Young & Crazy

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.

Continue reading “Young & Crazy”

What I’m doing (March Edition)

All the odds and sods that went on in March and I didn’t bloody tell you about. Hampshire yomps, Hampshire scoff, wine bizniz and a special arrival…

Yeah, I know it’s April now. Sue me. Here’s what I’ve been up to in March.

Continue reading “What I’m doing (March Edition)”

Peasant Life: countryside, gin and stew. But no bloody giblets.

The other day I felt peasanty. I often feel peasanty. So I went to Waitrose (very much in the manner of a typical peasant) looking for thrifty cuts of meat.

Continue reading “Peasant Life: countryside, gin and stew. But no bloody giblets.”

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)”

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”

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

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.

What happens when you Drink at Eat?

In which our hero links to his latest guest post — narrating the woeful tale of his attempts to buy wine at Eat restaurant on the South Bank.

A pie and potato from Eat (in disposable pie box) and a mini bottle of Stowells white wineWhen a place calls itself Eat, perhaps that’s, y’know, a kind of subtle hint that the emphasis isn’t on the wine list.

Be that as it may. Defying corporate nomenclature, I decided to put Eat’s wine selection to the test — with characteristic ruthlessness.

Be warned: there are scenes in the following post that readers of a sensitive disposition may find upsetting.

You can read the story of the whole desperate, sorry experience in my guest post across at eVines. Here’s the link.

Oddbins launches promotion *definitely nothing to do with the Olympics*

In which Old Parn is grudgingly impressed by the PR tactics of a reinvigorated Oddbins. Tactics that are in no way related to the Olympics whatsoever, it might be pointed out.

Oddbins promo artwork for a campaign definitely not linked to the OlympicsOkay. Now, I normally tear through unsolicited email press releases like a velociraptor through a paddock of newborn foals. But the Oddbins one I received yesterday was rather entertaining.

Ayo Akintola, the Oddbins MD, has apparently become incensed (with, of course, that particular kind of anger that just so happens to make for a good news story) at the branding restrictions imposed on small businesses that aren’t official Olympics sponsors.

As a result he is offering a ninja discount to all Oddbins customers. It’s not an Olympic discount — because he can’t call it that. It’s just a discount that coincidentally happens to celebrate an unnamed national event and to last for the next three weeks.

Here’s the funny bit.

The discount (30% off) applies to anyone coming into an Oddbins shop bearing items made by non-Olympics sponsors. Nike trainers, Vauxhall car keys, a can of Pepsi, a KFC receipt…

Yup. It’s provocative and attention-seeking. But I kind of like it. Here’s another image.

Oddbins promo artwork for a campaign definitely not linked to the Olympics

Boss Wine

In which a glass of delicious Valpolicella is pressed into the not-remotely-reluctant hand of Old Parn, and he feels guilty, the next day, for his inability to review it properly

A bottle of Bussola ValpolicellaWhen your boss invites you round after work and gives you a glass of wine, you’re not reviewing that wine.

But you still notice when that wine happens to be a lovely fucker, don’t you? And if you have some kind of weird disorder whereby you actually feel a bit guilty for not reviewing a lovely wine (as though the wine’s feelings might be hurt by this scandalous omission), you end up resolving two things:

  1. TO MAN THE FUCK UP AND STOP ANTHROPOMOPHISING THINGS, YOU LOSER; and
  2. to write an unabashedly subjective blog post about it, anyway.

So. My boss (who has a very generous way with the wine, I might add — a generosity that has its drawbacks, the following day) pressed a glass of Bussola Valpolicella into my hand. And — jeeps, boy — it was very lovely indeed. Huge, intense, strong — but soft, yielding, gentle.

The wine, that is; not my hand.

Though my hand is also all of those things.

Anyway. Bussola Valpolicella is a delicious wine. I’m not going to give it a star rating, because this ain’t a real review. But if you’re in Majestic, I’d grab a bottle (it’s £22). You don’t have to review it, either. Just drink the old bugger and enjoy it. Sharing it with your boss is optional.

The Best Wine I Drank All Week

In which Old Parn touts his latest guest post — an attention-seeking spiel about the circumstantial merits of mediocre Pinot Grigio.

A cold bottle of Pinot Grigio made by HardysHow does a cheap, mass-produced bottle of mediocre Pinot Grigio become The Best Wine You Drank All Week?

That’s the question I pose in my latest guest post for eVines. As a bonus, you also get to find out how your hero came to be mesmerising the rural population of Kent with a natty pair of white disposable slippers, and encounter vaguely slapstick anecdotes involving cow pooh.

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?

Anyhow, please be my guest and read the whole thing over at eVines.

