Wise up and smell the Casillero del Diablo

In which Old Parn burbles unconvincingly about branding in wine, before drawing some frankly ill-considered analogies and scattering his sheep’s pellets of wisdom in the direction of all who don’t move away quickly enough

Bottle of Casillero del Diablo red wine label

Winemakers, in general, need to wise up. Okay, sure, practically everyone (myself almost certainly included) needs to wise up. But winemakers need to wise up, specifically, because they are lamentably bad at communicating with normal people.

(Notice the ease with which I refer to normal people. Almost as though I knew some.)

Winemakers generally do a shambolic job of any kind of branding or advertising. In fact, a recent study revealed that 76% of actors taking parts in wine adverts subsequently suffered savage assault on grounds including (but not limited to)

  • Their ostentatious clinking of wine glasses
  • Their smug, bastardly laughter
  • Their smarmy hair
  • Generally being goddamn annoying

[Blah, Christforsaken blah. Listen, I’m quite tired, alright, and I’m just writing this because the charming @CuriousWines said something nice about me on Twitter. I have a crick in my neck and everything.]

The point? Oh, right, yeah. The point is that — as Robert McIntosh said, considerably more eloquently, a week or so ago — most winemakers don’t get branding. But one of them seems to have more of a clue:

I like branding. Doesn’t mean I always trust it, by the by. But I like it, and I respect the skill that goes into it.

Anyhow, having read Robert’s piece on the ad, I cracked open a bottle of Casillero del Diablo (albeit not the wines promoted in the ad) I had rolling around in my cupboard. A 2011 Chilean Reserva Malbec.

So. There’s a lot of coffee. Coffee all over the sodding place. Coffee is the first thing that hits you when you snout around in it, and coffee is pretty quick to grab your tastebuds when the wine gets itself into your mouth.

After that, though, it’s surprisingly sharp. A bit like a typical article in Vice Magazine: going out of its way to give an impression of depth, but actually rather harsh and one-dimensional.

TAKE THAT, VICE. YOU JUST GOT ZINGED.

Yeah. It’s not awful, but it’s a shame, nevertheless. And it’s sort of confusing, too — because this isn’t really the kind of wine that feels like it’s come to you from some tepid focus group — all blandness, sweetness, superficial charms. No, it’s a bit too aggressive to be a crowd-pleaser (I’d have thought).

What I’m saying is, I don’t know who’s the, y’know, target audience.

What I do know is that, for the price, there’s better to be had elsewhere. Some old fart will probably say that they should be spending less money on advertising and more money on the wine, I guess. To that old fart, I say: IN THAT CASE, MAKE YOUR OWN WINE AND DISPENSE ENTIRELY WITH THE MUCKY REALITIES OF CAPITALISM, WHY DON’T YOU?

Jesus, a humanoid figure just flew past my window. He seemed to be made of straw. God knows what that was about.

(Boy, how you must’ve missed me.)

Rating ★★ 2 stars (fair)
Wine Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2011 Reserva, Chile
Price £7.99 in Tescos and doubtless similar in many other places

A Pinotage that’s all fruit and curves and perpetual smiling

Manley Estate’s Pinotage is all fruit and soft curves and perpetual smiling — and I can’t help wishing it’d make me work a bit harder

Closeup of the Manley Estate label — fairly traditional line drawing of vineyardManley, it’s not you; it’s me. You’re great. Really, I mean it. It’s just — well — you’re just too nice.

I like wines that make me work a bit. Not a lot, you understand (I’m way too lazy for that) — but a tad. And there’s something about Manley Estate’s Pinotage that is a bit too easy. It puts itself on a plate for me. Not, you understand, literally (although that would be fine: I’m happy to take my wine from whatever receptacle presents itself), but, y’know, metaphorically.

That’s not to say Manley is bad. It’s really not at all. It’s all fruit and soft buy furosemide tablets curves and perpetual smiling. I’d just like to see what it looks like with a frown on its face, too.

Christ, enough with the metaphors, Parn.

So, yeah. Fine. Easy to drink. Quite full. Smiley. Could do with more brusqueness. A tad expensive. But fine. Nice.

Oh Manley. When this is all over, I do hope we can still be friends.

This bottle was received as a free sample from Naked Wines

Rating ?? 2 stars (fair)
Region Tulbagh
Grape Pinotage
ABV 14.5%
Price The 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 costs £13.99 from Naked Wines (£10.49 for members)

Mauricio Lorca, Angel’s Reserve Malbec review

… is one angel that takes a while to grow on you — metamorphosing from an empty disappointment to a rather pleasant gob filler

The label of a bottle of Angel's Reserve — decorated with a tribal drawing of a bird

Well, here’s a thing.

You may remember (but may not, given the alcohol-marinated state of your brain) that, a few weeks back, we minced a word or two on the subject of the Angel’s Reserve Torrontes — also made by Mr Lorca.

