Shoehorn in a Tube strike reference, why don’t you?

Shameless. Fucking shameless.

Bottle of Lunate Fiano on a chopping board

Wowch, hello, Lunate Fiano.

This is a properly powerful character. Lots of Fianos are the kind of middling, inoffensive cack that’s practically crying out for a Tesco’s Finest label. This one isn’t.

It’s bloody full, for a start. Sort of like Earl’s Court station has been, lately. But it smells a fair bit better.

(Jesus God, imagine if Earl’s Court smelt like this…)

I like white wines that give your gob something to grab onto, rather than dancing lithely away like smoke. That savoury, stony, dominant quality. (Oh, why do you always wilfully misinterpret me when I say dominant? Yes, you.)

It’s not a fabulously intellectual wine. It’s not, ultimately, going to make a load of irritating winos crumple up their little faces in appallingly pseudo-orgasmic delight. Thank Christ for that. But it’s interesting, it’s got a character, and it costs less than a tenner. It’s the kind of wine I want to crack open when I’ve crawled past the middle of the work-week’s seesaw and am starting to feel the bastard tip downward.

Especially when I had to change trains at Earl’s Court in the middle of a fucking Tube strike.

This bottle was received as a free sample from Fine Wines Direct UK, where it costs £7.99. And I reckon I’ll give it 4 stars in a spirit of post-commute largesse. If you have a problem with that, do piss off.

Cellophanity, Putin-pleasuring and Pinot Gris

A significant portion of which is devoted to a spirited ‘crie de coeur’ on the subject of ready meal packaging, and most of the rest of which contemplates distasteful sexual activities practised upon Russian politicians. I’m up-front about this stuff, y’know.

Bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris and some oven ready meal instructions‘Remove cardboard sleeve and peel away plastic film.’

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But, honestly, they may as well have said, ‘Remove cardboard sleeve and give Vladimir Putin a blowjob’, for all the chance I have of accomplishing their instruction with any modicum of ease or pleasure.

I’ve written before about my intense dislike of cellophane that fails grotesquely in its sole goddamn interaction with the customer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write again. I mean, Christ. Collectively, think of the time humanity wastes on attempting to peel off a plastic seal and instead peeling off a ludicrous thread of plastic from around its rim, repeating this process at each of the carton’s four corners, before (defeated, humiliated) grabbing a knife and slashing psychopathically at the bastard cellophane until our collective shirts are spattered with ragu sauce that looks for all the world like blood.

Time that could be put to better use in — oh, I don’t know — curing cancer or eradicating poverty or watching the latest episode of Sherlock.

Oh, that Sherlock. He wears a nice dressing gown, doesn’t he? (Declare an interest? Me? Piss off.)

But don’t just think of the time. Think of the fucking psychological despoliation wreaked by this supposedly peelable cellophane. Whole generations demoralised by their inability efficiently and rapidly to prepare a godforsaken ready meal (the very words themselves a hollow mockery — for this now ungrippably-cellophanated carton in front of me couldn’t be any less ready); to follow even the unglamorous preparatory instruction — mere prelude to the complex matrix of oven types and temperatures, and frozen vs chilled states. When we see growth rates in the developed world stalling and purchases of pre-prepared food rising, do we not pause to consider the relationship between the two?

JUST AS SODDING WELL, THEN, that I have a half-bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris, 2010 (The Wine Society, £6.95) to calm my cellophane-rage. A sluicing of very pleasant-tasting alcohol to numb my brain to the injustices and indignities of the food packaging regime — analogous, one might venture, to an autocrat’s cynical pampering of an emerging middle class with the finite proceeds of a natural gas boom whose days are numbered.

SEE WHAT I DID, THERE? YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT, BECAUSE IT WAS QUITE SUBTLE. RE-READ THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IF YOU’RE NOT SURE.

