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 online order of viagra 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.

Portugal diary finale: wine, branding & stories

In which Old Parn concludes his Portuguese wanderings with a delicious dinner at Afros Winery, and is moved to meditate upon wine and the ancient art of the story

Here’s part two of my final day in Portugal (grab a look at part 1 if you missed it, yeah?)

Two crosses on a red-tiled roof and, in the background, a view of sun-bathed countryside, hills and skySo — for our final tastes of the Vinho Verde region we found ourselves at Afros.

Well, strictly speaking, they weren’t my final tastes of the trip — which were my pre-flight breakfast of yoghurt and jasmine tea, and my in-flight sandwich of reconstituted dead children of which I took but one traumatic bite.)

But let’s not dwell on that, eh? Back to Afros. (Two words of warning for that link: 1. the website doesn’t do the winery justice, and 2. IT PLAYS MUSIC AT YOU WITHOUT YOUR ASKING IT TO. So beware.)

Vasco Croft of Afros is a biodynamic wine producer. He tries to do things in a natural kind of way. The upshot of this is that he preserves biodiversity (in other words, tries to grow vines in harmony with, rather than in replacement of, all that other nature stuff that exists), he keeps bees, his grass is grazed by roaming sheep, and he concocts exotic potions from, um, walnuts and stuff? Or whatever that is in those jars.

In the foreground, a large jar of walnuts; in the background, green leavesNow, people who are far better informed than I have strong views on this stuff. I’m not going to venture into that territory, because, honestly, beyond an instinctive, kneejerk scepticism, I don’t know squat. And, in any case, what you want of me — am I right? — is shallow, superficial aesthetic observations and predictable bouts of strained humour. So if you’re hoping for Old Parn’s rigorous deconstruction of the principles of biodynamism, I’m afraid you might be better cutting your losses and fucking off somewhere more scholarly.

What struck me about Vasco was that this is a man who has opinions, who feels. Coincidentally, I’d scribbled (in that achingly tedious way I have) in my notebook, earlier in the day, a little memorandum: ‘Knowing about wine vs understanding wine… FEELING wine’.

(Hat-tip to Freya Reinsch for getting my old brain churning along these lines, thanks to a remark she made on the distinction between knowing & understanding wine.)

And I think this is pretty important. Because so much is spoken and written about wine that insulates it from everything else. Puts it in the lab, hermetically sealed. Obviously this approach has its place, but for me wine is all about experience. On its own, I’m not really interested in wine, you know? I’m interested in what wine makes people feel. In the crossover between wine and people. Wine and stories. Wine and emotion. Wine and laughter.

It’s like the difference between being interested in a painting and being interested in paint.

A bottle of Afros sparkling wine, black-labeled, on a white tablecloth

And, at Afros, we got painting. We drank Sparkling Loureiro Reserve on the terrace, looking out over dusky vineyards, soaked in slow evening sun. To me, this was hands down the best sparkling Vinho Verde we tasted. But, you know what? It might not have been, objectively speaking. I honestly can’t tell you. But it felt fucking awesome.

Then we ate. De-goddamn-licious. Monkfish and orange. Sardine and lime… Lovely combinations — regional elements with a global twist. And beautifully matched to Afros’ wines. In each case, Vasco told us about the food we were eating: its origins, the reasons for its pairing with the wine.

Finally, after an intriguing (and excellent) fortified, Port-style red — and some gob-hoofing grappa — I found myself (alarmedly) in the unaccustomed position of after-dinner speaker. A position to which I was elected, ad hoc, on account of my ‘wonderful Oxford English’. Unlike the occasion on which I found myself compelled to make an unprepared speech at the end of our school Christmas dinner (aged 13) — a humiliating memory that still kicks me in the emotional bollocks each time I recall it — I was fortunately able to think of something to say other than ‘Thank you.’ I said that, as well as offering us hospitality, giving us delicious food and wine, he’d also inspired us with his passion — and, most of all, with his stories.

Portrait of Vasco Croft, talking to an audience, off-camera. In the background, out of focus, Vinho Verde countryside, a spired church, bathed in evening sunlight

In his reply, he cast himself as something akin to a figurehead or conduit. ‘I, the winemaker, am really just the last stage of a process that goes so much deeper.’ An ancient process. An old, old story, whose beginnings are obscure.

