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.

What happens when you Drink at Eat?

In which our hero links to his latest guest post — narrating the woeful tale of his attempts to buy wine at Eat restaurant on the South Bank.

A pie and potato from Eat (in disposable pie box) and a mini bottle of Stowells white wineWhen a place calls itself Eat, perhaps that’s, y’know, a kind of subtle hint that the emphasis isn’t on the wine list.

Be that as it may. Defying corporate nomenclature, I decided to put Eat’s wine selection to the test — with characteristic ruthlessness.

Be warned: there are scenes in the following post that readers of a sensitive disposition may find upsetting.

You can read the story of the whole desperate, sorry experience in my guest post across at eVines. Here’s the link.

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.

Pedro Ximenez Don Marcelo Jerez review

… is delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy. Even if it *does* taste of raisins. Because wrinkles can be sexy, too.

A dark brown bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, with out of focus daffodils behindOkay. It’s Valentine’s Day. And in celebration thereof, what better alcoholic beverage than one that tastes MIND-BLOWINGLY STRONGLY of raisins? — thereby reminding you that whilst you may be taut-skinned young grapes right now, one day, you’ll both be shrunken and wrinkly.

BUT YOU’LL STILL TASTE LOVELY.

(Realism beats Romance every time, eh? Just ask TS Eliot if you’re unsure.)

Anyway, I maintain that this is a Romantic wine. It’s big and swingeing and unashamed. It scatters your bed with petals and serenades you with sentiment-sodden ballads. And tenderly crams handful after handful of raisins into your gob.

It is sweet. Really, really, really sweet. Even as you’re pouring it, you’re thinking of molasses and treacle and whatever other viscous liquids you might find appealing. And it’s almost impossibly rich and dark when you get it into your mouth.

It’s hard to believe, in fact, that something can be as sweet as this and still seem, y’know, even vaguely grown-up. Especially when drinking it puts you in mind of cramming your stubby fingers into those little boxes of Sunmaid to extricate the pieces of fruit that’d wedged themselves right into the bottom corners. But it is grown up. Possibly because it’s so outrageously goddamn decadent-tasting. And also because it’s not sickly.

Or, at least — and here, once again, the raisin likeness holds — it’s not sickly unless one consumes it to excess.

In summary: delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy.

A small terracotta dish with ice cream, scattered with dried rose petals

Oh. And may I leave you with a ludicrously specific serving suggestion? Put a glass of this alongside a bowl of rosewater and cardamom ice-cream. Buy the dried rose petals from a nice man in the Iranian deli on High Street Kensington. He may even give you a free biscuit. Then simultaneously boast and congratulate yourself for doing all of the above by photographing it and posting it on your silly little blog.

You pathetic specimen.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Grape Pedro Ximenez
ABV 16%
Price I got mine from The Wine Society some time ago for about £9 (half bottle). But it ain’t there no more, I’m afraid. Sozamonia.

Williams and Humbert 12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry review

… will show you (yet again) that sherry is not just a drink for your grannie.

A half bottle of Williams & Humbert, bathed in red light

Marzipan and meat and cream (so goddamn creamy I want to die). Light wood. Smooth wood. Not cheap wood. But smooth. Dried fruit. And the warm, spirity burn of alcohol caressing your throat.

Your lucky, lucky throat.

Drink it — like I did — with sweet, pink chicken livers, spinach, caramelised onion, pine nuts and the gang. There’s a recipe in the first Moro cookbook that you’d do well to follow. Actually, drink it however you want.

Because, yeah, I’ve said it before. (And I don’t care that I have.) Drink sherry. Sherry is not just a drink for your grannie (though far be it from me to deprive her of it). Sherry is lovely.

This one particularly so.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Type Oloroso
ABV 19%
Price (half bottle) I got mine from Wholefoods, High Street Kensington for an amount I can’t recall. Online, I see it at £6.14 from Cambridge Wine Merchants or at £6.85 from Alexander Hadleigh

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

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

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