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.)

Winsome White Wines from Waitrose

In which Old Parn points a quivering finger at two excellent wines you’d be a damned fool not to go and buy right now

Two bottles of wine (a Gruner Veltliner and an Albarino) standing side by side

Here’s an idea. Next time you’re in Waitrose (don’t protest, I know you’re always in there. You’re so middle class.), snag yourself the pair of wines depicted above. Both of them are on offer (yes, yes, my pretties) — 25% off, I think — and both of them are bloody good.

Both are zingy and dry and gob-enlivening as you like. The Vina Taboexa Albarino is all zest and candied lemon and crisp spring mornings; the Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner is stonier, leaner, less fruited. Both of them are goddamn delicious. If this sodding rain would ever stop, you’d be entirely sensible to sneak out into the evening sunshine with a bottle of either.

Snap them up (potentially in bulk) while they’re ludicrously cheap. That is, in the next two days.

BUT STAY AWAY FROM WAITROSE IN PUTNEY. Those’n’s are mine.

Quinta da Espiga Branco 2010 (Casa Santos Lima) review

… may not be a bona fide speed potion mixed by a malicious child — but is certainly nice enough to warrant a shambling kind of jog as you go to fetch your wallet

A childhood photograph of Old Parn and his sister (who has a teddy bear)What was the first cocktail you ever made?

Mine was a speed potion.

In order that I may elaborate further, I’d like to introduce you to my sister — Young Parn, Koozle or Parnell’s Sister, as she is variously known — who, by virtue of being two years my junior, qualified for that most precious form of sibling love: merciless, vile-spirited deceit and manipulation.

Spare a thought, o reader, for Parnell’s Sister.

Spare a thought for her, specifically, as she sits, her eager gob agape, listening to me telling her that I am training to be a wizard.

YES, ROWLING, DID YOU GET THAT? A WIZARD. ROLL THAT UP IN YOUR FORTHCOMING PLAGIARISM COURT SUMMONS AND SMOKE IT. PARN GOT THERE FIRST.

‘What kind of magic can you do?’ asks Koozle, her eyes a-sparkle with gullible excitement.

‘Oh, well, I’m not very good yet,’ I nonchalantly reply, with the inspired modesty of the sociopathic liar. ‘But they did teach me how to make a speed potion.’

‘A speed potion?’

‘A speed potion.’

Next thing, we’re in the kitchen. Of course. And — inspired in equal parts by George’s Marvellous Medicine and innate pre-pubescent sadism — I am making my sister a speed potion.

God knows (and I hope the old chap will one day find it in his heart to forgive me for) what I put into that horrific concoction. I’m fairly sure (sorry, Katie, sorry) there was Fairy Liquid. There was definitely a spoonful of marmite, ketchup, every variety of fruit squash available, a generous measure of milk and an old fruit pastille.

And — of course — in order for the potion to have its full effect, it had to be drunk all in one go. Which, to her further great credit, Young Parn managed with aplomb. I hardly even think she tasted it, honestly, so consumed was she with manic anticipation.

HOW DO I KNOW IF IT WORKED?‘ she screamed, jiggling impatiently from one stumpy little leg to the other.

‘Um … Well, you know how I’m faster at running than you, normally? Well — I’ll race you to the bottom of the garden. If it’s worked, you’ll beat me.’

Reader, it is a testament to the inordinate power of the placebo effect that she might even have done so even if I hadn’t slowed my own running pace to a crawl. Because never again have I seen my sister run as she did that day — spurred like a adrenaline-pumped greyhound by the intensity of her misguided belief in her despicable sibling’s lies.

A shot of the (yellow) label of a bottle of this Portuguese white. In the background, a glass (out of focus), chopping board and cutlery

Quinta da Espiga doesn’t taste like my speed potion (or what I imagine my speed potion might’ve tasted like. I mean, Christ. You don’t imagine I was idiotic enough to try it, do you?) — but it does taste a tiny bit like the second cocktail I ever made: my own top secret recipe consisting of tropical fruit squash, orange squash and water. Mixologists, take note.