And I cast my mind back (not that hard, because it’s only a day ago that I wrote it) to my post about the surprising lack of ‘commercialism’ in many of the winemakers we visited. And realise that ‘commercialism’ isn’t necessarily what I mean, at root. What I mean is simpler (and potentially more innocent). I mean a story.

Because here’s the thing: we’re all people, and we’re all build around these wobbly, fragile, sporadic hearts. And we can’t help but respond to the other wobbly, fragile, sporadic hearts around us. This is what the fucking thing is all about. And by the fucking thing, I mean life. Right? And it’s stories that span those gaps between us. If I’m grabbed by a story that give me a sense of a passion, a journey — this will stay with me longer than any number of statistics about residual sugar, acidity and alcohol levels.

That’s all branding is: imbuing a product with people and passion and stories.

And, yes, it’s the man who says he doesn’t give a crap about marketing and fashions and the like who (as far as I’m concerned) did the best job of actually creating a brand. Because he knows his wine, sure — but he also knows his story.

(Now he just needs a website that tells it as well as he does.)

Edit: I’m not the only one, it turns out, to admire Vasco and his wines. Have a read of Robert McIntosh’s thoughts on the Afros experience.

Portuguese wine diary — Chapter 4

In which Old Parn continues his Portuguese Vinho Verde expedition. He encounters a thrilling factory (sarcasm) and a thrilling hound (not sarcasm), and meditates on wine labels, cooperatives and the like.

So. Final day. Best day? Best day. And this wasn’t only down to the fact that I met Goony. But we’ll get to Goony in a while. First of all, let’s talk about Provam and Adega Ponte de Lima, shall we?

Perspective shot of many wine bottles stacked in a Portuguese wine warehouse

Provam and Adega Ponte de Lima

Now, remember how I said about all the family-run wineries, back in yesterday’s Vinho Verde blog? Well, here’s where you forget it all. Because these guys ain’t that. These are big ol’ cooperatives, pooling the resources of something like (in the case of Adega Ponte de Lima, the larger of the two) 2,000 small winemakers.

When I say ‘small winemakers’, incidentally, I don’t mean they’re dwarves. I guess they might be. It’s not impossible: this kind of thing worked for Willy Wonka. But nothing I heard or saw during the visit gave me reason to believe that they are. So I suspect the distribution of their heights roughly mimicks that of the Portuguese population at large. But someone should do a study on this.

Perhaps, though, there is some residual insecurity about size here. Because the people at Adega Ponte de Lima were extremely keen to show us their big tanks. And their big pallets of wine. And their big warehouse. All these things were indeed big. And (to your thrill-seeking, hedonistic correspondent) pretty boring. I mean, heck, I know what a factory looks like.

(Point of fact: I don’t really know what a factory looks like. What I mean is, I don’t fucking care what a factory looks like. Call me glib if you like. I am. Proudly.)

Finally, though, we got out of the factory (some of those tanks, though. Boy. You’d’ve loved them) — and into the tasting. This entailed yet more precarious shenanigans with glass in one hand, papers in one hand, pen in one hand. SPOT THE DELIBERATE ANATOMICAL MISTAKE.

(Note to Adega Ponte de Lima: this stuff is easier if you can sit down. Surely you must have a big table somewhere?)

Four bottles of Vinho Verde white wine on a white tablecloth, condensation-misted

The wines themselves are simple, straight down the line. Nothing to scintillate the Parn palate, but I don’t suppose that’s their goal. This kind of stuff is probably priced keenly enough (for export) that it could make its way onto UK shelves at a relatively good price. If anyone would buy them…

Overall, I preferred Provam‘s wines, which seemed to have a fair dab more elegance to them (they also had a table for us to sit at). But they’re also priced higher than Adega Ponte de Lima’s. So no surprise, really. It was especially interesting to taste, side by side, the 2010 and 2009 vintages of their Portal do Fidalgo, made with the Alvarinho grape, one of the region’s stalwarts.

