Here we are again (after a lockdown-enforced hiatus) with a few of the Wine Society’s offerings I’ve particularly enjoyed lately: a garden-party stunner of a white, a crisp, delicious rosé and a bloody brilliant Beaujolais.
So, now that The Wine Society is delivering again (Christ be thanked; it was tough going for a while…), let’s get back into the swing of our monthly wine recommendations. I made a bumper order the other week, entirely (you understand) in order to pick out a few gems for you, my dear readers. Given that lockdown has doubtless been as unkind to your wine rack as it has to mine, I suggest you do likewise if you haven’t already.
Before we get into the booze, let’s spend a moment appreciating the fact that the Wine Society suspended its normal service at a relatively early stage in the pandemic, only reopening when staff safety could be guaranteed. That wrought havoc with my wine-buying habits, but was absolutely the bloody right thing to do. Good for them. In these days of increased reliance on eCommerce — of packages magically appearing on our doorsteps while we fuss about social distancing — it’s easy to forget the people in the warehouses, the depots. Lots of eCom businesses cashed in on the surge in demand, and it’s typical of TWS to have put its staff first.
So. How’s lockdown been treating you? Personally, I’m struggling with the cognitive dissonance wrought by (on the one hand) friends moaning about boredom, blithely sharing quizzes and sourdough diaries to fill the time and (on the other hand) my own sodding lack of any time whatsoever.
The smallest lockdown violin, I’m aware, plays for those who are still in their (absolutely, incontrovertibly) non-essential jobs. Before the mob gathers to stone me, I’ll add that I’m aware of my good fortune. Perhaps less aware when I’m three hours into a goddamn conference call. But aware nonetheless.
April passed, I observe, and the Industrial Content Megahub that is Old Parn, Inc cranked out a total of three posts. Lamentable, eh? (Though the last one was pretty good, I thought.) But while I may not have been posting abundantly, you may be reassured that I have been drinking abundantly.
And I suppose, whether you’re running out of hairs to pull out or thumbs to twiddle, you may well have been doing the same. I know I’m far from alone — in these virus-addled, socially distanced times — in leaning all the more heavily (metaphorically, don’t worry) upon my local independent wine merchant. Fortunately, I have a rather good one: The General Wine Company. What it may lack in nominative flair it delivers abundantly in charm and (as we’ll see) fine booze. They have shops in Petersfield and Liphook and they deliver free within a 15 mile radius of those towns (or further afield, if you can bring yourself to pay for delivery, you stingy bugger).
Here are a few of the bottles with which I’ve enlivened my conference calls so far.
Now, if you’re on the General Wine site looking for Spanish wine, a word of advice: don’t use the filters. These mysteriously list more wines from Mexico (3) than Spain (0). Give me a shout if you need some help with your site navigation & tagging, chaps… Instead, follow the above link to this handsomely (if mildly terrifyingly) labelled bottle.
I found the liquid inside barely less interesting: chocolatey and smooth (thanks to a dab of oak) with a savoury counterpoint of warm spice (nutmeg and pepper) and smoke. Dark, vermillion red, it has that femme fatale assertiveness you get from Iberian reds that aren’t the usual suspects (y’know, Rioja et al), with cherry and plum and a gentle solventy punch to keep you from getting over-familiar. A wine, I’d say, that sits at the intersection between ‘accessible’ and ‘interesting’. And, as anyone who’s set up their deck chair at Oxford Circus can tell you, there are far worse intersections at which to sit.
Wine Grade: B Label Grade: A+ Website Filter Grade: F (Jokes, jokes. I know it’s not easy for small businesses to manage websites. That, after all, is why I have a job — and, indirectly, is also to blame for all these damn conference calls, come to think of it…)
Brunilde di Menzione Aglianico del Vulture (£13.49, General Wine)
Booof! Well, this is what is referred to in technical wine critic terminology you probably wouldn’t understand as a damn full gob of booze. It’s dense as hell: a really nice, chewy fellow. There’s some tannin in there but it’s still pretty accessible. Perhaps a bit of marzipan and candyfloss too? Hell, sounds good, doesn’t it? Or possibly horrendous. But it’s not horrendous, dear, I promise you. I’d whack this into a decanter: it mellows and takes on a delightful creaminess. I’m sort of regretting the bit about the candy floss now. Please don’t be put off.
In summary: full and super rich. Like an oligarch who’s just been to a restaurant.