That’s not to say that this wine tastes like a mixture of cheap concentrates concocted by a malicious child. Oh dear. This is going all wrong, isn’t it? Because I actually rather like the stuff. In a yes-very-nice-move-right-along kind of way. It’s sharp and bracing and gob-parchingly dry, and, yeah, there’s a backdrop of citrus and tropical fruits that reminds me of my childhood squash-mixing — in case you hadn’t picked that bit up from the laboured anecdote which consumes far more of the length of this post than does the actual review-type bit.

AND WHAT, PRECISELY, IS WRONG WITH THAT, PRAY?

Considering it’s only 12.5% ABV, it’s punchy as you like. It’s got a kind of steeliness to it that I rather admire, and it’s a little forthright, a little dominant — in a polite, middle-class, fluffy-Anne-Summers-handcuffs kind of way.

So whilst I can’t pretend it’ll make you run across the garden at twice your normal speed, I’d contend that — at well under £7 — it’s nice enough to warrant a shambling kind of jog across to fetch your wallet and order a bottle to try for yourself.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Lima, Portugal
Grapes Fernao Pires, Vital, Arinto and others, apparently
ABV 12.5%
Price £6.25 from The Wine Society

Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner, Ried Kaferberg 2002 review

… is like the taste equivalent of a massage that makes every single part of your body feel amazing. It’s a perfect, coruscating globe of flavour, tickling every tastebud, expanding to fill every corner of that slavering gob of yours.

A bottle of Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner on a table, alongside glass, plate and squeezed lemon sliceWell, what do you know? 2011’s best sensory experiences occurred in December.

Perhaps mercifully, this blog will concentrate purely on the wine-related amongst them.

Which is the cue for Brundlmayer’s Gruner Veltliner to make its suave entry upon the stage. Yes, with the dregs of Vina Arana Rioja barely rinsed from our glasses, it’s time for another five star rating. Bearing in mind the fact that, over the course of this blog’s existence, I’d previously only awarded five stars to one sodding wine, this is somewhat remarkable. And altogether quite a splendid thing.

Well done, Brundlmayer. Take a bow. Not a deep bow, though. We wouldn’t want any of you spilling.

So what makes it good? It’s like the taste equivalent of a massage that makes every single part of your body feel amazing. It’s a perfect, coruscating globe of flavour, tickling every tastebud, expanding to fill every corner of that slavering gob of yours.

Often, the more complicated and joyously symphonic a wine is, the less point there is in describing its flavour in any detail. Because I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty damn hard to conceptualise an enormous itemised list of flavours. But let’s pick out a few of them, shall we? Just for shits and giggles.

So it’s priligy low price woody and fruity and rounded. Golden, honied, rich. There’s aniseed there, and spice and a fucking ecstatic (almost chilli-like) kick somewhere in the middle of it all, just in case you’d stopped paying attention (you hadn’t). Very goddamn nice. And pear. Pear! Juicy, ripe, mellow pear. (Like that pear you gave me, Amy. That was a nice pear.)

I hadn’t had an aged Gruner Veltliner before. On the strength of this, I’d do more than recommend it. I’d put you in a headlock until you agreed to try some too. It’s still got that sexy leanness I associate with the grape, but with a whole new layer of controlled richness and blossom and goldenness that makes me think of a lovely (and doubtless expensive) white Burgundy.

Oh. Yup. This was good. Boy, this was good.

So here’s to sensory experiences, eh? Bring it on, January. Bring it the fuck on.

Rating ????? 5 stars (outstanding)
Region Kamptal
Grape Gruner Veltliner
Price I bought mine from The Wine Society for something in the region of £30. I can’t find this vintage anywhere, now. Majestic has the a different Brundlmayer GV from 2010 for £14.99, which is doubtless worth a go, though will be a different beast entirely.