Over the course of my visit to Vinho Verde, I’ve acquired a fair old fondness for Alvarinho — which makes some damn nice, refreshing wines that are accessible without being patronising or simplistic. This won’t surprise those of you who’ve noted already that I’m a fan of Spanish Albarino (which is the same grape). Once I’m safely ensconced back in the UK, I’ll hunt down some examples for you.

But the interesting thing here was that the vintage that’d had that extra year in the bottle had undergone rather a lovely transformation. The freshness, the citrus bite, the stony minerality remained, but were softened, rendered very elegant, smooth. The resulting wine was very good indeed, to my mind. But, apparently, nobody wants to buy a 2009 Alvarinho — because it’s seen as a wine to be drunk as young as possible. On the evidence of this tasting, this is a big old shame.

Quinta Edmun do Val

Then lunch — at Quinta Edmun do Val. This was where I met Goony. But Goony’s time will come.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about the winey stuff. Quinta Edmun do Val is another family affair. This time, the family is actually Spanish — from just across the border — and (Pablo, who showed us round, told me) most of their wine is sold in Spain, not Portugal, in defiance of nationalistic disdain. Selling wine, said Pablo, is all about contacts. And his contacts are Spanish.

I talked to Pablo a good bit. Mainly, I talked to him about websites and online activity (an area in which he had already benefited from the sage advice of Ryan Opaz) and about the label on his wine.

A bottle of Quinta Edmun do Val, with an elegant, minimal, typographic label, executed in black and white

It’s a pretty good label, isn’t it? Why’s it good? Because it doesn’t look like most of the other white Vinho Verde labels. Which, as Pablo said, are ‘bright and colourful with pictures of a flower or an animal or a landscape’. This one is minimal and typographic; confident in monochrome. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it’s the best label I’ve ever seen. But for a small winery, I was impressed at the boldness of Pablo’s decision to separate his wine from the herd of cliched labels. That’s what good branding is about (as I’m sure Quaffable would agree…)

Right. This post has been going on for bloody ages now. So what I’m going to do is split chapter 4 into two parts. Because it’s my blog, and I can do what I want. Alright? We’ll finish the final day tomorrow.

But before I go, allow me to present Goony.

A jowly bulldog gazes wearily into the camera

Pablo introduced me to Goony — the laziest dog in the world, and ‘the only English thing we have here’. Goony is a lovely, brilliant creature. He rumbles and wheezes like an old accordion. I could easily have spent an hour or so just murmuring my nonsense dog-talk to Goony.

Isn’t he a delight?

Portuguese wine diary — chapter 3

In which Old Parn’s vinous travels continue, and he reflects upon the physically demanding business of wine tasting, as well as the peculiar lack of rampant commercialism in the world of Vinho Verde wine

Discarded wine bottles left on three tables, receding out of focus

Tasting wine can be pretty brutal. You might go so far as to call it an extreme sport, in fact. Because if you want to taste wines, you’ve got to be a frigging athlete, my friend. At the peak of physical condition.

Like me.

You’ve got to be supple. Because you’ll be wandering around with a glass in one hand, an increasingly voluminous and unwieldy sheaf of papers in the other and (if you’re a ponce like me) a DSLR camera slung over your shoulder.

So every time you bend your knees to spit out the wine you just tasted (yup), the camera swings round, scythe-like, in a vengeful arc. Hell, this is DEMANDING STUFF.

Day 3 kicked off with a tasting, see — a bunch of producers; us walking round ’em all, swishing and spitting their lovingly vinified creations. It was only thanks to my olympic levels of coordination that I didn’t send glasses and bottles flying all over the shop, thanks to my pendulous camera.

Then there’s the teeth. My chompers, by now, are fucking killing me. Because I am weak. Each time I suck in a breath of cool air, I have a small shudder. And eating a blinkin’ cream cracker is like torture.

(Ever been to a wine tasting? Crackers feature pretty heavily.)

So, yeah, like I said: only the truly resilient need apply.

A tan-coloured cow peers through metal barsQuinta das Arcas

After the collective tasting, we were bundled off to Quinta das Arcas. There were some cows there, which was fabulous (there’s nothing like seeing a dumb beast of a different species to lift my mood. And if you think I’m joking, you’re an idiot.) We had lunch at Quinta das Arcas, which involved sitting at a long, long table and getting more MASSIVE CHUNKS OF MEAT.

