Wine tasting to be defunct by 2030?

… In which I tell of scientific advances in automated taste-categorisation

Not a review, today, but a scientific tidbit that may interest you. An article caught my eye in the current issue of the Economist, describing a new system for the categorisation of smells.

‘Although the human sense of smell is keen, it is hampered by a lack of precision. When presented with hundreds of odours, the nose can simultaneously distinguish only a few. Keenly aware of these problems, Alírio Rodrigues at the University of Porto in Portugal and his colleagues compiled an extensive list of scent descriptions from the existing databases used by the perfume industry. They found that eight general terms for scents (citrus, floral, green, fruity, herbaceous, musk, oriental and woody) could work as families to which more than 2,000 specific scents could be assigned. The team then plotted these eight families onto a map that resembled the plots on a radar screen.’

It turns out that Rodrigues’ “radar” is able automatically to categorise perfumes according to scent-family. Obviously, as the Economist points out, the potential impact of this reaches further than perfumers…

So might we one day see wine tasting relegated to the status of ‘quaintly old-fashioned’ activity – like basket-weaving or letter-writing? By 2030, will all our tasting notes be mechanically generated? It’d doubtless work out cheaper than hiring all these temperamental winos. And fewer hangov sick days.

Well, clearly the answer to that is no. But I couldn’t help but throw in a childishly provocative rhetorical question.

When a machine starts being able to generate metaphors, though? Then I’ll be worried.

Read the full article in the Economist online

Knockon Wood 2007

… is a big old pornstar

Having given their Barbera (poor Barbera) something of a mauling, last time round, I offered Marks & Spencer the chance to win me over. So I picked up a bottle of Knockon Wood — a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Pinotage — in the expectation of a little South African charm. The fact that it was on special offer merely sweetened the deal.

As it turns out, though, I didn’t exactly get South African charm; I got South African wine-porn.

So, first off, this is a BIG wine. You know what I mean. It’s 14.5% big.

During its stay in your mouth, it starts off soft. Then gets much harder. Then softens again, with a valedictory burst of cream. And if you thought I was talking about anything other than wine there, WASH YOUR MIND OUT, YOU SORDID INDIVIDUAL.

There’s a dusty, musky, polishy depth to the wine, and it’s full across the tongue — with a wide, rhubarby blare of flavour. As the crescendo of flavours peaks and eases into diminuendo, there’s that aforementioned creamy finish, thanks to a good hoof of oak. Maybe a little much for my taste.

The coexistence of acid sharpness, musky depth and smooth oak is an interesting one. Ripe blackberries and cream. The wine has quite an unctuous quality, accompanied by caramel, tar, cedar…

Verdict

Like I say, this is a big boy of a wine. It’s confident. It’s smooth. And we had fun.

But (as its pornographic qualities might attest) it’s not the classiest. There’s something rather unrefined about its strutting exhibitionism: those flavours could be tied together more effectively. The whole job could be handled rather more subtly, y’know? As it is, there’s something of the wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am to it.

Then again — um — maybe you’re not looking for subtle porn.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 14.5%
Price £12.99 from Marks & Spencer (currently reduced to £10.99)

Piemonte Barbera 2009, Marks & Spencer

… tastes of chunder

I fear this photo may actually make the wine look more appealing than is my intention.

Uh huh. A really, really horrid wine.

A really, really horrid wine that was nevertheless, I observe with icy authorial detachment, nominated (in its 2007 incarnation) as ‘wine of the week’ by none other than the Belfast Telegraph.

I wouldn’t have bought this (Belfast Telegraph recommendation notwithstanding), but for the fact that I was snaffling up one of those Marks & Spencer ‘Dine in for £10’ offers, ages ago, and literally had to get it. Yes, had to. There really was no alternative.

So, yes, insofar as it qualified me for the meal deal, picking up this wine actually saved me money.

That’s about all I can say in its favour, however. Because I’m afraid it actually tastes like sick.

Just as well, then, that I opened it with the express intention of casseroling the blighter to within an inch of its grim and impoverished life. But I thought I’d pour myself a thimbleful and chalk up another review — just for y’all.