It’s nice, Hugel Pinot Gris. Of the Wine Society’s praiseworthy array of half bottles (several of which I’ve written about already), it’s one of my favourites. I like the way it lies, deliciously inert (like a coma coated in syrup), in your mouth. The way it rings out with fruit, but leaves your tongue free of that ganky aftertaste of the sugary muck that often gets called ‘fruity’.

(Speaking of which — fuck. When you’re pretty much living off wine from TWS and Waitrose, you sometimes forget just how goddamn withering a bad white wine can be. I was in a pub, the other week, and forgot myself to the degree that I actually ordered a glass of white wine — somehow extrapolating from the fact that most wine I drink is quite nice a kind of rule that all wine I choose to drink will therefore be nice. A rule whose inherent fallacy was pitilessly exposed by said pub and its vinous offering.)

Hmm. Somewhere between talking about presidential fellatio and rotten pub wine, I was doing a kind of wine review, there, wasn’t I? Christ alive. Sorry about that. We’ve dispensed, haven’t we, you and I?, with any kind of flimsy, cellophane-esque pretence that you’re here for in-depth or nuanced alcoholic commentary. The commentary of an alcoholic, maybe. But not alcoholic commentary. So let’s leave it at this. Hugel Pinot Gris. Easy to open (if you have a corkscrew). Doesn’t cause you to flail around with a kitchen knife. And definitely tastes better than my ready meal.

Not to mention Putin.

Pain, Lloyd-Webber, Relativism, Redditch and Macon-Villages

In which Old Parn has his pain threshold put to the test, both physically and psychologically, and his concept of luxury dramatically redefined — before collapsing into the embrace of a Wine Society half-bottle.

A photo of a white plastic mask as seen in Phantom of the Opera

‘So, Tom,’ Elaine asked softly, ‘how high is your pain threshold?’

Elaine is, it turns out, very, very strong.

10 minutes later, I am face down with Elaine’s elbow in my back, wimpering like a child.

Elaine grew up in Redditch. I learnt to drive in Redditch. There are lots of roundabouts in Redditch.

My driving teacher, a luxuriantly mulleted old love called Jerry, used to pick me up at the school gates, the strains of The Phantom of the Opera booming from his tiny Peugeot.

Our mutual love of music previously (alas) affirmed, Jerry was eager to know my opinion of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s seminal work.

I, conversely, was eager to get the fuck out of the school car park. But Jerry wanted me to practise a three-point turn.

Calmly. Carefully. Slowly.

‘…The Phantom of the Opera is there!
Inside my mind.’

Oh, please, Christ, it’s going to be break-time in three minutes.

There is a kind of theme, here. Have you noticed that? It has to do with me being helpless, vulnerable, and yet almost impossibly heroic in the face of danger.

‘Are you doing alright there, Tom?’ asks Elaine.

My hearty reply is undermined as my voice cracks pubescently. I hope that this laryngeal betrayal is muffled by the towel pressed hard across my face. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

So. I need to relax.

‘With 90% of the people who come here,’ says Elaine, conversationally, ‘I start on the back then, when that’s done, I go down to the legs. You’re not going to be in that 90%.’

Her tone of voice isn’t menacing. I don’t think she intends this as a threat.

At some point I start burbling manically about pyjamas. This happens increasingly often, these days. This time, though, I keep having to pause, mid-sentence, in a way that is, frankly, entirely lacking in rhetorical justification. The pauses are my only bulwark against a bellowing Parn-howl like that of a bear with its testicles snagged on a barbed wire fence.

And, as bulwarks go, the pauses (right now) feel pretty fragile.

‘… My power over you / Grows stronger yet…’

Briefly, I contemplate the possibility that my life may be flashing before my eyes.

Elaine likes pyjamas. (I also like pyjamas.) She is mildly perplexed at the idea of a dressing gown more expensive than her car. And she is probably right to be perplexed. From my vantage point, the concept of ‘luxury’ has, over the past hour, been rather dramatically redefined simply to denote any experience not involving an elbow in one’s back.