Jurancon Sec Chant des Vignes, Domaine Cauhapé 2010 review

… doesn’t play remotely hard to get: extrovert, fruit-laden, immediate

A closeup of the label of this Jurancon Sec half bottle from The Wine SocietyThis Jurancon — made from the outstandingly named Gros Manseng grape — has that grassy, springy, verdant burst that you associate with Sauvignon Blanc. And, like Sauv Blanc, it’s mightily accessible. A garden-friendly, pub-friendly, gob-friendly kind of wine. Not remotely playing hard to get, it’s extrovert, fruit-laden, immediate.

But here’s where it beats the pub Sauv Blancs. Yes, it’s got that front-of-mouth accessibility. But it stays in balance. It doesn’t gank up your mouth or descend into sugary blandness. Instead, it’s taut and toned throughout. Balanced, yeah?

Good, simple stuff. And, yes, I’m reviewing another half bottle. Because I like half bottles. Alright?

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Jurancon, south-west France
Grape Gros Manseng
ABV 13.5%
Price £4.95 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

Alsace Pinot Noir, Kuentz-Bas Collection 2005 review

… will help you avoid meting out acts of equine violence should you be confronted with the prospect of a Pinot Noir Twitter shindig

Closeup of this Alsace Pinot Noir's label: gold and brown, with a simple crest and typographic focus

Way back — way, way back — there was some kind of pinot noir ‘event’ on Twitter. ‘Let’s all drink pinot noir,’ the governing philosophy of said event seemed to be, ‘and pretend that doing so has some kind of higher purpose or conceptual justification.’

Well, Old Parn doesn’t necessarily need conceptual justification to wrench the cork from a bottle of PN. But one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, does one? (Or, in the words of Young Parn, many years ago, one doesn’t knock a gift horse in the mouth. Which would be even more churlish.)

Anyhow. Conceptually justified to the max, I took out the above-depicted half bottle of Kuentz-Bas. And rather fine it was, too: poised and sharp, cialis online to buy fruited and taut. Its colour was pale, russet-tinged. Once it’d been out in the glass a while, it really bloomed and softened. Relaxed.

(A little like that gift horse did, once it realised I wasn’t about to crack it a swift uppercut to the jaw.)

Verdict

Supple and smooth, with a tiny gruff stemminess at the back of it. Beautiful to hold in your gob. Light, effervescent.

It is an absolute avalanche of joy to be able to buy a wine like this in a half bottle. Thank you, once again, Wine Society; thank you. And thank you, Pinot Noir Day. Or whatever your name was.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Alsace
Grape Pinot Noir
ABV 13%
Price £7.50 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

Fiano Sannio 2010 review

… is the kind of white wine I’m very happy to shove in my face, repeatedly, perhaps even to excess. And at this price, you should shove it into yours, too.

Macro closeup of the label of Marks & Spencer's Fiano — black lettering on a golden crestMy first question: what the hell are you doing there, like some big slug, in front of your computer?

God knows. Because you should already be halfway to your nearest Marks & Spencer to seize a bottle (or twelve) of this Fiano. It’s bloody good, you see. And, until early September, it seems to be reduced to an almost insultingly cheap £5.99.

It’s a lemony ol’ bugger — with a pleasantly zesty, unapologetic waft to it. A proper noseful.

And once it’s made its way to your gob? Again, unapologetic: it’s not timid, thin or reticent. It doesn’t linger around on the fringes; it dives on in. A good, solid mouthful, with a zip and a skip to it. It’s rounded, balanced. You can drink it without food and your mouth won’t shrivel up like an old woman in a bath.

Listen, what I’m saying is that this is really nice — and, right now, a staggeringly good bargain. In no way do I expect to run up against a wine like this for less than £6. It’s the kind of white wine I’m very happy to shove in my face, repeatedly, perhaps even to excess. And at this price, you should shove it into yours, too.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good) — though, reduced to this price, it’s worthy of 5.
Region Sannio
Grape Fiano
ABV 13.5%
Price £7.99 from Marks & Spencer, reduced to £5.99 until 4 September

Spy Valley Riesling review

… doesn’t have that too-big-for-its-clingy-dress quality that some New World Rieslings have, thank the risen Lord

A glass of wine photographed close up and misted with condensationGod alive, I love Riesling. Did I mention that before? Oh, fuck it, I don’t really care if I did.

