The Irrational Purchase of St Emilion

In which Old Parn explores his difficult relationship with authority, his deification of Waitrose, and his peculiar peccadillo for the eponymous Bordeaux sub-region.

Me, holding a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion 2011I have a problem with authority. Yeah, I bleached my hair and defied my school dress code to exactly the calculated degree of defiance that’d piss people off but not get me told off. But that’s not what I mean. I have a problem with being arbitrarily dictated to, sure. But I also have a problem with dictating.

You see, I’m not a rational wine-drinker. And I don’t really know that much about wine.

And I think it might actually be a turding great problem, y’know, that — when writing about wine — there’s a huge pressure to be an authority.

The only context in which we engage with wine opinion, most of us (if we engage with it at all), is a context in which the one with the opinion is authoritative and definite; objective.

But most of our own personal engagements with wine (even — dare I venture? — those of us who write about the fucking stuff) are leagues away from objectivity.

Here’s an example.

I’m, right now, drinking a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion (currently 25% off, making it £9.99). Why am I drinking it? Well. First up, it was on offer. I don’t typically buy wine because it’s on offer (as — working in retail myself — I nurture an informed suspicion of retailers’ motives in discounting). But when it’s a Waitrose own label, I figure that’s okay. Because saying a product is Waitrose own label is a bit like saying a person is Jesus own label.

So, it was on offer. Fine.

I was in the supermarket, at 7pm, buying myself dinner. My stock of wine at home was running low (normal people look in my wine cupboard and laugh incredulously when they see my idea of ‘low stock’. I realise this).

I saw the St Emilion and I picked it up. Why? I’m not sure. Rationally, I wouldn’t tend to buy Bordeaux at £10–15 from a supermarket. I’d calculate that my money would be spent better elsewhere, in terms of the quality of wine I’d probably end up with.

But I didn’t make my decision rationally. I often don’t. This evening, I bought St Emilion because I loved the idea of St Emilion. I love the fucking words St Emilion, alright? I love the fact that it’s characterised as a kind of underdog amidst the Bordeaux sub-regions, in exactly the same irrational way in which I love Armagnac for not being Cognac. I love the way it sounds so much more elegant than Pomerol or Medoc.

I didn’t think (even bearing in mind the discount) that this bottle would be the best way, objectively, of spending my ten quid in Waitrose’s wine department. Honestly, I didn’t care that much.

I wanted the idea of a St Emilion more than I wanted to make an objective decision.

And now that I’m drinking the blighter, I’m at a loss as to whether I should write much more about it. On the one hand, I shouldn’t — because I’m so far from impartial. On the other hand, I should — because I’m so far from impartial.

Y’SEE WHAT I’M SAYING?

We don’t engage with wine in objective ways and situations, unless we’re (a) in a tasting, (b) being asked our opinion in a rather serious manner or (c) the kind of dull wanker who writes a wine blog.

In the same way, we tend to choose the restaurant meal we fancy, rather than the one we judge objectively will be best.

I’m enjoying this St Emilion, incidentally. I’m enjoying it because I’m writing to you about it (natch), and you’re a really great listener. And I’m enjoying it because it’s sort of reminding me of the time when I went to look round a prospective houseshare and one of the people living there was studying for one of the various wine qualifications and was partway through a blind tasting. He gave me a glass of the wine he was trying to identify (which turned out to be a modestly priced generic Bordeaux), and the St Emilion I’m drinking right now sort of reminds me of that.

Which was goddamn ages ago. But the past was quite nice at times. When it wasn’t being almightily tedious.

I’m enjoying it because it’s Friday, and because I had a damn good martini beforehand. And I’m enjoying it because I like the idea that I’m drinking a Waitrose own St Emilion with a chunk of rare meat and a mushroom and onion sauce.

Is it good? I don’t — honestly — care all that much. I mean, it’s not bad. I’d care if it were bad. It’s somewhere between nice and very good, and might even be excellent. But might, after all, just be nice.

I couldn’t give a crap. And I hope that’s alright with you.

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

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

Chivite Gran Feudo 2005 Reserva review

… will make you go Pfooouf

The label of this bottle of Gran Feudo — gold and black lettering, and a dribble of red wine running down it

I wrenched the cork from this blighter and snatched it up to my nose (by now, uncorking and bottle-neck-sniffing form one seamless movement — almost, I like to think, choreographed in its elegance). And — to the empty rooms of Flat 7 — I made a kind of wow-type exclamation.

Actually, to be honest, it probably went something like, ‘Pfooouf!’

(An approbatory ‘Pfooouf!’, though. Not an I-just-smelt-something-a-bit-farmyardy kind of ‘Pfooouf!’. It pays to be clear about these things.)

That’s not to say there’s not a bit of the farmyard about Gran Feudo. Assuming this is a farmyard in which bulls tear up and down and spill dark blood on grey flagstones — rather than some disgusting, spiritually impoverished Bernard Matthews job.