I guess that explains, then, why I hobbled out of that massage and immediately bulk-booked five more. Because what’s an hour of pain and humiliation when the rest of the week suddenly seems, by contrast, like glorious liberation? The Upper Richmond Road has seldom seemed more gold-paved.

And that’s why you should trust absolutely nothing I’m about to write about the bottle of Macon-Villages from Domaine Talmard that I cracked open afterwards. Because, frankly, after all that, I could probably be drinking the bottled contents of a pub urinal in Croydon and still find something positive to say about the experience.

(Well. Okay. Maybe not Croydon.)

So here’s what happens when you drink a half-bottle of Domaine Talmard after a massage from Elaine — your body smugly freed of toxins, your conception of luxury redefined.

You notice, first off, that Domaine Talmard smells a whole lot of apples. Like old, English apples that’ve been sitting around for a bit too long in a crumpled paper bag in the sun.

When you raise the glass to your gob, you experience an electric jolt of pain across your upper back, and your eyelid starts to twitch madly.

But it was worth it. Because it tastes pretty damn nice. Principally, it tastes of toxins. Sweet, delicious toxins. Welcome back to my bloodstream, toxins. I’ve missed you. You and me, toxins, we were a team. I should never have thought otherwise. We belong together.

‘Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation…’

Lazy, perfumed lemon and (yes) those apples, and a bracingly serrated edge of bitterness. And, in your slavering, toxin-thirsty gob, it feels intoxicatingly plump.

Domaine Talmard, you see, didn’t ask me about my pain threshold. Innocent in its demure half-bottle, it just sort of shuffled up close and lent on me a bit. And (unlike that fucking weirdo on the Tube the other day) Domaine Talmard is quite welcome to do that.

But I’ll be going back to Elaine next week.

Because comfortable, snuggly Chardonnay is all very well. But nothing’s going to be quite the same any more.

‘The Phantom of the Opera is there
Inside my mind.’

Wine Macon-Villages, Domaine Talmard, 2011
Grape Chardonnay
Price £5.75 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

Yeah, it’s been ages. No, I’m not sorry.

Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004. A wine that smells like all those memories you goddamn wish you had. But you don’t. You loser.

Bottle of Ghemme Ioppa with a teapot in the background

Smell. Smell is the most evocative sense, innit? The one that can yank you (via a chance waft of teenage perfume) back to that time when you first kissed that girl. You know. That one. Or to that time when you walked out in the field and the air was heavy with summer and you knew that in two weeks’ time you’d be going into the big school. Or to that time when a dog pissed on your bag.

Yeah. Smell.

So let’s talk about the smell of a wine called Ioppa. I like the fact that it’s called Ioppa, because it sounds like the kind of word a maladroit Italian waiter might exclaim as a plate of food buy clomid online medication slips from his helpless hand and crashes onto the floor.

And I like the fact that it smells a-fucking-mazing.

It smells of sweet, sweet, squashy red fruits, heaped with dark (satanically dark) muscovado sugar. It smells like all those memories you goddamn wish you had. But you don’t. You loser.

Then you drink it. And it slides into your mouth like something that shouldn’t be there but really should. Sinuous and lithe. Before exlopding into soil and life and violence.

It’s powerful, and it is very damn nice. You should probably try it.

It’d give you something to remember.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Wine Ghemme, Ioppa, 2004
Price £10.95 from The Wine Society

Lemons, stones and sunshine for a sodden marmoset

Tresolmos Verdejo from the Wine Society is exactly what you need after battling through the bleak London rain

A bottle of Verdejo; in the background, the blurred, rainy street lamps of London

What do you need after battling through the bleak London rain? What do you need after huddling shivering and sodden on the back seat of a bus whose windows have been inexplicably flung open by some masochistic Chelsea commuter?*

You need a glass of Tresolmos Verdejo, you miserable, trauma-eroded marmoset, you.

Because it’s very nice. And (which is One Of The Reasons For Which I Love The Wine Society) it defibrillates your tastebuds with a flavour you can’t pick up off the shelf at your local express supermarket, that’s for sure.

