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.

Why is it so bloody difficult to find non-prime cuts of meat? Waitrose is better than most supermarkets, but still, try finding breast of lamb, or beef shin, or oxtail, or ANYTHING WITH SODDING GIBLETS WHATSOEVER. (Except the customers and staff, I guess. They must have giblets. But I doubt they’re for sale.)

I realise the lack of supermarket giblets reflects the realities of supply and demand. I shouldn’t be irritated at Waitrose, you’ll tell me in that patronising manner you sometimes adopt; I should be irritated that nobody buys giblets. I should be irritated at people in general.

Well, joke’s on you. I am already irritated at people in general. For so, so many reasons.

(Joke may actually be on me.)

Christ, get on with it, Parn.

So. Grubbing around in the refrigerator cabinets of Petersfield Waitrose I chanced upon some lamb ribs. Not a common find in Peef Waitrose, let me tell you. So I elbowed a few dithering OAPs squarely in the giblets and shouldered them roughly aside — and lobbed those ribs straight into my basket.

We’ve loads of carrots, potatoes and onions, thanks to our excellent (if occasionally chaotically administered) vegetable box. So while ribs aren’t the classic cut of lamb for an Irish stew, they’re bony and fatty. Which is good enough for me.

Now, what you need after the giblet-free geriatric scrimmage of a weekend visit to Petersfield Waitrose is either (a) an immediate escape to the quiet of the countryside or (b) a strong gin and tonic. I opted for (a) then (b).

A misty South Downs landscape, taken in the countryside near Petersfield in Hampshire

That gin and tonic is worth talking about, actually. Hampshire Navy Strength gin (£36.99 from General Wine) and Fever Tree Light tonic water, with big boulders of ice and a sprig of rosemary. This is a very good gin, let me tell you. A true silken-gloved thump of a gin, thanks to its hoofing 57% ABV. It’s made just up the road in Winchester, and it’s damn fine stuff. A bit of smoke from the tea they use as one of the botanicals, and the buttery smoothness imparted by the high alcohol content. Grab some if you chance upon it, dear reader. I’ll probably review this beast before long, as I like it rather a lot.

Bottle of Hampshire Navy Strength Gunpowder Gin

Anyhow, back to the lamb ribs. My preferred Irish Stew recipe is simple: lob a few sliced onions, some chunks of carrot, some peeled potatoes, loads of black pepper and a tablespoon or two of pearl barley into a big pot along with the lamb pieces. Cover with water and bring it to the boil, then simmer (gently, gently!) for a good long time… Several hours, please. The potato gradually melts and thickens the cooking liquid, while the onion turns ghostly and diaphanous and the lamb disintegrates. Outstanding.

If you have the self-control, make the stew a day ahead and then reheat when you’re ready to eat it, as (like most stews) its flavours improve that way.

When you can wait no longer, season to taste and add loads of rough-chopped parsley. I had mine with a bottle of the blindingly cheap Chapelle de Pena 2015 from The Wine Society, but the buggers seem to have stopped listing it. Probably because someone bulk-bought the lot. But something cheap and rustic feels, y’know, appropriately peasanty.

Bottle of Chapelle de Pena in front of a pot of Irish Stew

Anyway, I love eating like this because it’s incredibly simple, it generates virtually no washing up, and it’s bloody cheap. A pack of lamb ribs costs well under a fiver, and lamb breast or neck, if you can find it, is similarly thrifty. My single glass of gin & tonic probably cost me more than the whole portion of Irish stew I ate. Now, you may retort that you don’t need to save money by scrimping like a peasant — and that’s fine; good for you, your lordship. But I think there’s something conceptually satisfying about making a sodding delicious dinner for extremely little money — and, if you set aside the challenge of finding the meat in the first place, plus the effort required to clear your path of bumbling geriatrics, similarly minimal effort.

I still want some giblets, mind.

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?

  1. It came after a brace of negronis (with Sacred Rosehip Cup, natch)
  2. It also came after a bottle of Alsace white
  3. Our splendid friends were having dinner with us, so why the hell would I have been making notes on the wine?

So I can’t tell you with any degree of objectivity or accuracy what it tasted of. But I can tell you how it tasted, which was, like I said, bloody excellent. Fruit, but serious fruit, not jammy nonsense, backed up by heft and spice and the rest.

We had it with mushrooms on toast. Not normal mushrooms on toast (though those are also a majestic thing). No, these were wanky mushrooms on toast. Specifically, girolles (I spotted these in a chichi deli near where I work and cleaned ‘em right out). Wanky shrooms are bloody hard to find if you don’t live in a metropolis replete with upmarket delis. When you do find them, you obey certain iron laws. Since I’m in the mood for ordered lists, let’s crack out another, shall we:

What to do when you find wanky shrooms

  1. Buy them, you idiot
  2. Cradle the resulting shroom-filled brown paper bag in your arms like a stinky, shroomy baby. Occasionally steal surreptitious sniffs as you carry them home, heedless of the disapproving glances of passers-by
  3. When you cook them, don’t fuck about with your poncy cheffy nonsense. They are the star of this show, not you.
  4. You are never the star of this show. When will you learn?
  5. Don’t fucking soak them. If they are absolutely filthy and too difficult to wipe off with a damp cloth, run them extremely quickly under cold water. But don’t let those greedy shrooms gulp up any more water than you can help, because it spoils their splendid texture and makes them squelchy.
  6. Butter is your friend. Garlic is your friend (not too much, please). Parsley is your friend. Thyme is your friend. Lemon is your friend. Salt and pepper are your friends.
  7. My, my. How many friends you suddenly have. Remember point 4, above, before you start congratulating yourself.
  8. Cook the shrooms just enough and absolutely no more. Don’t you dare make a sludgy mess of them, you animal.
  9. It goes without saying that you want wanky bread for your wanky shrooms. Sourdough is ideal.
  10. Mushrooms on toast can be the food of kings. So it’s certainly good enough for you.