How to talk about wine…

How to talk about wine? What kind of a title is that? A ridiculous one, that’s what. But let’s indulge ourselves, shall we, and talk about talking about wine?

Note: this post was originally a link to read an article I wrote for the now-defunct website eVines. So rather than leave a broken link on the website, I’m republishing the article in its entirety, below. How nice of me.

Okay. I’ll admit it. The title’s a lie: I’m not going to give you instructions on how to talk about wine. In fact, please tear me apart with large metal hooks and display my eviscerated corpse upon a mighty stone obelisk if ever I do such a thing. Because, here’s what I think. I think it’s totally ridiculous that I can write an article called ‘how to talk about wine’ and nobody bats an eyelid.

Imagine you saw an article called ‘How to talk about food’. Or ‘How to talk about tea’. Or ‘How to talk about massages’.

That’d be a bit odd, wouldn’t it? Yet ‘How to talk about wine’ seems fine. “Oh, yes. I wish I could talk about wine.” Why is this? It’s because the world of wine (or huge parts of it) are stuck in the 18th century.

In the 18th century — for the first time in British history — a significant number of people who were not aristocratic started to become wealthy. This didn’t please the aristocrats: godforsaken nouveaux riches laying their mercantile hands upon the preserve of the gentry. Abhorrent!

How were these beleaguered aristos to protect their class from infiltration? The solution that emerged was devastatingly effective: invent a new language.

Starting in the 18th century, a plethora of new words suddenly started to enter educated, upper class discourse. They were almost always long (polysyllabic, one might say) and derived from words in French or Latin or Ancient Greek. Words that people who hadn’t learnt French or Latin and Ancient Greek, therefore, wouldn’t understand. And all those ‘new money’ characters? They were shut out from this linguistic new world. They might be able to spend like an aristocrat, but they sure as hell couldn’t talk like one.

As a collective defence, it has the savage brilliance of the upper class about it, n’est pas? Because language is an unrivaled means by which to make someone feel like an outsider. It’s powerfully tribal.

Right. So that’s enough linguistic history. (Fun, though, wasn’t it?) You can probably already see how this relates to wine. There’s a whole language out there that is powerfully exclusive; that intimidates and stupefies; that promotes a world in which some people can talk about wine and others can’t. And it’s bullshit.

Here’s a common example. On its own, it’s not too offensive, and plenty of winos whom I like and respect use it. But I find it irritating:

‘On the nose, there are hints of gooseberry, elderflower and cut grass.’

On the nose. Why in Christ’s name do we need to say ‘on the nose’ when what we actually mean is ‘this wine smells like…’? Nothing is gained. All that is added is an unnecessary layer of complexity and abstraction. On the nose, I’m getting hints of fresh, grassy bullshit. Nobody speaks like this in the real world. So when a normal person hears or reads an expression like this, a barrier is formed. In this case it’s not an insurmountable one (it’s not hard to work out what ‘on the nose’ means, I realise), but one that artificially enforces the distinction between ‘person who knows how to talk about wine’ and ‘ignorant serf’.

Another example? ‘The ’99 is drinking well right now.’ This kind of thing makes me want to sink my teeth deep into my own pelvis in rage. It’s not even elegant; it’s a linguistic fart in the face that makes you sound like a smug prat. (Again, um, no offence to people who say this. Honest.)

Now, I don’t mean to imply that people who talk about wine in ‘wino’ terminology are deliberately being exclusive (though sometimes I think they are). I don’t want to come across all underpants-on-head conspiracy-theorist about this. And I am not against technical terminology, in its place: just as a scientific journal is written for scientists and employs an appropriate vocabulary, so a piece of wine writing targeted at Masters of Wine may quite legitimately employ complex terminology. I work in eCommerce, and the language I’d use in a report to my peers is totally different to the language I use if talking to a stranger about what I do. Obv.

What I’m against is the unnecessary use of florid or obscure language when it adds nothing. It’s not beautiful (poetry can be hard to understand — but one hopes that the music of the words makes up for the difficulty); it’s not conveying extra information (‘on the nose’ = ‘smells like’); it’s not original (inventing new ways to get around old linguistic cliches can be a noble thing — but wino-wank is utterly cliche-ridden; just cliches that only fellow winos employ).

See, I believe pretty goddamn strongly: there’s no such thing as a right way to talk about anything. Talking is about communicating, being understood; not about being correct. One person’s understandable is another’s gobbledegook.

I talk about wine quite a lot. Because it’s a pretty good conversation-point. Sharing a sensual experience with someone else — and comparing one another’s perception of it — is interesting and enriching. (“How was it for you?”) Because I love finding out how other people react to things. ALL people. In fact, I’m way more interested to know what my friend thinks of the wine we’re sharing than I am to know what Robert Parker thinks of it.