Defibrillation for £7.50. Save the NHS a few quid and do it my way.

So, as I jerk back to consciousness, my gob’s suddenly alive with bitter, gripping zest — lemony pith. But alongside the electric, citric jangle, there’s that fullness. That almost indecent fullness, set alongside all that bite and the zing. But it’s not a bit oily, not a bit flabby. It’s cialis online to buy like a slim, clean sort of chap who goes to yoga five times a week: he may look slender, but he’s strong.

I drink Tresolmos Verdejo and it makes me think of being outside when it’s not actually freezing and hosing down with rain. If you can picture that scene even vaguely. Makes me think of lemons and the oil of lemons on my fingernails. Of stones and sunshine.

And of a beautifully aerated number 22 bus.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Rueda, Spain
Grape Verdejo
ABV 13%
Price £7.50 from The Wine Society. But — ye gods! — I now find it’s sold out.  Back in stock!
* Yeah, so, according to guardian angel of the online wine community Robert McIntosh, the fresh air is good for me. What-ev-er.

Slovenia vs Slovakia (wine and geographic confusion)

In which two utterly different wines from two utterly different countries are arbitrarily compared on the grounds that Old Parn sometimes gets their names mixed up.

Slovenia, Slovakia; Slovakia, Slovenia. Two nations that, I realise, are entirely distinct and just happen to have names that a mindless idiot like me is always getting mixed up. I’ve never been to either (perhaps, had I done so, my confusion would cease). But I have met several people from both countries, all of whom have been delightful human beings.

On this principle, I approached both Slovenian and Slovakian wine — neither being exactly easy to find, here in the UK — with optimism. And decided to crack open a bottle from each and to pit them against one another in an attempt to use the medium of wine to overcome my inability to remember which country is which.

(Okay. That’s one of the lamest excuses I’ve come up with to open two bottles of wine. And that’s saying something.)

A bottle of Pinot Gris from Tilia Estate, Slovenia

So — the outcome of this meaningless and artificial clash of two proud nations? Something of a one-sided contest, I’m afraid. Because — alas! — my Slovenian contender was less than championship material. A Tilia Estate Pinot Gris (★, £12.99) that I bought from Naked Wines a while ago — which was, honestly, just a bit depressing. Sort of like Luton airport, but without the prospect of being en route anywhere better.

I mean, it’s not undrinkable or anything. But it’s slack in the gob; rather heavy and sullen. A pudgy child who’d rather be playing Call of Duty than turning up to PE. There’s nothing outright offensive about it. I just, well, hoped for better.

The label of a bottle of Alibernet by EleskoWhich is just as well. Because better is exactly what I got, courtesy of Slovakia and Adam Priscak, who kindly brought me back a bottle from his latest trip home. Step forward one wine made by Elesko called Alibernet 1, neskorý zber, suché, 2009 (★★★★). Which is a lot of words that I don’t understand. Nice, eh? Adam tells me that this wine is made in small quantities. Fine by me, so long as I get some of it. Because it is sodding lovely. As deep as a very deep hole (with some mushrooms growing in it, perhaps). Ripping and earthy and proud. There’s a kind of polishy quality to it (as distinct from Polishy, which is a bit further north — for the benefit of those of you using this blog as a guide to central/eastern-European geography. You poor, poor buggers.)

It’s full and fruited, but not remotely glib. Dark, big and extremely good. Thank you Adam; thank you Elesko. Fine representatives of your nation.

So it looks like the scoreline is currently Slovakia 1; Slovenia 0. Based on a ludicrous and utterly unrepresentative sample. Just the way we like it. So I’m putting out a call for recommendations of Slovenian wines that could even the score… Suggestions in the comments, s’il te plait.