Verdict

So, in what is my least nuanced review yet, I have little to add. I entitle this section ‘Verdict’ out of habit — but, once you know it tastes of bile, are you really in need of further summation? In case you’re hanging on for a redeeming feature, I’ll end your misery: there isn’t one. It has virtually no aroma. It is thin, watery, sour, bitter. I’ve only had two mouthfuls and I already feel a stomach ache lurking in the wings.

No stars for you today, M&S.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t make my casserole taste of sick.

Rating Zilch
ABV 13%
Price £5.49 from Marks & Spencer

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.

El Quintanal Ribera del Duero 2009, Rioja

…probably won’t metamorphose into a champion

Okay, let’s shimmy our way through a quick Rioja – one I picked up from Oddbins as an alcoholic offering to my dear parents, upon whose hospitality I was reliant over the weekend.

And I wasn’t overwhelmed. By the wine, that is. My parents’ hospitality, of course, was overwhelming as ever.

Now there’s a good welter of mouth-shrinking tannin in this wine (unsurprising, since it’s still very young) so it would doubtless improve with ageing. And its initial flavourburst is full, dark and spiced — though my bottle, at least, was petillant (that is to say, slightly sparkling), which I don’t think can’ve been intended.

But, considering the price, the wine is disappointingly quick to fade in the mouth, with a hollowness that rapidly follows in the wake of its initial assault on the palate.

For over £10, I’d hoped for better. Hell, let me tell you: my parents deserve better.

Verdict

If you happen already have a bottle of this lying around, I’d let it lie a good while longer: it will improve. But I wouldn’t buy it on the expectation that it’ll metamorphose into a champion.

It may be that my bottle wasn’t a good example (witness that incongruous fizz). But if you find yourself shuffling round Oddbins, looking for a bottle to impress your parents, I suggest you give this chap a miss. It’s not bad, but you could do much better for the money.

Rating ★★☆☆☆
ABV 14%
Price £10.99 from Oddbins

Brindisi Rosso Vigna Flaminio, 2006 (Vallone)

… will make you shout aloud with joy

There are few things more infuriating than grasping in vain for a description. Those times when you know a perfect, illuminating word or phrase exists — yet remain fumblingly unable to lay hands on it. Verbal constipation.

And there are few things more joyous (conversely) than alighting at last upon that long-sought description. Just when you were ready to give up.

Which explains the manic delight with which I found myself exclaiming ‘Tomato ketchup!’ two glasses into a bottle of Brindisi Vigna Flaminio.

Now, that may’ve given you a less than prepossessing impression. And that’s unjust. Because this is a very good — very, very reasonably priced — wine.

So, yes, there’s tomato ketchup in there. But you must believe me when I say that this is resoundingly a good thing. It binds the whole thing together in a juicy, sweet-yet-savoury kind of way.

This is a fairly light red wine, but it’s full. It practically ZINGS with high-note aromatics (both in the nose and in the gob). Oriental spices (cinnamon, star anise and the like), plum, balsamic vinegar of the finest and most viscous variety. Then there’s a crazed cameo of fizzy cola bottle, just when your tongue thought it could slope out of the room quietly.

And, like I said, that satisfying, satisfying tomato ketchup.

Verdict

I can only reiterate: don’t be put off by the ketchup thing. I know that wine writers’ descriptions can often verge on the repugnant — and I sincerely hope not to repel you, dear readers.

You should try this wine, in other words. Because it’s way more interesting than you could reasonably expect for £6.95. Yes, £6.95. That’s three quid cheaper than this old louse of a wine, for a start.

If the effervescent aromatics get too much for you, in any case, the wine tames beautifully with food (just don’t overpower the poor fellow). But, seriously, this is proof that interesting wines don’t have to have elbow-chewing price-tags.

And you’ll be able to enjoy it all the more, I might add, without the torture of working out the tomato ketchup bit.