Wine Grade: A Russia’s Implementation of a Market Economy Grade: E
Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois ‘Emma’ 2017 (£11.99, General Wine)
‘O dark dark dark’ wrote TS Eliot. He may not have been writing about a bottle of Minervois. He’s dead, so perhaps we’ll never know for sure. (He wasn’t.)
This wine has something of an identity crisis, as it’s called Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois (y’know, normal wine type name), but also has ‘Emma’ written on the label, in a manner disconcertingly reminiscent of the logo of the mattress brand of the same name. I do not think this is the mattress-flogger/French winery collaboration for which tone deaf marketeers have been howling, but I’m not sure. It is odd.
Fortunately, the wine is less confusing. Indeed, it’s rather delicious, inky stuff, with gentle tannins but plenty of fruit: raspberry, cherry and so on. Not rubbishy fruit, obv, and this is not a fruit bomb, thank god.
Fairly typical of Minervois, I’d say (which is good as far as I’m concerned), and pretty decent value.
Okay, that’ll do for now. You’ll notice I’ve kept it summery with three hoofing great red wines, but that’s just how Old Parn rolls. I’ve had some nice General Wine whites, too, but given my shoddy post-count, I should probably spin this out and save those for a follow-up.
While you’re waiting, do fill your eCommerce baskets with some good booze, won’t you? Have a look at General Wine if you’re in my neck of the woods. And if you’ve loads of time on your hands, do me a favour and keep it to yourself, you bastard.
It’s 2004. Brexit, President Trump and Coronavirus are all inconceivable, and I — with a freshly laundered English degree flapping uselessly around my ankles — am the worst Library Assistant Oxford has ever seen.
I’m still not sure how I fluked my way onto what is actually a pretty competitive and respected graduate traineeship, given I had no intention of becoming a librarian — or, indeed, doing anything more than pissing around in Oxford for another year toying self-indulgently with a truly awful idea for a novel. But fluke my way onto it I somehow did. Looking back, it was a bloody great gig: nothing more taxing than shelving unreasonably bulky Biochemistry textbooks (ye Gods, why so big?), scanning barcodes, and awkwardly flirting with Junior Research Fellows.
I strongly ‘prove of Pothecary Gin. One might say I ‘preciate it. Over the course of the next few paragraphs, I’ll present to you my ‘praisal.
Aside from its excellent name, I bought a bottle of this fine liquor for three reasons. Firstly, it’s local — another Hampshire Gin — albeit from the other end of the county. Secondly, it’s won a few awards and I’d heard good things murmured (or read good things twittered, more like) about it. And thirdly, the man behind the brand, Mr Martin Jennings, has an excellent social media game. When I read one of his brutal takedowns of [redacted Gin megacorp] pretending to be indie, I thought: if this bloke’s gin is as punchy as his online persona, I want to try it.
Bloody hell. My quarantined buddies, there are a lot of gins in the world. I have tasted a fair few of them. Enough of them, at least, to render me somewhat blasé about cracking open a new one. What surprises, after all, can remain to a seasoned gin hound such as Old Parn?
You see, Dà Mhìle’s Seaweed Gin is exceptionally good. Your schnoz tells you it’s going to be rather special as soon as you sniff the newly uncorked bottle. And your schnoz isn’t wrong. Your schnoz is so seldom wrong. Dependable schnoz.
It’s been a while since I last told y’all about a vermouth. Let’s change that, courtesy of the rather charming specimen below: La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge. It has a very long name and a very handsome bottle.
If you’re a vermouth geek, another thing that might catch your attention is the fact that the stuff is fortified (ie. its alcohol content is increased) by the addition of Pineau des Charentes rather than a neutral spirit of the kind more usually employed by those who cook up vermouths.
I drink a lot of wine from The Wine Society. That’s because The Wine Society is bloody good, and you should join it if you haven’t already. However, it seems rather tiresome to write a review of every bottle of Wine Soc booze I sink, especially for those of you who aren’t members (though, as I said, you should be) so instead I plan to run through a few bottles of theirs I enjoyed on a monthly basis. Starting with February.
February always seems to be a month of consolidation for me. That’s partly meteorological (weather that encourages hermithood) and partly financial, insofar as it follows January — a month notable not just for its post-festive belt-tightening, but also the arse-rending existential agony of buying my annual South West Railway season ticket. If there’s a more appalling way to spend more than £5k, please do let me know.