(ZING. Take that, Parker.)

But, you know what? Getting people to talk about wine is hard. People clam up. Because they feel like they might say something stupid. They might use the wrong words. And the clever wine people might laugh. I know this feeling, because I’ve felt it myself.

‘Oh, I’m no expert,’ people will say. At which point, bloodshot and spit-flecking, I scream in their face like a maniac, ‘YES YOU ARE. YOU ARE AN EXPERT. IN FACT, YOU ARE THE ONLY SODDING EXPERT — IN THE WORLD, EVER — ON WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS WINE.’

There is no right way to talk about wine (have I said this enough, yet?). Because when you’re talking about wine, you’re just talking about yourself. What does a wine remind you of? What does it make you feel like? What colour does it taste like? If it were a person, what kind of person would it be?

These are all way more interesting questions in a social context than ‘Can you analyse this wine technically?’ And they’re questions anyone can answer, in any words. In fact, the more one gets to know about wine (all the technical stuff, I mean), the harder it gets to answer those interesting questions — because your head gets stuffed up with jargon and facts (which are boring) crowding out imagination and intuition (which are interesting).

I don’t mean we shouldn’t describe wines in weird and wonderful ways. Christ alive, no. I don’t even necessarily mean that writing and speech about wine should all be simple. But if it’s complex, let it be complex because of its imaginative richness, its poetry — not its impenetrable dry terminology.

So here’s my plea, and my manifesto: let’s all try and talk about wine with openness, with imagination. Let’s talk about wine — and encourage others to talk about wine — using whatever words we goddamn well please.

Guest post: The Ubiquity Of Fizz

In which Old Parn’s first guest blogger, Elly Tams, has her knickers charmed off by Prosecco

Closeup of the simple green label of a bottle of San Leo Prosecco

This is a grand moment: the first guest blogpost on Old Parn. Um, on the blog, I mean. Not actually on me.

Your blogger today is Elly Tams. Elly is a writer; her debut novella Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls wonders what would have happened if Michel Foucault the homosexual French philosopher had in fact had a daughter. I encountered Elly (also known as Quiet Riot Girl) on Twitter, and I liked her tweets straight away. I liked the way she spoke about her area of interest (gender/sexuality etc) with conviction, directness and simplicity. The way she didn’t hide behind abstract nouns and academic terminology.

Turns out Elly likes wine. So I asked her if she’d write a guest post. And she did. Huzzah…

***

Party Like It’s 1999

I blame the Millenium. Before the 31st of December 1999, champagne was reserved for special occasions. I mean REALLY special. Weddings, coronations, Formula One racing, Number One Singles (remember them?), losing your virginity, winning the premium bonds. But ever since that hyped-up, arbitrary, potentially computer-destroying, slightly tacky otherwise ordinary New Year’s Eve 12 years ago, the world has been awash with fizzy wine. I realised the definition of ‘celebration’ was getting a bit loose when I bought a bottle of cava to celebrate the release of my favourite band’s latest album. It’s a slippery slope.

This ubiquity of fizz has meant I have become rather familiar with the genre. Not with the crème de la crème, you understand. I still don’t know the difference between a Dom Perignon and a Crystal. The cheap stuff is my area. My favourite part of a good friend’s wedding rigmarole was a few weeks before the big day, when we did a fizzy wine tasting at her place. There is a fine line between a good cheap bottle of fizz and an awful one (hint: the awful ones seem to be trying to strip off the back of your throat and the hangovers come with headaches from hell).

If you don’t have the time or the liver capacity to do the research, my advice for finding a reliable, reasonably priced sparkling wine is simple. The answer is Prosecco.

To avoid the embarrassment of me not knowing anything about grape varieties or regions or acidity or any of the technical stuff that wine buffs dazzle us with, I will distract you with a metaphor. If all the fizzy wines were in a line up and you were choosing which one to go on a date with, Prosecco might be the quieter one. It would be handsome and well-dressed in an understated way. It would not be trying too hard to impress, because it wouldn’t need to. It would be self-assured and confident in its qualities. It would be a mistake to pass over it for the more flashy contenders.

Prosecco charmed my knickers off for the first time in an Italian bar and restaurant in Sheffield a few years ago. I will admit it. The first thing that attracted me to it was the price. Cheaper than champagne but tasting just as good – in many cases better – it has been a firm favourite ever since. The best deals are at supermarkets. Recently I found some San Leo prosecco at Waitrose for £6.95, reduced from £10.44. Four bottles later I can confirm it is a classic. I prefer brut, and this one is indeed very dry but the lovely thing about prosecco is after the first couple of bottles – I mean glasses – even the driest versions become smooth and creamy to drink.