Now, I rather liked that Torrontes.

But here’s the Malbec. And my first impressions, honestly, weren’t great. I cracked the blighter open, and snouted/throated a few doses. And found it, well, kind of empty. There’s a spiky brambliness to it around the sides and at the front of your mouth, but it dies away very swiftly.

So I plugged up Mauricio’s Malbec and shoved it to one side. Not aggressively, mind. I’m a mild and moderate chap, as you’ll scarcely need telling. But there may have been a touch of pique, nevertheless, in that shove. For I was disappointed.

Spool forward a couple of days, and you join your chum the Parnmeister as he stuffs a bunch of grated-courgette-coated pasta into his ravenous maw. And is grasped by a mighty thirst. Blindly, his quivering arm reaches out, only to encounter that same bottle of Angel’s Reserve.

And — what know’st thou? — it’s one hell of a lot nicer, tonight. That back-and-sides quality of day one has mellowed into a proper ol’ gobfiller. It’s softer, rounder, fuller: it’s gone to seed in the best way imaginable.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not transformed into a blinder. But it’s transformed into rather a pleasant way to keep my mouth busy (in the scheme of things, y’know).

So, yeah. Even Angels, it seems, can take a while to grow on you.

Rating ★★ 2 stars (a kind of averaged-out rating, here)
Region Mendoza
Grape Malbec
ABV 14%
Price £8.99 from Naked Wines (£5.99 to members)

Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco review

… conspicuously lacks the dance, the verve, the pizzazz — in both its label and, alas, its taste

The green and gold label of Marques de Caceres' white Rioja — rather lacking in design style

Take a look at the label. What do you reckon? Any reaction? Any strong feelings?

Or just a blank expression? A shrug?

Yeah. Slightly ugly in an unremarkable kind of way, right? Not horrific. Just mediocre.

Well, in this case, it turns out that label and wine aren’t far from being in accord. Because this is a fairly unremarkable wine. Not offensive, but, really, I can’t see too much of a reason to buy it.

It’s a bit empty, a bit veggy, a bit harsh and globby. Not much finesse. Sure, it’s got a fair old bit of presence around the sides and back of your trap, but it’s conspicuously lacking the dance, the verve, the pizzazz at the front.

And I’m all about the dance. The verve. The pizzazz.

It’s trying to be fruity & summery — but if it’s fruity & summery you’re gagging for, you’d be better off (at this kind of price) with something like Sainsbury’s Gruner Veltliner or Benny D’s Picpoul de Pinet from Naked Wines.

For the price, I guess it’s acceptable (I wouldn’t complain), but — at the same time — there’s better to be had. And better labels, too.

Rating ★★ 2 stars (average)
Region Rioja
Grape Viura
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.99 from Majestic; £6.99 if you buy a couple.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi (Follonica) at Branca Restaurant, Oxford

… scores a little bit lower than a waiter with a funny-shaped head

A curiously-shaped bottle of verdicchio beside a wine-cooler in Branca Restaurant, OxfordThe scene: Branca, a good Italian restaurant in Jericho, Oxford. Two chums — Old Parn (OP) and Faith Amurao (FA) — sit toying with the remains of ham-ensconsed halibut. They are drinking wine from a curiously-shaped bottle, which their waiter has confidently declared (unprompted) to be ‘really drinkable.’

OP: So. The wine. How many stars (out of five)?

FA: Two and a half.

OP: Okay. I think two. Anyway, you’re not allowed half stars. You can’t have a half star.

FA: But you could do it. You could do it with shading…

OP: Check your telescope, Faith. If you can find me a half star up in the night sky, you can use a half star in your rating for this wine. Until then, no half stars for you.

FA: Anyway, now that you said it, I think it actually is a two as well. I wish I’d said two at first. But I think I wanted to give it an average mark. So as not to be too disparaging. Two means slightly worse than average, right?

OP: 0 means terrible; 1 means some flaws; 2 means okay; 3 means good; 4 means very good; 5 means outstanding.

FA: Okay. If three means good, it’s definitely a two.

OP: I’m actually impressed that you even answered the question. You’re good at giving ratings, obviously. How about our waiter, then? How many marks would you give him (out of ten) for hotness?

FA: Four.

OP: Haha.

FA: His head is a bit squashed. He’s slightly below average. Maybe 4.4?

OP: And what about the man who slipped you his number in Wagamama the other day?

FA: He’s actually quite similar to our waiter. His head is quite small too. I’d give him 4.6.

So, there you have it. One below-average wine in a weirdly-shaped bottle; two below-average men with weirdly-shaped heads. And not one of them exciting enough to win Faith’s affections (or, I might add, Old Parn’s).

