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.

Kourtaki, Retsina of Attica review

… has a fair dose of bitterness and a lot of middle-body. A little like a jaded divorcee who’s let himself go to seed.

The yellow label of a bottle of Kourtaki RetsinaGo out and find your nearest coniferous forest. Sure, you probably have one somewhere on your estate, right? Send out the groundsman and tell him to pick a handful of spiny pine leaves.

Then stuff ’em in your gob and chew.

Now. I’ve never actually eaten the leaves of an evergreen tree. But if I did, I expect they’d taste a fair bit like this wine. Which isn’t really that surprising, I guess, given that it’s flavoured with pine resin.

… Which gives it a bitterness and a lot of middle-body. A little like a jaded divorcee who’s let himself go to seed. Compared to oak — a variety of tree we’re more accustomed to encountering in the alcoholic context — it’s much less soft, less opulent, less vanilla’d in the quality with which it endows the wine. There’s a frontloaded, chemical quality to it that must be something of an, um, acquired taste.

(Or, in the words of the excellent Quaffable’s Charles Saunders, ‘Domestos, that pine flavoured aroma designed to leave your palate fresh and clean’.)

Beyond this — well, it’s dry. There’s a little dab of lemony fruit in there, but, really, it’s all about the resin — and talking about any other characteristics of the wine feels a little perverse, given that this is manifestly its dominant property. I guess these things are more important if you’re writing a dedicated Retsina blog.

And (on the strength of this) I must confess to being rather glad I’m not.

Rating ★ 1 star (flawed)
Region Attica
Grape Savatiano
ABV 11.5%
Price £5.99 (I think) at Sainsbury’s — who’ve since, it seems, stopped selling it. But it’s at Tesco. If you really want it. For £5.49.

Darting Estate Muskateller Eiswein 2008 review

… is eyebrow-flappingly, toad-paralysingly sweet. Suicide-bombingly sweet. Sweet enough to make the sweetest goddamn kitten photo ON THE WHOLE OF THE INTERNETS seem only mildly touching

A half-bottle of Darting Estate Eiswein. Simple label with crest and traditional typography

Your first clue that you’re in for something out of the ordinary is the fact that this wine is a deep, deep amber.

And it is eyebrow-flappingly, toad-paralysingly sweet. Suicide-bombingly sweet. Sweet enough to make the sweetest goddamn kitten photo ON THE WHOLE OF THE INTERNETS seem only mildly touching.

It’s also very acidic — which is just as well, as it’d otherwise be utterly unmanageable. Because the bite of the acid helps retain a bit of balance.

But when it’s there in your gob, and as you swallow, it’s so damn sweet. I’m going to be straight with you: too sweet. It has that little catch in the back of the throat that you get drinking orange squash with too much concentrate. The colder you can get it, the better this becomes — but even chilled right down in the Dedicated Parn Drinks Fridge, it’s still too throat-cloying, too syrupy.

What’s more, the sweetness makes it hard to discern the rest of the flavours. Which are lovely, deciduous, autumnal, fleshy, ripe: grapes and peaches and sugar, oh my!

This is a crying, weeping, howling great shame.

Verdict

I’m sorry to say that, at £16 for a half-bottle, I can’t recommend this wine. And, oh boy, believe me: I love Eiswein. When I snaffled this from the shelves of M&S, I really thought I was in for a treat.

But, sorry, it’s not a treat.

The worst thing is that, behind the sweetness, there’s a stunning wine, I’m sure of it. Tragically, though, I’m stunned in the wrong kind of way.

Rating ★ (1 star)
ABV 6.5%
Price £16 from Marks & Spencer

Mistral Sauvignon Blanc, Naked Wines

… will underwhelm you. But the people selling it to you? They’ll whelm yo’ ass right off.

A bottle of Mistral Sauvignon Blanc in the foreground, with colourful abstract art on the label. In the background (out of focus) a glass of white wine.

Naked Wines underwhelmed me with this one.

But then (hot damn!) they went right in and fucking whelmed me something proper.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk about the underwhelm, first.

So. Mistral Sauvignon Blanc. A disappointing wine. I mean, it’s not bad. It’s just, well, rather uninspiring.

A bit empty, a bit nothingy.

Rather like Old Parn running the 400m, it starts off energetically enough (though already people are whispering that it’s worryingly thin and pale) — but then it has a really poor finish.

You’ll be snuffling and flaring your nostrils like something out of The Witches in an attempt to get much out of this wine: aromatically, it’s very closed down for so zingy a grape variety. And what aromas you do get out of it are typical, a tad uninteresting. Except (alas) for a faint waft of nappy. I’m sorry. Really, I am. But there it is.

Verdict

Increasingly, I’m coming to think that there’s a small problem with Naked Wines’ model: the ‘full price’ figure seems rather inflated. You see, I’d be chagrined if I’d spent £7.50 on this wine. In fact, I had it for a reduced rate (part of a taster case). But because I have £7.50 as an RRP in my head, I’m psychologically primed for a £7.50-quality wine. Even if I’ve actually paid a good generic viagra prices deal less than that (hell, this is a £5 wine if you’re a member — in which light it suddenly seems a heck of a lot less disappointing).

Alas, £7.50 is still the yardstick I’m measuring it up against. And it falls short.

Don’t take this as an attack on those fine Naked fellows. I remain intrigued and impressed by their business model — and I enjoyed the first two bottles of theirs I reviewed (whilst still harbouring the slight impression of over-optimistic ‘full’ prices, I might add). While this specimen is definitely less good than those other two, it’s still by no means terrible; just unexciting, middle-of-the-road.