And Spy Valley. We all remember Spy Valley Gewurtztraminer, right? Well, this is the Spies’ take on the Riesling grape. And — what do you know? — they made a good job of it: this wine is elegant, poised, fresh.

Grapefruit is (I’ll warrant) what you’ll notice caroming vengefully out of the glass towards you. Both nose-wise and in your mouth. And, yes, there’s that dab of sweetness that I hardly even want to mention because a woeful number of people are unaccountably terrified of the notion of a tiny dab of sweetness. I mean, Christ. This is the same civilisation which unaccountably fetishises bloody chocolate for pity’s sake. Ooh! Chocolate! So decadent! So sinful!

Get a life, generic viagra online overnight delivery won’t you?

But, yes, anyhow. This is a Riesling with balance. It doesn’t hang around in your gob quite as long as some Rieslings, but it’s not a flash in the pan, either. And not an ounce of the sweetness cloys. Not a sodding ounce.

This is a lot better than many of its ilk. It’s not monstrously complex, but it’s incredibly smooth and clean and beguiling. It doesn’t have that too-big-for-its-clingy-dress quality that some (overripe, over-alcoholled) New World Rieslings have. And I like it a fair old bit. But it’s quite expensive. Spend that much on a German Riesling and you could get an absolute goddamn blinder.

Or spend it all on chocolate, if you prefer. You massive great weirdo.

Rating ??? 3 stars (good)
Region Marlborough
Grape Riesling
ABV 13%
Price £9.95 from The Wine Society, £12.06 from Bibendum

Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2009 review

… is a welcome contrast to some Sauvignon Blancs, that are a bit like ketamine-laced teenagers, spoiling for whatever it is ketamine-laced teenagers spoil for

A bottle of Domaine du Salvard — typical French wine label, signed by Delaille

Ah, that’s rather a lovely Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire. There’s the grass and the snap of it — but also a swoonsome waft of blossom. Suck’n’swirl and you may find yourself encountering bit of sweet, toffeed, fudgy stuff in there.

It’s quite soft, even if you let it linger — in contrast to some Sauvignon Blancs, that are a bit like ketamine-laced teenagers, water pill vs lasix spoiling for whatever it is ketamine-laced teenagers spoil for. You’ve seen them. The rap singers.

Yeah. It’s gently, restrained. Not too harsh or zingy — it nibbles rather than bites. Elegant. And fine, fine value for thy wodge.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Loire
Grape Sauvignon Blanc
ABV 12%
Price £7.50 from The Wine Society (link is to 2010 vintage, as 2009 is sold out)

Pouilly-Fume 2009, Seguin (half bottle) review

… is a sharp, acidic gob-flasher who reads Zola novels and plays the bassoon

A half bottle of Pouilly-Fume from the Wine SocietyThis is a delicious wine. Buoyant zing, spring leaves. I love it when a sharp, acidic gob-flasher like this is backed up by that bready wholeness that rounds it out and gives it depth.

A flasher who reads Zola novels and plays the bassoon.

Almost criminally drinkable, it’s lovely, balanced, fresh. A long-lasting tongue-tingler. And it comes in a half-bottle, alright?

Legend.

Again, here’s what Sauvignon Blanc can do, kids. (And when I say ‘kids’, obviously I mean ‘over-18-year-olds’.) Sauvignon Blancs can be exquisitely balanced — fresh, immediate, springy — yet non-cloying.

Lovely stuff.

Rating 4 stars (very good)
Region Pouilly Fume, Loire
Grape Sauvignon Blanc
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.50 for a half bottle from The Wine Society