Indeed, as a number of my companions remarked, there is something of a disconnect between the recurring spiel of the winemakers we’ve met — that Vinho Verde whites are brilliant, light, fresh wines ideally suited to seafood, salads, simple, clean, light dishes — and the food that we actually get given. Which is, let me say, goddamn delicious. But not exactly what one would call light.

So be it.

Wine-wise — let’s talk about Vinho Verde red wines, shall we? Because these bad boys are not what most people are used to. (And, yes, they are in their element with aforesaid MASSIVE CHUNKS OF MEAT).

A shocking vermillion hue of wine swirled around a glass — inky stains

Typically, they are deepest vermillion in colour — dark, intense. Quinta das Arcas’s Herdade Penedo Gordo was one such example. It’s a fucking massive bundle of spice and chocolate and cherry and coffee — and it clonks you round the palate like a blunderbuss. Like almost all the reds we’ve tasted, it’s served somewhat chilled.

Unlike white Vinho Verde wines, the reds from the region are not typically exported; they’re made to sell to the local market only. It’s not all that hard to see why. Not because they’re terrible — but because, well, who outside the region is going to buy them? They are scary, scary beasts. Stick them alongside some local food and they make sense. But out of context? Pretty damn pant-soiling, to the (mildly incontinent) man on the street, I’d say.

A woman dressed in white gesticulates, describing her vineyard (shown in the background)Quinta da Raza

Waving farewell to the cows (well, I was, anyway. In my head), we then wound our way to the rather beautiful Quinta da Raza. Like many of the wineries we’ve visited, it’s very much a familial kind of deal — we’re greeted and served by the winemakers, who are often members (across several generations, potentially) of the same family.

And although the tasting may have a few trappings of formality (printed tasting notes, that kind of shebang), everything is conducted in the least commercial manner imaginable. In general, it’s rather lovely. But I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t also bizarrely naive: I struggle to imagine many industries that — faced with a roomful of relatively influential German/Swiss buyers (plus one aberrant weirdo from England) — would make so little effort to sculpt, to mould, to influence. Again, I’m not saying this is anything other than lovely. But surely these guys need to be trying to get a consistent message/brand out, rather than leaving it totally to chance? It seems odd to me. Cynical, commercial bastard that I clearly am.

Anyhow, yes. Once again, we tasted an array of zingy, citrusy, fresh white wines. Plenty of which I could gleefully drink a fine old torrent of. Plus an extremely accessible rose (big, fruity hoof to your nose, and a similar whoosh in your mouth) and another scary red.

Quinta de Carapecos

Then our final visit of the day — to cast our eyes across vineyards bathed in beautiful evening sunlight, and snaffle ourselves another tasting and dinner, courtesy of the fine folk of Quinta de Carapecos.

A group of people bathed in warm evening sunlight — backlit with lens flare

Again, some delicious wines, including a lovely, almost indecently accessible rose (jailbait stuff) and — a curio — a sweet wine made from the Espadeiro grape. Which was as honeyed as you like, though its ebullient sweetness did seem to disintegrate somewhat into an unfocused candyfloss at the end.

But, then again, so did my brain, when we finally stumbled our way back to the minibus. Because, boy, was I tired.

I guess that’s pretty much how Roger Bannister must’ve felt on the evening of 6 May 1954.

Portuguese wine diary — chapter 2

In which Old Parn continues his Portuguese travels, and actually encounters some wine, this time. Furthermore, he is plagues by linguistic guilt, only to be relieved at the very end of the day.

Green bunches of grapes hang from suspended vines. A lamp hangs in the foreground

Today kicks off with a melancholic reflection: oh how I wish that my constitution didn’t render breakfast — however delicious — a meal that is (at best) to be tolerated.

Old Parn is not a man of the morning.

So when my glassy eye fell upon a bottle of iced champagne alongside the orange juice, I’m afraid I passed up the opportunity to notch up the day’s first tasting. Sorry.