So I suppose I’m just saying that, psychologically, their pricing model isn’t quite hitting the right note for me.

Then again, I’ll tell you what is hitting the right note: the fact that, a few hours after I’d casually tweeted a message about my disappointment with this wine, one of the Naked guys was contacting me to offer me my money back on it*.

That, in case you are wondering, is fucking uberwhelming.

Rating ? (1 star) — but ????? for customer service
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.50 from Naked Wines (£5 if you’re a member)
* Fo’ yo’ info, I didn’t take him up on his offer. It may’ve been disappointing, but it wasn’t bad.

Prinz von Hessen Riesling Kabinett 2008

… has (alas) had much of it winning subtlety beaten out of it — leaving it cowed and wretched, cringing in the corner like a maltreated animal

Closeup of the label of Prinz von Hessen Riesling, including a golden coat of arms

Opening a bottle of wine is a time of almost intemperate joy for me. A time pregnant with possibility. My mind conjures the potential delights ensconced within those glassy walls. My focus sharpens. The world narrows to this: the loosing of the cork; the exquisite slow prise of the corkscrew (waiter’s style only, please); the first snatched whiff at the neck of the freshly denuded bottle.

(Before you ask, no, my palms are not sweating.)

What I mean is, there’s a hell of a lot of hope invested in those meagre 750 millilitres of liquid.

And that’s with any halfway respectable wine I open.

With a German Riesling, well, let’s just say that (in terms of relative expectation levels) Obama had it easy.

Because it was Riesling that started me off on all this. This wine business. Riesling that first fascinated me; Riesling that first beguiled me. Riesling that first made me realise how people got so damn into the whole malarkey.

Which is why I opened this bottle of Riesling Kabinett — snaffled in the Wine Society’s January sale — with even greater eagerness than usual.

ALACK, dear reader.

I was disappointed.

For a German Riesling, it’s fairly closed-down aromatically. Some fruit, some lavender and suchlike. But it’s hardly leaping out at you like a mad axe-murderer in a dark alley.

The lavender’s there in the mouth, too — but here’s where the axe-murderer does jump out. And hits you with a swingeing blow of winey buy generic cialis online bosh. It’s overwhelming. Not in a hedonistic pleasures kind of way; in a Blitzkrieg kind of way.

There’s a nice, unexpected hint of toffee to its finish, but unfortunately one that’s ultimately overridden by acid. So kind of like chewing a toffee that’s been soaked in vinegar, then. Which curtails the pleasure somewhat. Once that’s cleared, though, you’re left with some lovely delicate floral, peachy perfumes lingering. This is hands-down the nicest part of the whole experience. And the thing that keeps you going back to your glass, wondering if you got it all wrong.

But you didn’t.

Verdict

This actually reminds me of some of the New World attempts at Riesling that founder because of a climate or style of viticulture that’s unsuited to the strengths of the grape. If I was blind-tasting this, I’d say it was a Riesling from a too-hot part of Australia.

Because it tastes like much of the winning subtlety of the grape has been beaten out of it. Not completely removed, you understand; just cowed and wretched, cringing in the corner like a maltreated animal.

Which makes me sad.

The wine isn’t bad, I should add. But this is a not-inexpensive German Riesling, for Christ’s sake: it could be magical. It should be magical.

Which, given my lofty expectations is all bit of a shame.

You reading this, Obama?

Rating ?
ABV 11.5%
Price £11.95 from The Wine Society (no longer available); £87.32 for six from Bibendum;

Banear Friulano, 2009

… will kick you like a university student’s cheap homemade cocktails

(Sorry, not the best photo; only iPhone camera to hand)

There are a shocking number of extremely poor Italian wines being sold in the UK. So I suppose I oughtn’t to be surprised that Banear Friulano is emphatically mediocre.

At least it’s not terrible. And this is a price point (£5.50) around which congregate a great number of offensively horrible wines. But that’s not really an excuse. And I’m afraid that, taking all the above into account, Banear Friulano still has very little to recommend it.

There’s a slight soapiness of the kind that often lingers also around Soave. And it’s one of those whites that manages simultaneously to be empty and over-concentrated. Leave a mouthful of this too long without swallowing and it’ll kick you like a combination of vodka and nasty cheap grapefruit juice. Like a fresher’s homemade cocktail.

It’s a shame, because before that vodka-grapefruit hits, there’s the tiniest beginning of a creaminess that, had it been permitted to bloom, could’ve made all the difference.

Verdict

I’m being viagra online us pharmacy somewhat negative, although this isn’t — as I’ve said — terrible. It ticks various ‘adequate’ boxes, but I can’t find much to compliment, really. I suppose it’s ‘fresh’ and ‘zingy’, yeah — and a few more of those meaningless Wetherspoons-menu adjectives. And it’d be a fair enough appetiser, if only because, after a glass of it, you’ll be gasping for something else to cast onto the arid plain that your tongue has become.

M&S has a pretty good Friuli for a similar kind of price (I’ll find out its details next time I’m there and update this post accordingly). Drink that instead, and be reminded that neither Italian whites nor this region specifically are necessarily disappointing, even at a reasonable price.

Update: Yeah, that M&S wine I referred to is M&S Friuli Grave Sauvignon Blanc — seems to be a mere £6 at the moment, though I think it’s a bit more at full price. Buy it instead of Banear.

Rating ?????
ABV 13%
Price £5.50 from the Wine Society