I hope this helps.

So. We boshed our way through girolles on toast. All the while gulping away at bloody excellent wine. Then we had cheese.

Cheese was from aforementioned deli also. It was all great, but I want to talk about just one cheese — which happens to be another thing I will pretty much always buy whenever I see it. Waterloo cheese. Christ, it’s outstanding: ridiculously creamy, fabulous stuff. That, I guess, may be down to its provenance: a fine herd of Guernsey cows, who are notoriously creamy buggers. And look how yellow it is.

Waterloo cheese closeup

Come on, if you’re don’t have a string of drool hanging from your lip by now, I don’t want you reading this blog any more.

So, it seems that Waterloo is made in Berkshire by a couple called Anne and Andy Wigmore (yeah, they also make Wigmore cheese, which is superb too), trading as Village Maid Cheese. They’ve won a bevy of golds in the WORLD CHEESE AWARDS, which is admittedly a lesser accolade than being raved about by Old Parn, but impressive nonetheless.

So. In summary, one final ordered list to play us out: consider it homework, if you wish.

  1. Buy Ferraton Lieu Dit Saint-Joseph
  2. Buy good shrooms
  3. Buy Waterloo (the cheese, not — god forbid — the station)

Well? What are you waiting for?

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.

But the internet (which includes you, you bastard) has a way of encouraging specialisation and authoritarian leanings. Because one can see one’s numbers — one’s goddamned analytics — one is conditioned to focus on making those numbers bigger. And you make them bigger by writing twatty posts like ‘the best gin for a gin and tonic’. I mean, that’s stupid. There is no best, obviously. That’s like saying you can identify the best shade of red for a sunset. You idiot. Get out of my sight.

I stopped writing this blog because I was sick of having an authoritative opinion on things. I mean, I have those opinions I spammed out, obviously. I wasn’t pretending. But I don’t think it’s particularly interesting. I don’t think it adds much when the verdict is the end result towards which the vast majority of content is skewed.

So this blog has petered out; I’ve had little desire to do anything with it. But then I read an article about Keith Floyd.

Then I watched a lot of Keith Floyd on YouTube.

I remember my parents watching Floyd when I was an ankle-biter. He was the sole TV cook I could tolerate (cf Delia Smith, whom I loathed. Soz, Deels). It’s obvious why: the chaotic energy, the restless wit, the impatience with detail and fuss. The beguiling sense of a man inviting you into his shamelessly hedonistic world.

The lack of artifice is bracing, isn’t it? I mean, there’s the classic British ironic self-awareness and mockery of the medium that of course qualifies as its own kind of artifice. But the unscripted dialogue, the balls-ups… superb stuff. It feels immediate and real in a way modern TV about food does not (a point made at eloquent length in the Quietus article I linked to above. Here it is again, to save you the inestimable tedium of scrolling back up to it).

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, it reminds me of the kind of voice I aspire to have, albeit firmly confined to the medium of the written word rather than the screen: a voice that may be opinionated, but is so in a way that is inclusive, celebratory, unabashedly subjective and rooted in sharing, not proscribing. It reminds me that weariness with — or skepticism of — verdicts and ratings is what ought to be the animating force behind this blog.

So I’m back, I guess. But without the ratings, without the focus, without the Google-baiting shit.

Cheers, Floyd.

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

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.

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.

Smoked trout and Saumur: wine pairing

In which a drool-inducingly acidic Saumur Chenin Blanc proves the perfect foil for a smokey old trout

A bottle of Saumur, fresh and frosted from the fridge, stands bathed in afternoon sunshine. Your gob is watering already.

A quick blast from the Parn. Less of a review; more of a passing observation I thought I’d share with y’all.

We just had a bottle of Saumur alongside some smoked trout from Inverawe Smokehouses. A damn fine lunch, mark ye. But also a reminder that the right wine/food match can be fucking sublime.

On its own, Les Andides Saumur is certainly on the bracing side — like a dip in ice-cold riverwater for your tastebuds. It’s pretty dashed acidic stuff, and you’d be salivating like a rabid dog if you drank more than a glass of it without food.

Sharp, fresh, clean stuff.

With the smoked trout, it was perfect. That acidity was taken into hand by the salt’n’smoke, allowing the wine to sing in its modest, mineral-laced kind of way.

There was no awkward drooling.

A more peaceable, smooth’n’fruity number would’ve been left dead on the side of the road in the wake of that trout. Hoofing, strong, salty flavours don’t take no prisoners.

Les Andides Saumur costs £7.11 from Waitrose Wines. You might’ve expected it to be made from Sauvignon Blanc, given its Loirey home, but it’s actually 100% Chenin Blanc, that other (undersung) white hero of the Loire. 12% ABV.
Approbatory side-note, meanwhile, to Inverawe Smokehouses, who supplied my parents with extra smoked trout for easter (free) in recompense for delayed delivery back amidst those Christmas snows we had. Good chaps.

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.