Instead, I contented myself with some jewel-like pastries and a teabag, desperately, repeatedly and futilely dunked into a jug of warm water. Yeah, sure, it’s a five star hotel. But they still don’t get tea, do they?

Anyhow. My breakfast duly stomached, I strode with oenophiliac purpose towards the cavernous lobby (I say cavernous. Actually, it’s not remotely like a cavern. It has no stalagmites, and there are four glass elevators — enough to give Roald Dahl a wet dream — bombing up and down the side of it. So, when I said ‘cavernous’, what I actually meant was ‘fucking big’. Alright?)

So, friends, I lingered in what I tell myself (mendaciously) was a suave manner, awaiting the rendezvous with my hosts — the Comissao de Viticultura da Regiao dos Vinhos Verdes (just call ’em CVRVV) — and my fellow guests. A bunch of whom, I deduced, were also hangin’ in the cavern.

I circled around for a while like tentative, geriatric (and flightless) vulture. Then a pleasant chap stepped over and greeted me with a burst of a language I should in fact have understood, if GCSEs are anything to go by.

But — well — GCSEs.

So I answered him with an eloquent, sick pause. Then (unnecessarily) I added, ‘I — um — I’m English.’

Ah, sweet England, my guilty yet obscenely well-thumbed get-out-of-jail-free card. Ah. England.

Anyhow, yes, it seems that everyone else on this trip speaks German as their first language.

This puts me in a totally new situation of social awkwardness (and, boy, if you know me, you don’t need me to tell you how high that bar is set). Because I, dear reader, I am the only reason for these guys not to use their native language whenever they talk amongst themselves. I, the Anglo Saxon fly in the sweet Teutonic ointment. This causes me to feel a constant, soul-chewing guilt whenever English is being spoken. Which — given the polite and affable nature of my companions — is frequently.

But no matter. I am used to sensations of soul-chewing guilt. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I welcome this familiar hue back to my emotional palette. A bit of contrast, y’know?

An old Portuguese street in GuimaraesA trip to Guimaraes

So onto the minibus we scampered.

And pitched up at an old city (‘older than Oxford’, I was told. Oh yes?) called Guimaraes.

There, we were shown around by a jovial chap with ninja English. He told me that the punishment meted out to a man caught consorting with one of Guimaraes’ sizeable population of nuns was no less than five to ten years’ exile. To somewhere like Timor. Or Brazil. Or Angola.

A massive shiver wracked my body as he spoke these deathly words. That explains the fucking saxophonist, I whispered through dry lips.

Then? Then wine.

Vinhos Norte

First, we met the delightful people of Vinhos Norte. They were charming, and dished out some charming wines. Lots of light, fresh, zippy whites (often, the Vinho Verde whites have a dash of fizz to them, and are typically lowish in alcohol, clean, pure). A good few of the whites we tasted would make for damn good aperitif-style drinking. Accessible, balanced.

The full-on sparklers (of which there were a white, a rose and, aye, a red) were, to Old Parn’s gob, a bit less of a success. But others seemed to like ’em well enough.

They then gave us lunch. Oh man, lunch. Lunch meant (amongst other delights) FUCKING HUGE CHUNKS OF MEAT and potatoes that were at least 60% pure, delicious fat.

And we drank red wine from bowls. Rock and sodding roll, my friends. Except, apparently, this is a local custom. Altogether fine by me, I say. But still rock.

A white bowl containing dark red wine. 'Vinho Verde' is written on the side

I liked the people of Vinhos Norte. Most of their wines aren’t readily available to us in the UK, I suspect (in general, once I’m back home, I’ll be able to find this stuff out, I guess) — but you should definitely cast your beady eye over Tapada dos Monges Loureiro, which is currently up for barter on the Naked Marketplace. I liked this a lot — fresh, lemony zing with a nice bready finish. Lemon meringue pie with a nice (but minimal) buttery pastry crust. And 11.5% ABV. Good stuff.

Quinta da Lixa

Carlos Teixeira, winemaker at Quinta da Lixa, is a measured man, a serious man, a canny man. A man who knows his wine — and his marketing. ‘I’ve nothing to conceal: we do exactly what the market wants us to.’