A Csárdás in a glass — Hilltop Hungarian White

… is a tantalising, gob-watering Csárdás of a wine that lobs a grenade of tropicality — mandarins, lychees, peaches, the kinds of fruits that ooze when you squidge them — that follows up with an aftershock of dry, icy citrus

Closeup of the purple label of this Hungarian wine. Simple typographic design.

Here’s a happy, carefree, unselfconscious dance of a wine. A Csárdás. A whooping whirligig of fruit and flavour and life. Like the best dances, it’s got energy, momentum. Which might be just an absurdly pretentious way of saying you can get through a bottle of this stuff pretty damn quickly; pretty damn happily.

Into your cavernous gob, Hilltop Estates Cserszegi F?szeres lobs a grenade of tropicality — mandarins, lychees, peaches, the kinds of fruits that ooze when you squidge them — that follows up with an aftershock of dry, icy citrus. In response, your poor mouth can only conjure up bucketloads of saliva like a really shit magician.

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! SEE THE AMAZING DRIBBLE-CONJURURING MOUTH! BE AMAZED, OR YOUR MONEY BACK IN FULL!

This — listen, buy lasix 40 mg now, because this really is amazing — this tantalising, gob-watering Csárdás of a wine is £5.75. It’s only 11% ABV. It’s outstanding for the price, and I’ll be ordering more. Serve it up to dinner-party guests as an aperitif and make them guess where it’s from. Indulge yourself in innumerable hungry/Hungary puns. Go on! Tease ’em! IT WILL BE FUN.

Almost as much fun as the dance.

Wines like this are the reason I’m a member of the Wine Society. Exciting, unexpected, and the kind of thing most supermarkets would dismiss with a peremptory flick of the hand.

Well — joke’s on them. £5.75, you daft plonkers. £5.75!

Time to get dancing.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Hungary
Grape Cserszegi F?szeres
ABV 11%
Price £5.75 from The Wine Society

A sherry suckerpunch of Manzanilla mouthjoy

…is one half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy — the sea-wind bite, the roll of it, the swell of it, the crescendo

A bottle of sherry and a condensation-beaded glass -- on the background of a floral print

Sherry, sherry. I adore sherry. I adore it in its many guises and manifestations. Whenever I’m passing through a decent wine shop or supermarket, I scour the shelves for half-bottles of sherry. Because half-bottles of sherry, my dear friend, are like anchovies: my kitchen is bereft without them.

So last time I was salivating my way round Whole Foods, I tossed a half of Fernando de Castilla Manzanilla into my basket.

And Manzanilla (oh! Manzanilla!) is possibly the sherry I adore most of all.

Why? Because of its richness, its depth and its bite. This one is a half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy. The impossibly woody, dense, complicated smell. The sea-wind bite — like spray from the cold Atlantic. The roll of it, the swell of it, the almost overwhelming crescendo of the flavour once you have it there in your gob.

The way it leaves you gasping for another mouthful.

This is an excellent Manzanilla. I can imagine drinking it with some of those anchovies. And lemon. Salt. Bite. Yeah. That would be fucking lovely.

Staggering, mouthwatering, delicious.

Drink it. Drink sherry. Drink!

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
ABV 15%
Price £6.49 (half bottle) from Whole Foods, High Street Kensington; £10.95 (whole bottle) from Stone & Vine

A fresh, thunderstorm-clearing Alsace Riesling

… is a wine for rooftop terraces and golden sunshine

A half bottle of Trimbach Riesling, with distinctive bright yellow label, sits on a tabletop

Fresh!

This is like walking outside into air just cleared by a spring thunderstorm (pavements still wet) after a day in a stodgy, stuffy office. It is delicious. Sharp (grapefruit sharp; stiletto sharp), with a flavour that rings out like a clean-struck bell.

A wine for rooftop terraces; a wine for golden sunshine.

Delicious.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Grape Riesling
Region Alsace
ABV 13%
Price £6.25 for a half-bottle from The Wine Society; £10.95 for a full bottle.

The Extravagant Complexity of Wine (inspired by white Rioja)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it costs £7.25 a bottle.

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

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

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