If you’re drinking in Branca in Oxford, then (food: very good, by the by), I’d choose something other than their Verdicchio.

They probably won’t, however, let you choose your waiter.

Rating ??
ABV 12%
Price £8.99 from The Co-op (currently reduced — would you believe it? — to £4.49. At which price, fair doos, try it for yourself). Needless to say, it costs a fair crack more than that at Branca.

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2010 review

… has got some chub — and is (perhaps) wearing clothes that’re ever so slightly too tight to be quite becoming

Macro closeup of the label of a bottle of Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc

Today, a humble South African Chenin Blanc did battle with THE GARCLICKIEST PESTO IN THE WORLD. A meal so astoundingly garlic-laced that my colleagues tomorrow will be fucking reeling at the stench of it off me.

Anyway — how did our plucky Chenin Blanc stand up to it all? Not too badly, really. I mean, it fizzes a bit in the gob (in protest, I guess), but the acidity and body mean that it’s not utterly overwhelmed. A respectable performance.

And the wine itself (when experienced outside the blast radius of the garlic)? Perfectly nice. There’s a slight veginess to the smell that I’m not totally wild about: it’s not the classiest honker, to be honest. But absolutely fine. Some (not unpleasant) soap and flowers wafting around there.

Taste-wise, again, it’s perfectly acceptable. That vegetable quality is there (though, I should emphasise, in the background). Otherwise, there’s a homely cheniny podginess to it — fullfruited, syrupy, yet acidic. A wine that’s got some chub, and (perhaps) is wearing clothes ever so slightly too tight for it.

Verdict

So what do I think? Acceptable. And, yeah, it’s fairly cheap (indeed, bloody cheap, if you pick it up before 2 May as part of Majestic’s 20% off South Africa deal)

But I love Chenin Blanc. And this doesn’t really zing and sparkle in the way the grape can. Most of all, I’d like it to be fresher. And to lose that slight ponk of compost.

Then again, given the amount of near-raw garlic in me right now, I’m scarcely in a position to talk.

Rating ★★ (2 stars — given the price)
ABV 13%
Price £5.99 at Majestic (currently £4.79 if bought with another South African bottle — until 2 May)

Wine Society half bottles roundup

In which three French half-bottles from The Wine Society are put through the rigorous Parn tasting process

In the foreground, Crozes-Hermitages; background, The Society's Chablis and White Burgundy

I’ve written before about my lonely love of half bottles. Below are my brief impressions of three French wines, all available in half bottles from The Wine Society.

The Society’s White Burgundy

Planted resolutely at the dry, pure, stony end of the (vibrant) chardonnay spectrum, this is delicious, appetising. Aromatically discrete, yes, with a bracing dose of lemon-rind bitterness. Finding small fault, it’s just a touch thin, a touch watery. But at the price, I feel almost churlish saying so.

Rating ??? (3 stars)
Price £4.50 from The Wine Society

The Society’s Crozes Hermitages

Roughish, somewhat stalky and austere. There’s a fair bit of bitterness and tannin — and a certain coaly quality, like that stuffy-headed smell I remember from my grannie’s coal scuttle.

In the gob it’s a little viagra online cheapest lighter than I’d expected, with some red fruit to counteract all the gruffness. There’s also a bit of orange in there — orange oil/essence, not juicy, fresh orange.

Fine for a midweek slurp, though a little rough and unbalanced.

Rating ?? (2 stars)
Price £5.25 from The Wine Society (but no longer on the site)

The Society’s Chablis

Slate and peach and cream. It fills your nose like the smell of summer rain. In the gob, it’s appealingly plump — though with a fair old dose of acidity. A good bit of citrus there.

Proper dry stuff. Nice. With simple, unadorned seafood, this would be delightful. My mouth’s watering already.

Rating ??? (3 stars)
Price £5.95 from The Wine Society

Castillo de Tafalla Angel’s Selection Rose review

… is like a character in a trashy romance novel — for drinking now, asking questions later

A macro shot of the label of a bottle of Castillo de Tafalla rose from Spain

Before we start, I’d just like to tell y’all: this is a review of a free sample I received from Naked Wines. Obviously it receives no special treatment as such, but, yeah, just so you know, right?

Okay. Here’s a wine that’s simple, fruity, easy and goes down very readily. In all respects, then, it’s rather like a character in a trashy romance novel.

In contrast to roses such as the Paxton Shiraz Rose I wrote about a while ago, this one’s far lighter, without that reddy tannin, that grip on your gob.

And it’s a real fruit bomb. A fruit bonbon bomb. The raspberry bonbon, obviously. It’s even the same colour. And it’s a bit sugary, too, bit sweet. Yup, this wine is pink as you like. It’s smooth going down, leaving you very little to think about.

Which is maybe how you like it, I guess.