Fair doos, Carlos. Fair doos.

Carlos showed us his vineyards. Lots of rows of vines with grapes on them, right? You get the picture.

Carlos stands showing some grapes on the vine

He then served us his wines: seven whites and a couple of pinkies (as they are referred to by serious wine trade professionals).

Quinta da Lixa whites are citrussy. Boy, yes. They burst with grapefruit. A bit like a balloon filled with grapefruit juice that someone just burst. LIKE THAT. They’re fresh, bracing, fruity, accessible. Meanwhile, the roses were both fruit-packed (strawberries, redcurrants and the gang). I get the feeling I’ll be using the above kind of adjectives a fair bit in describing Vinho Verde’s wines. A whopping great bunch of these would definitely be well up lots of people’s streets. Maybe even yours? Except you don’t have a street, do you? You have a goddamn private gravel driveway, I’ll warrant. With an automatic gate. Whatever. Vinho Verde’s whites might well be up your driveway.

I liked Carlos and his colleagues, too.

Quinta de Santa Cruz

A bottle of Encosta da Maia, Vinho Verde, and some glasses

Finally, we visited Quinta de Santa Cruz — vineyard and home of another man who makes wine. His name is Mario Machado Marques. And what I will say about him is that his wine is very nice. You won’t be able to buy it, apparently. It’s too popular. So there.

For the duration of this visit, I was — you’ll be delighted to hear — relieved of that onerous burden of linguistic guilt of which I spoke earlier. For Mario spoke exclusively and extensively in German.

Now, you know I said that about GCSEs, right at the beginning? Well. Yes. So, I am rendered dumb whenever it comes to speaking the language. But, y’know, I’m not a total lemon. And I can still understand when someone says (in German), ‘Well, if he’s the only English one, that’s his problem.’

Like I said: Mario’s wines were very nice indeed.

Old Parn Hits Portugal

In which Old Parn narrates irrelevancies (all of which seem to provoke violent urges) from his journey to the country of Portugal

Blue ceramic tiling adorns the wall of a house in Porto

Okay. Welcome to day 1 of my Portugal diary.

‘What? You’re in Portugal?’ you cry?

Uh huh. I’m here in Porto, on a wee wine jaunt. My first wine jaunt, indeed. So bear with me while I get overexcited and deluge you with far more information about it than you’d ever want to imbibe.

I’m here for a three-day tour around some of the wineries of the Vinho Verde region. About which I’ll be able to tell y’all a bit more once I’ve, y’know, started the tour.

Meanwhile, though, let’s talk about my flight here, shall we? Because that’ll be interesting.

Now, because I haven’t owned a television for the past half-decade or so, I have an unfortunate tendency to be mesmerised like a time traveller from the 19th century by moving images on a screen. Hell, even typing these letters is kind of magical to me. LOOK AT THEM APPEARING IN FRONT OF MY VERY EYES. Eeeeeee!

Anyhow, my tendency toward moronic screen-induced paralysis had ample opportunity to manifest itself during a two-hour flight, thanks to a bunch of retractable screens that swung grimly down from the aircraft’s ceiling, shortly after takeoff. Screens that illustrated our progress, via a series of animated maps, through the skies of Europe. Now, I quite like this kind of thing. It’s a bit like a computer game (admittedly an awfully shit one with which I am deprived of the power to interact), and it saves me having to stop the stewardesses each time they walk past to bawl, ‘ARE WE NEARLY THERE YET?‘ at them, for one.

The problem was that the journey progress screens were only displayed for about the first 15 and the last 5 minutes of the flight. Times at which, yes, I was in little doubt as to our progress.

But for the middle hour-and-a-half or so? The yawning chasm during which updates on progress might actually have been useful? No progress screens. Instead, an interminable series of back-to-back video clips. Many of these were about Portuguese events or attractions (I assume), though, without sound, they were occasionally hard to fathom. So I stopped watching, and turned my attention to Martin Amis. However (one can only take so much Martin Amis), my attention again became transfixed, three quarters of the way through the flight, by one particular clip. Entitled (and, presumably, set in) Angola.