A smokey, inky depth here — from a wine that’s dark, rich, concentrated. It’s like the mixture of blood and sweat in your gob from that fight you just had. But you should’ve seen the other guy.

Oh, yeah, and you could easily keep this wine a while longer and get even more out of it, I reckon.

So. You may’ve gathered, I like red wines like this. Red wines with a bit of earth and blood and soul to them. And I really like the fact that this critter costs a good bit less than a tenner. That, Waitrose, is sodding commendable.

Or, to put it another way, Pfooouf.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Navarra
Grapes Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
ABV 13.5%
Price £8.54 from Waitrose online

Bricco Rosso Suagna Langhe Rosso 2006 review

… is neither despicable nor mucky. Or, if it is a tiny bit mucky, only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way.

A bottle of Suagna from The Wine SocietyYet again, a staggeringly good value Italian red from The Wine Society. If they’re not careful, they’re going to start topping consumer satisfaction lists, y’know?

I mean, look at the despicable muck you could be buying for £3.50 more than this. Look at it. Weep.

I said WEEP.

This is neither despicable nor mucky. Well, maybe it’s a tiny bit mucky — but only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way. You know. Aniseed, a bit of leather and bramble?

Nothing wildly unexpected, I suppose. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that it’s £6.50.

Good point.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Piedmont
Grape Dolcetto
ABV 13.5%
Price £6.50 from The Wine Society

Potel Aviron Moulin-a-Vent 2005 review

… triumphantly reminds us that the word ‘fruity’ actually refers to real, honest fruit — not the synthetic sugar-water peddled by oily bell-ends in ugly suits

Label of this bottle of Beaujolais from Moulin a Vent. Simple, text on white

What have we here? A bottle of Beaujolais, yeah. This’n hails from the region of Moulin-a-Vent — one of the ten so-called ‘crus’ (specific small areas of Beaujolais that are classified as the top regions).

Which is all, doubtless, very nice to know.

The reason I mention it, though, is that you may already have an idea what to expect of a nippy little Beaujolais. And this Moulin-a-Vent may upend your expectations.

Because Beaujolais is the Lolita of the red wine world, except (I damn well hope) with a bit less implicit moral degeneracy. We expect a Beaujolais, don’t we, to be consumed in the very bloom of its youth? All flowers and fruits and heady perfume.

But it needn’t always be thus. And this is one wine that you may not want to tip down your gullet before it’s even reached its second birthday.

And so — with the aid of my parents and some damn nice lamb leg steaks — I decided to give this six-year-old a whirl.

And a rather damn good whirl it was, too.

Verdict

First, can I just say: fruit. Fruit. This is what I want to taste when someone tells me a wine is ‘fruity’. I want it to be — like this — as if I’d just crammed my thirsty gob with a handful of sharp, wild berries, picked from, oh, I don’t know, a forest thicket or something. All bright and sharp and savage, the shudder-inducing burst of flavour giving way to the bitter, matt cud of the skins.

That’s fruity. Let us never forget, and allow some oily bell-end in an ugly suit sell us the notion that ‘fruity’ actually means ‘tastes like fucking synthetic fruit-flavoured sugar-water’.

So this is fruity like wild cherries fished from your the pocket of your grandad’s tweed jacket — overlaid with spice and tobacco and polish and leather. Still youthful, oh yes — but this is a kind of autumnal youth, a rustic youth. Not a lab-grown, foetal youth.

I love wine like this — wine that combines a come-and-get-me vitality with a self-confident integrity.

And reminds us that the word fruity belongs to us, to the hedgerows, to the soil — not to some bunch of pink-tied FMCG wankers.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais
Grape(s) Gamay
ABV 13%
Price £10.99 from The Wine Society (no longer available)

Santa Lucia Primitivo 2009 review

… will grant you that delicious deep, scented freshness of your garden after a summer rainstorm — but without the risk of some bastard tree dripping down your neck

The Wine Society's Santa Lucia Primitivo from Puglia. Black, yellow and cream label with a crest

Inky and polishy — a rugged, straight-down-the-line kind of wine. Full in the gob, spicy, big and macho. Dark fruits and cocoa.

There’s a good dose of that rough, mouth-gripping tannin in there, so this bad boy sits comfortably alongside punchy, rustic fodder. Tomato sauces, meatballs, you know the drill.

‘Rugged’, ‘macho’, ‘rough’ — yeah, alright. But I wouldn’t want you thinking this is entirely a wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am wine.

Take a waft of it, for starters, and you’re met by that delicious, deep, woody, scent-laden freshness you get if you step out into the garden after a summer rainstorm. Except, this way, you don’t get some bastard tree dripping icy water down your neck.

That said, this isn’t your port of call if you’re looking for scintillating complexity. But, um, have you seen how much this costs? Yup. Chuck it down you when you’re after a comforting, grown-up evening fix that’ll blot out the buffets and dents of the day.