Me, I prefer a bit of intellectual discourse, y’know? Maybe a few minutes’ talk about the likelihood of stable buy clomid united states democracy in Egypt, or the merits of the Oxford comma. Before the going down, I mean.

Verdict

This is a wine that fulfils a particular purpose. It’s not really a wine to criticise or review in depth (SPOT THE INHERENT CONTRADICTION IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE FOR A MYSTERY PRIZE). It’s a drink-now-ask-questions-later kind of wine. Where ‘later’ may be defined as ‘when you suddenly realise you’ve got reeling drunk without noticing’.

Perfectly decent, simple fare, in other words, if pretty much bereft of complexity. And very easy.

Buy it to take along a barbecue or something. Yeah, you’re always going to bloody barbecues, aren’t you? You strike me as the chilled out kind of individual who’d be coming down with barbecue invitations.

And with a bottle of Castillo de Tafalla rose in hand and an enigmatic smile, who knows what romantic plotlines you might kick off. You old dog.

Rating ?? (2 stars)
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.99 from Naked Wines (£5.33 to members)

Reserve de la Saurine 2010 Review

… is an honest (if brusque) young peasant of a wine

Marks & Spencer's Reserve de la Saurine. The label depicts a French estate (and a drip of red wine has streaked its way down the paper)

Well, here’s a wine that’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared — and a good deal better than our last disastrous encounter with an M&S ‘dine in for £10’ bottle.

It’s a Rhoney kind of red (not from the Rhone region itself, which doubtless helps keep the price down, but from a satellite region and made from Rhoney grapes Grenache, Carignan and Syrah.)

It’s quite nicely rounded (though that does give way to harshness on the finish), with a tannic weight to it. There’s a bit of a metallic tang to it too, perhaps (surely I can’t be the only one who once sucked on a mouthful of coins as a child? What’s that? I am? Oh shut up.) In other words, it’s the kind of wine you’d describe as rustic. Unpretentious.

An honest, rather brusque, young peasant of a wine.

There’s some fruit, yeah (lucky peasant nabbed himself a punnet of cherries), and a herby, stalky bite. No oak, so it’s fresh and supple.

Verdict

Be warned: the tannic roughness does build up, so it’s probably more of a food-partner than a solo quaffer. All considered, though — the price in particular — it’s not at all bad.

(Still, I wasn’t too heartbroken to consign half of it to my bolognese sauce. These peasants mustn’t be allowed to rise above their station, after all.)

Rating ★★ (2 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £5.99 from Marks & Spencer

Picco del Sole Falanghina 2009 review

… will give you jelly babies, aniseed and bolognese sauce — but only if you manage to decork the blighter

A bottle of Falanghina, an Italian white wine. Simple black and yellow label. The bottle, fresh from the fridge, is misted with condensation

So — bottle 4 of my six-bottle taster case from Naked Wines (previous Naked reviews: Mistral Sauvignon Blanc, Tor del Colle Montepulciano and Burgo Viejo Rioja). How will this little Falanghina fare?

Crack the blighter open (may I mention, en passant, that this is the third Naked bottle I’ve had that’s been an absolute rotter to uncork? A proper strenuous veins-standing-out-from-your-temples rotter) and you’re greeted by a delicious aroma. Cut grass, lemon sherbets, exotic fruits.

Yum McYum.

At a waft of this (if you’re anything like me), you’ll be slopping wine on the table in your eagerness to slosh it into your glass.

And, yes, in the gob it’s lively, too. I have to say, it doesn’t quite live up to the fizzing promise of its smell, but it’s still good. That lemon sherbert carries through, along with smidgins of other confectionery (green jelly babies, mayhap, and a good dose of aniseed). There’s a plump helping of mango there, too.

It’s tempered with a hint of bitterness (a pleasant quality in a white like this, I always think) — and, most interestingly, it has a pronounced savoury quality that puts me in the mind of a bolognese sauce. Sounds a bit quirky, eh? Well, don’t get me wrong: it’s not powerfully meaty. But I’d say the flavour is quite noticeably there.

It’s certainly not your usual mass-market Italian white.

There is, though, a little bit of mouthshrivel at the end, so (if you’re not drinking with supper) have it with some crisps, salted nuts or what have you. If this quality were eliminated (as in the delicious Contesa Pecorino I reviewed the other day), I’d like it even more.

Verdict

In my Mistral review, I raised a small doubt about the Naked Wines price model, and, yeah, my words broadly hold true for this wine, too: at Naked member price (£6), it’s a friggin’ steal; at full price (£9), it’s certainly not a rip-off, but I reckon I could find better.

But if you’re Naked? Get in there with Falanghina, I say. Just be prepared for a bit of wrestling and heaving beforehand.

Rating ★★ (2 stars)
ABV
Price £8.99 from Naked Wines (members receive 33% off). Link is to the new 2010 vintage.