Now, ‘Angola’ features a posing, deluded fashion victim with a saxophone in his gob, playing on a fucking sundrenched fucking beach, while two lithe women prance and cavort around him, smiling their excluding-VAT smiles. As I watch ‘Angola’, saliva pooling in my lip, I am seized by a violent urge to beat that fucker’s saxophone into scrap metal with a goddamn toffee hammer.

And, while I seethe impotently, it suddenly becomes night time in ‘Angola’. And we’re suddenly in a city. And the same fucking saxophone dude (who, incidentally, plays sax with a face like he’s simultaneously taking a crap after a fortnight eating nothing but KFC paninis) is still at it. For some reason, there’s a gale force wind blowing through this stupid nightclub (or perhaps it’s simply the shockwave from a nearby nuclear explosion) — but this fact doesn’t perturb or hinder still more rent-a-cleavage waxworks, who spin and grin as before, while an ADHD cameraman leers at them through his wide-angle lens, with a wide-angle bulge in his wide-angle shorts.

I remain uncertain whether ‘Angola’ is a feature commissioned by the Angolan tourist board, or by the Saxophonists’ Union. But in either case, I regret to say that its effect on me has not been resounding in its success.

And what does all this have to do with wine? Or, for that matter, with Portugal? I have no fucking idea. You were waiting for some kind of clever link, weren’t you? Sorry.

So I got to Porto. And spent half an hour vainly trying to extract Euros from cash machines that greeted my British Visa card with a sad-faced cartoon oblong apologetically telling me I was out of luck.

Boy, I wanted to fuck up that stupid oblong bastard. Knock off one of his corners and make him into a fucking pentagon. See how he likes that.

But, finally, I got my euros. From a different machine. And got my taxi. And got to my hotel. My VERY FUCKING NICE HOTEL, thank you.

So. Tomorrow. Some wine. I promise.

G’night…

Moroccan wine and food in Marrakech

… in which Old Parn chronicles his imbibitions during a brief sojourn to the city of Marrakech in Morocco — including Medaillon Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Three women in colourful Moroccan dress walk along a road shiny with recent rainfall

I return to your screen, dear reader, revitalised by a brief sojourn to the city of Marrakech. A city where the streets are narrow and the mopeds are fast.

Composite image. On the left, a man rides his moped through a crowded Moroccan souk; on the right, a narrow Marrakech street

This is not the place for an exhaustive travel diary (indeed, there is no place for an exhaustive travel diary. Because that crap is boring as hell.) So I’ll limit myself to the tastes of Marrakech.

And what tastes, what tastes.

I think of bitter lacings of the chargrill, the zing of salt and lemon, the matt tang of cheese. Cinnamon, sugar, prune and lamb. Thrilling collisions of sweet and savoury.

An array of Moroccan starters in beautiful, multicoloured earthenware bowls

And the wine? Well.

Wine ain’t all that easy to come by in Morocco. Religion’n’all, y’know? But most any restaurant seems to have a few bottles around.

A golden-labelled bottle of Medaillon wine, as served in a Marrakech restaurantSo, during our stay, we sampled Medaillon Sauvignon Blanc, Medaillon Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah the name of which I foolishly neglected to note. All were Moroccan.

Impressions? Curious beasts, the lot of ’em — the white perhaps most odd of all (a slight tingle of fizz, stewy fruit, decaying blossoms), but all far from usual. A common feature seemed to be a whopping old dose of residual sugar (both reds had a mild whiff of communion wine to them), meaning that all three were far sweeter than you’d expect.

Finesse-wise, they were sorely lacking. But, you know what? In the context, they were damn nice. Perhaps simply because, after a day of being harangued, near-run-over, sun-beaten and bewildered, an alcoholic relaxant was delicious in any form. But also, I suspect, because Moroccan cuisine is so impressive in its marrying of the sweet and the savoury that many finer wines would’ve been entirely out of their depth. Paired with the food, all that sugar actually made a lot more sense.

And, y’know, sometimes (yes, it may sound heretical, but I’ll say it) — sometimes, the wine is just a backdrop.

Anyhow, normal reviewing service will be resumed shortly. Meanwhile, I cordially invite you to peruse my photographs of Marrakech, should you so desire…