Rating ★★★★☆
ABV 13%
Price £6.95 from The Wine Society (2006 out of stock; 2007 available)

Parallele 45 Reserve Cotes du Rhone Villages 2007, Paul Jaboulet Aine

…you can drink alone like the miserable yet discerning alkie you are

One of the reasons I love the Wine Society is its good selection of half-bottles. I often drink wine on my own, y’see (I just wanted an excuse to tell you that, really, as I’m fairly sure it makes me sound sort of cool) — and a half-bottle has that much less (round about half less, in fact) precious liquid to oxidise.

But if you take your lonesome arse into a supermarket and look for half-bottles, all you’ll find is a lamentable selection of mass-produced syrup- and vanilla-fests.

The Wine Society is virtually alone in the quality of its semi-sized selection.

And this — Paul Jaboulet Aine’s Parallele 45 Reserve Cotes du Rhone Villages — is one of the best of ’em.

So, it’s another Frenchy French wine. Full, strong, and (like our friend Domaine Font de Michelle) unapologetically gallic. Its aroma is hoofing enough to make you cough a little, should you avail yourself of a particularly generous snoutful.

Or maybe that’s just an early symptom of consumption.

Dans le gob, il y a beaucoup d’oomph. It’s simultaneously charmingly smooth and a gritty old bastard. It’d be great at film noir.

Loads of depth. Coffee-bitterness. Vegetation. A little oak to smooth it off. And wafting over the top of that are swoons of blossomy violet. Then, long afterwards, just as you think it’s all died down, a distant echo of tinned peaches and cream.

Verdict

Even if it weren’t for the boon of its half-bottle enclosure, this would be a winner. With, it, it pretty much has the rostrum to itself. I should probably add that you can also buy full-sized bottles. But that’d only mean sharing. Pah!

Here’s my advice: if you want to be cool, stick to the half-bottles. Alone.

Rating ★★★★☆
ABV 14%
Price £5.75 (half-bottle) from The Wine Society (Agh! Bastarding hell! It’s no longer available!); £8.95 (full bottle of the 2008) from Wine Direct

Oyster Bay Merlot Review

…will alternately patronise and assail your tastebuds

I was about to give Oyster Bay Merlot a bit of a break. But then I looked it up to find that a bottle (admittedly of the 2009 as opposed to my 2008) goes for £9.99 at Majestic. So no break for you, Oyster Bay.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The only reason I have this bottle is that I was given it. By an organisation, I hasten to add, not an individual. A ‘thank you for your business’ kind of thing.

But, yes. I don’t buy wines that look like Oyster Bay Merlot. Nail me into a broomcupboard and call me Satan if you wish (and what else would you do with Satan but nail him in a broomcupboard, I ask you?) — but that’s the unvarnished truth. It’s prejudiced, I realise, but my experience of mass-market wines that look like this and are called things like ‘Oyster Bay’ fills me with a dark, viscous dread.

But the misery of it all is that I was going to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Yeah! I was going to tell you that. Up until I realised that bottle — had I bought it myself — would’ve cost me a sodding tenner, rather than the £6-7ish I was expecting, given the name/label design combo.

Hell, I was never going to recommend it, you understand. But I was ready to concede that simply not being revolted was a kind of triumph.

Well, at £9.99, excuse me if I’m a little less forgiving.

So. The first thing that hits us? Ribena. Or Kia Ora. Or (Christ save us) Snapple. The kind of thing they’d market as ‘Very Berry’ flavour.

To be fair, this initial bouquet is hands down the worst feature of this wine (aside from its price: did I mention its price?). Because once (if) you get through it, you’ll actually be surprised at the amount of bitterness. There’s a touch of vanilla, but most of the finish is dominated by the woody depths of the tannin.

A schizophrenic wine, then. All kiddy sweetness to begin with, then cagey gruffness to finish. And there’s no transition to speak of: the flavours shift abruptly, without ceremony. Quite bizarre.

Verdict

So, as I may already have implied, a price tag of £9.99 on a wine like this is an absolute joke. At £6, I’d have expected the Kia Ora — but been grudgingly surprised at the unexpected tannic depth. It would certainly not have succeeded in making me commend the wine — but it would have succeeded in being better than most of its ilk.