Rating ??? (3 stars)
ABV 14%
Price £6.50 from The Wine Society

Musar Jeune Rouge 2008 review

… is like inhaling the contents of a bouquet garni. In a damned good way, let me add

Macro closeup of the label of a bottle of Musar Jeune from Chateau Musar in Lebanon. Cursive typeface adorns a white label

Whoa!

Crack this bad boy open and it’s like you just inhaled the contents of your herb rack.

Sometimes a wino will say that something smells herby — then you smell it yourself and go, ‘Eh? Wot? Smells o’ bloody wine to me!’ So let me assure you: this really does smell herby. It’s actually a lot like walking into one of those marvellously crowded little shops that sell every oriental spice, herb and seasoning you could imagine (and several you couldn’t). It even has that same slight headachey mustiness to it.

But, c’mon. Get it in your gob, why don’t you?

Because it’s good. It’s very good. The depth of the herbs is there, yeah, along with a sizzling tingle of pepper. Then the spices come through: cinnamon, nutmeg and the gang.

So far you’d be forgiven for thinking it all sounds pretty gruff.

… But it’s actually remarkably soft and accessible. Fresh (unbaked), with a fair bit of fruit — cooked plum, red fruits, blueberry — as well as wood, chocolate, aniseed on the finish. Rather goddarn rounded, don’t y’know?

Verdict

I’d buy this like a fucking shot. I mean, look at the price. It’s full, generous, balanced, long, rewarding.

Very good indeed.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £8.60 from Summertown Wine Cafe (buy in store only), £9.25 from Bakers & Larners

Act Five Shiraz Viognier 2009 review

… is an alluringly androgynous wine — the result of some white grape on red grape action — and is bloody nice for it

A bottle of Act Five in the sunshine, on a wooden garden table

Well, here was a nifty young wine. A slinkily androgynous wine. One where you’re pretty sure you’ve got its gender right — but there remains that frisson of doubt.

This androgyny comes courtesy of the blend, which combines the grape varieties Shiraz and Viognier*. Yeah: Viognier. So what we have is some white grape on red grape action. If we were in Othello, some tedious fart called Brabantio would be going mental at this interracial tupping.

It is my hope that today’s attitudes will be less blinkered.

Anyhow (Jesus Christ, Parn, get to the point) it may just be that my tastebuds were so frigging grateful for anything in the aftermath of this week’s Le Froglet horrors — but I thought this was a bloody good wine. A bloody alluring wine.

It’s really full, properly blasting out that peppery blackcurrant POWER that you’d expect of our pal Shiraz. There’s some oak in there, some earthy bitterness, some toasty (um) toastiness. This (in other words) is the part of the wine that’s strapping and crocodile-wrestling as you like.

But, oh boy, it’s all lifted where to order cialis online safe thanks to a (most seductive) lightness. A freshness. A heady breath of spring breezes across fecund meadows.

This same freshness is fucking transformative, what’s more, when it comes to the blackcurrant. Because (to my gob, anyhow) full-on dark fruit flavours can get a mite tedious and two-dimensional, despite their initial appeal. But this wine sacrifices nothing of the intensity of the fruit, yet renders it complex, subtly floral, light. Blackcurrant and elderflower.

Fuck yeah.

Verdict

Okay, yes, so I liked this wine rather a lot. I liked it even more when I found out that it costs only goddamn £7.49. £7.49, by the risen Christ! (Yes, Parn can do topical expletives too.)

It tastes a good bit more expensive than that.

So if you haven’t yet recognised the allure of a subtle bit of vinous gender-bending, I implore you to get with the programme, you dull old Brabantio, you.

Rating ???? (4 stars)
ABV 14%
Price £7.49 from Avery’s
* For those who like to know this stuff, Syrah + Viognier is the signature combo of the celebrated Cote-Rotie region of France.

Dao Sul Cabriz 2007 review

… is furlongs away from those horrible, flippant, fruit-stuffed wines that taste as if the producer were aiming at 10 year old schoolchildren

Label of a bottle of Portugese red wine produced by Cabriz. The label is relatively plain with a simple illustration of a building

Briefly.

This is a brawny gob-pleaser of a wine. A blend of Alfrocheiro, Tinta-Roriz and Touriga-Nacional grapes. Not, in other words, the famous ones.

And, you know, what? You should try it.

You should try it because it’s only £6.50. And for that price, this is sodding impressive. It’s not hard-going: there’s a welter of dark, dark fruit in there — but it certainly has an unapologetic bolshiness to it. It’s serious, it’s big. Furlongs away, in other words, from those horrible, flippant, fruit-stuffed wines that taste as if the producer were aiming at 10 year old schoolchildren.

There’s a fair old spedaddle of oak in there (aged six months, we are told, in French oak barrels), which smooths the old boy down a bit.

I say again: fantastic value. This easily equals (or beats) plenty of £10 bottles you could buy in the supermarket/off-license.

(Hap-tip to Graeme Semple, on whose recommendation I bought this bottle.)

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £6.50 from The Wine Society — but (arseflaps!) they don’t have it any more. So my ‘you should try it’, above, is arguably redundant.