In the South Downs, February was mud and blossom, uprooted trees, sudden breathtaking islands of sunshine in the ocean of grey. And I wanted wine to be the metaphorical equivalent of those rare bouts of sunshine.
Let’s talk about Wessex, shall we? Back in the Dark Ages, there was no England (which must be a concept that’s upsetting for people like Mark Francois). Instead, an ever-changing mishmash of kingdoms, of which Wessex was one, incorporating, at different times, a sizeable chunk of the south of what’s now England.
One of the last kings of Wessex was Alfred, who seems to have been a fairly good chap. Not long after his reign, seemingly on the basis of much of his canny political manoeuvrings, Wessex expanded and became the dominant party in the newly unified English nation.
We’ve sampled gin in a tin. We’ve sampled a heinous vermouth and tonic. What convenience beverage next for our thirsty commuter? This week, the fine folk at Waitrose have provided an enticing can of pink wine…
Now, I don’t usually buy rose in a bottle, let alone a goddamn can. But against the siren song of a yellow Waitrose reduced label — together, of course, with the prospect of masochism for your amusement, dear reader — I’m powerless.
About as local as gin gets (for me, that is), this distillery is practically my neighbour. And the best kind of near-neighbour: one that supplies me with bloody good booze.
Why do none of my actual neighbours do that?
I mentioned Hampshire Gunpowder Gin before, en passant. But it deserves a proper review, I think. One of the things I want to do this year is — in a spasmodic bout of localism — to write more about drink and food from my surrounds, meaning Hampshire, Sussex and thereabouts (where I live) and perhaps also London (where I work). So what better, SEO-friendly means by which to do this than by reviewing something that’s actually got the (key)words Hampshire Gin in the name?
That was a favourite joke of Mr Jarvis, my A Level English teacher. To the degree, I seem to remember, that he had to ask someone in the class to provide him with the setup question in order that he might triumphantly deliver the punchline. Which is nice for you to know.
What’s also nice for you to know is that Copperfield Gin may be the most handsomely packaged gin I’ve seen. Obviously I dig it because it’s literary, innit, and given that my idea of a perfect sitting room is one bedecked with books floor to ceiling, how could I not be seduced by a book-themed gin bottle? Or, at least, one so bloody well executed. Hats off to the designers, who presumably like Dickens.
Which tonic is supersonic? According to the laws of physics, none of them. But what care we for physics? We have gin. So the idea of this post, in case the title didn’t tip you off, is to taste and rank the numerous premium tonics in a quest to crown the best tonic for your gin.
You remember, don’t you, my pretties, the time that we blind tasted ten gins in an attempt to crown 2019’s best gin for a G&T? Well, this is the inevitable tonic-centred follow-up.
Well, it’s been a while since I hoofed a vermouth review in your direction, so let’s change that. Like Asterley Bros, it’s another English vermouth, but this time white not red: Blackdown Silver Birch Vermouth.
As it happens, Blackdown’s vermouth (£20.25, The Whisky Exchange) is made not so very far from me, nestling in neighbouring Sussex’s portion of the South Downs. The titular reference to silver birch? It’s because the base wine is made from the sap of the birch trees growing around the distillery. Apparently, getting that sap is a pain in the arse, with each tree yielding a very small amount. According to Blackdown’s website: ‘In 2017 we tapped over 300 trees, with an average tree providing 5 gallons a day collecting over 1,500 gallons producing 15 gallons of pure syrup’.
So I shalln’t be setting out to make silver birch wine any time soon.
You’ll have observed, no doubt, my proclivity for starting new ‘series’ on this blog which fail to extend beyond their first post. And I’m sorry if you mistook the expression on my face for that of somebody who gives a shit about THAT. It is with an arrogant, Dominic Cummings-esque defiance bordering on sociopathy, indeed, that I double-down and inaugurate another. This one I shall call ‘Commuter Belters’: chronicling a journey both literal (Waterloo to Petersfield, many many times) and metaphorical (the search for BELTINGLY good alcoholic beverages with which to aneasthetise oneself against the tedium of the aforementioned).
Let’s have at it.
Waterloo. It’s Friday, 6.15. Amongst the thronged congregation on the concourse, eyes raised reverently to the departure boards, waiting for the hallowed platform number to blink into existence; ‘on time’ to flip to ‘boarding’.