BUT IT IS NOT £6.

Paying ten quid for this is like paying ten quid to have an unattractive gigolo spend an evening patronising you with syrupy platitudes and discussing Nietzsche. In alternate sentences.

Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Me, I chucked the rest of that gigolo straight into a casserole. Yum.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 13%
Price (for the 2009) £9.01 from Waitrose online, £9.99 from Majestic. But don’t, alright?

The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne, Cotes du Rhone, 2007

… reminds me, alas, of my one-time DT teacher — but is nevertheless actually rather nice

You know how it is when, try as you might, you’re unable to find much to say about something? Not because you don’t like it and are trying to be polite; just because, well, it’s just it.

Thing is, there are some times you need to find something to say. If you’re writing a wine blog, for instance.

Or if you’re a teacher at parents’ evening, faced by expectant parents.

Indulge me, then, as I cast my mind back to Mr Kingston, my teacher for Design Technology — a man who, at parents’ evening, saw fit to inform my mother and father that I was ‘a nice enough lad’. Whilst I’m sure they were relieved at this insight, I suspect they also felt somewhat shortchanged with regard to critical analysis of my DT skills.

(Which were, incidentally, lamentable.)

So, via Mr Kingston then, allow me to meander my way to The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne 2007. It is, without doubt, a Nice Enough Wine. But I know you, dear reader, expect more of me than this. So I’ll try a little harder.

Well, for starters, it is (like me) actually a good bit nicer than ‘nice enough’. It’s certainly a lot nicer, for instance, than Mr Kingston. I mean, I actively like it. Believe me.

It’s deep and long — again in contrast to Mr Kingston — but, like him, it possesses a degree of acidity alongside a good amount of stoutness and body. Both Mr Kingston and The Wine Society’s Exhibition Cairanne are not delicate creatures — and yet, in spite of it all, both turn out to be a little softer, a little smoother (steady on) than you’d expected.

(It turned out that Mr Kingston ran a tabletop wargaming club for eager small boys.)

Verdict

I feel slightly odd in recommending a wine I struggle to find much to say about. But I drink ’em; I blog ’em. And this is a nice wine. It’s good with food, weighty, full and balanced. I like it. I just don’t have much more to say.

But at least I tried, eh Mr Kingston?

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 14%
Price £8.95 from The Wine Society

Domaine de Gournier, Vin de Pays des Cévennes Rouge, 2009

…doesn’t strip to its underwear while you’re still pouring the drinks

The label of a bottle of Domaine de Gournier, a French red wine

Okay. Let’s rattle through this one quickly, shall we? I mean, we’re all busy people.

So. Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes. It’s red. Dark red. Heavyish.

Both to the nose and in the mouth, it’s far from being an exhibitionist. You need to work at it a bit. The one flavour that presents itself unashamedly is plum. Caramelised plum, what’s more — which is a pretty nice kind of plum if you ask me.

(Marks & Spencer does a plum danish pastry. This is like those plums.)

Aromatically, we have yeasty, herby things (rosemary? Thyme?) going on. Squint your nose a bit and you might, like me, be put in mind of rain-laden pine-trees.

Taste-wise, alongside the M&S plum, there’s a peppery spiciness. Soil. Leather. Coffee. It’s the kind of wine, in other words, that’d wear tweed and wellies.

It’s also a smidgin on the harsh side (I do mean a smidgin): that little tight rasp at the back of the throat. But what did you expect?

Verdict

If you’re looking for a rough-and-ready, vaguely Bordeaux-style weekday wine that doesn’t strip to its underwear while you’re still pouring the drinks, this will do a fine job. And it won’t decimate your bank balance.

Unless your bank balance is £57.50.

Drink it with food, I think. Being a robust kind of character, it could stand up to most things you’d throw at it.

Thoroughly respectable without being exceptional — though at this price, that in itself is not to be disparaged.

Rating ***
ABV 13.5%
Price £5.75 from The Wine Society