-sodden days of Putney Hill.

Rating ★★★★★ 5 stars (excellent)
Wine Clos Triguedina Cahors 2011
Price £14.50 from The Wine Society

Shoehorn in a Tube strike reference, why don’t you?

Shameless. Fucking shameless.

Bottle of Lunate Fiano on a chopping board

Wowch, hello, Lunate Fiano.

This is a properly powerful character. Lots of Fianos are the kind of middling, inoffensive cack that’s practically crying out for a Tesco’s Finest label. This one isn’t.

It’s bloody full, for a start. Sort of like Earl’s Court station has been, lately. But it smells a fair bit better.

(Jesus God, imagine if Earl’s Court smelt like this…)

I like white wines that give your gob something to grab onto, rather than dancing lithely away like smoke. That savoury, stony, dominant quality. (Oh, why do you always wilfully misinterpret me when I say dominant? Yes, you.)

It’s not a fabulously intellectual wine. It’s not, ultimately, going to make a load of irritating winos crumple up their little faces in appallingly pseudo-orgasmic delight. Thank Christ for that. But it’s interesting, it’s got a character, and it costs less than a tenner. It’s the kind of wine I want to crack open when I’ve crawled past the middle of the work-week’s seesaw and am starting to feel the bastard tip downward.

Especially when I had to change trains at Earl’s Court in the middle of a fucking Tube strike.

This bottle was received as a free sample from Fine Wines Direct UK, where it costs £7.99. And I reckon I’ll give it 4 stars in a spirit of post-commute largesse. If you have a problem with that, do piss off.

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

In which Old Parn explores his difficult relationship with authority, his deification of Waitrose, and his peculiar peccadillo for the eponymous Bordeaux sub-region.

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

A significant portion of which is devoted to a spirited ‘crie de coeur’ on the subject of ready meal packaging, and most of the rest of which contemplates distasteful sexual activities practised upon Russian politicians. I’m up-front about this stuff, y’know.

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

In which Old Parn has his pain threshold put to the test, both physically and psychologically, and his concept of luxury dramatically redefined — before collapsing into the embrace of a Wine Society half-bottle.

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