Part of me wishes I’d bought the whole lot of reduced San Leo when it was on offer. But another, more sensible, and probably more romantic part doesn’t. Because if any type of wine can keep the experience of quaffing fizz special, it’s prosecco.

***

Thanks, Elly. I bought a mini-bottle of the San Leo myself. Purely for, um, research, you understand. And she’s right: it’s damn pleasant, accessible, celebratory stuff.

If you yourself have a wine that you’d like to talk about, do get in touch, won’t you?

Meanwhile, here’s a link to Elly’s blog, Quiet Riot Girl, and her Twitter feed.

The Extravagant Complexity of Wine (inspired by white Rioja)

In which Old Parn recounts the tale of his first serious wine purchase — and muses on the notions of choice and experimentation with the aid of a very nice bottle of white Rioja

Closeup of the label of a bottle of white RiojaDo you want to know what I love most of all about wine? Wine is an extravagantly complex universe, with bewildering variety, innumerable secrets and surprises.

I have an embarrassing — borderline clinical — compulsion to try new things. To try ALL THE NEW THINGS IN THE WORLD EVER. When I was a student, I spent a ludicrous amount of my loan (Go Team Maximum Student Loan!) on spirits. ‘Typical bloody student,’ you’re probably muttering, as you rustle your Daily Mail disapprovingly. But, y’see, I spent my loan on every spirit/liqueur I could find. Frangelico? Check. Framboise? Check. Creme de Cacao? Check. Amaretto? Check. Mine was not the shopping list of the typical student, I like to think.

(Christ alive, Parn, eradicate that entirely unwarranted tone of pride from your writing right now.)

Yeah. I wanted ALL THE SPIRITS. Because I wanted to be able to make ALL THE COCKTAILS. As a result, my university bedroom resembled a well-stocked off-license in a wealthy London borough. Except with Radiohead posters and the unmistakable stench of adolescent pretension. People came round to my room for a drink; I gave them a sodding menu.

But then I discovered that — actually — spirits were boring*. The apparent variety of the supermarket spirits section was nothing compared to the variety in my first case of wine. From Majestic.

Let me tell you about that first case of wine. I’d just moved into my first non-student abode. My first shared house. I’d landed my first BIG JOB (putting books back on shelves). I was almost like a Real Grown Up. And as such I decided to do what Grown Ups do: order a case of wine.

(Make your own deductions about my warped conception of adulthood. I don’t care.)

For someone who’d previously chosen his wine from the shelves of Sainsbury’s local, this was a revelation. So much choice! So many unfamiliar names!

I still have that same excitement whenever I browse wines in a good shop (online or off): that vertiginous thrill of bewildering, tantalising choice. The terror of knowing that even if I never drink the same wine twice, I still have no hope of trying them all. And I sincerely cannot imagine being faced with all these tantalising, exotic, unfamiliar names — and then putting a big-brand Australian Chardonnay into my basket. For me, that’d be like going to Thailand and having dinner in Burger King. I don’t mean that to sound snobbish. Because I think that the ‘safe’ ubiquity of big-brand wine is in no goddamn way the fault of customers who are intimidated by incomprehensible choice. Not everyone is a weirdass novelty-seeker like me — and if normal people don’t feel they can explore the unknowns of the wine world, that’s a failure on the part of the industry. But that’s another subject, eh?

So I filled my Majestic basket with unfamiliar fruits. Sure, lots of ’em would be well-known to me now — but then, everything was glimmering and new.

I still remember the first bottle I drank from that case, along with some friends: a white Rioja. And I thought: ‘Whoa. This is interesting. This wine kind of smells a bit like sheep’s cheese or something. How the hell does that work?’

(Nobody else knew what the hell I was burbling about when I said the bit about sheep’s cheese, by the way. They probably thought I was having a stroke.)

If you want to check out the sheep’s cheese thing yourself, I suggest you snap up a bottle of Navajas White Rioja from The Wine Society (****) It’s got that slightly sharp sheepy tang (boy, how appetising I make it sound) that took me right back to that first Majestic bottle. But when you get it into your gob, you’re cavorting with apricots and peaches. It’s dry, mind — and brilliantly, grippingly acidic, holding that jubilant fruit entirely in check.

And it costs £7.25 a bottle.

To me, £7.25 is a miserly amount to spend on a sensory experience that’s so goddamn unusual (so goddamn nice). That £7.25 wouldn’t even buy you a bottle of big-brand plonk in a Bethnal Green off-license (quoth the voice of bitter experience). But here it buys you apricots and sheep’s cheese and nostalgia.

Isn’t that, really, when we get down to it, pretty fucking exciting?

* Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)