Parn Essentials: Clos la Coutale, Cahors

The finest car interiors you ever smelt. Thwack a few bottles of this bloody decent Cahors into your wine rack, if you please. Then go off and read the next chapter of Melmoth the Wanderer.

Bottle of Clos la Coutale Cahors from the Wine Society

‘This is a good one, isn’t it?’

That’s Amy, just based on an initial snoutful of Clos la Coutale. She’s not wrong.

Amy detests it whenever I try to make her guess what she’s drinking (perhaps she’s read this), and inevitably demands to see the bottle. Fortunately, the label on this one resonates powerfully with her (bizarre and reprehensible) predilection for all things Gothic. I mean, for Christ’s sake, she reads tat like this:

Melmoth the Wanderer novel

Back to Clos la Coutale: she likes the smell, she probably likes the label (I didn’t ask). And she likes the appellation, one assumes:

‘Ca-hors… Ca-hors… Ca-ORRR!’

Amy did A-level French. Many years ago.

But what does she actually think of the wine?

‘Car interiors.’

There’s a huge pause after this. Should I be concerned that car interiors are the sole feature of this wine? Especially when I have plentiful firsthand experience of Amy’s car interior.

‘It smells purple. Definitely car interiors.’

The interior of Amy’s car is definitely grey (offset by yellow Labrador hair). But she’s right: Clos la Coutale does smell purple, and has that pleasantly headache-inducing, solvent-imbued fullness of scent you get from a new car.

It’s got a good grip to it (like Amy’s car), and (like our friend Melmoth the Wanderer, I suppose) it’s satanically dark. My own notes (yeah, despite how it may seem, I don’t actually write my blog posts off the cuff; they just read that way) say that it has ‘that gritty hot smokey thing’, whatever the crap that means. It’s got the snap of acidity to it that’s so necessary in a wine like this, keeping it focused and articulate.

What else? It’s Autumnal — ‘rainy’, in Amy’s word (which is brilliant).

At this point, I’m aware that I’ve effectively outsourced the writing of this blog post to Amy. But isn’t that — dear reader — a good thing? Frankly, I’m more interested in Amy’s adjectives than those of a Master of Wine.

I realise that sounds cheap. I have immense respect for Masters of Wine and seek not to denigrate them and their kind. My point is about context. If I were a supermarket buyer, I’d want the MW’s verdict, for sure. But in my kitchen, one negroni in, it’s not really relevant.

Anyhow. Clos la Coutale (which you can and bloody well should order from The Wine Society, £8.50) is the inaugural member of a new series, which I’m calling Parn Essentials. In Parn Essentials, I’ll introduce you to the bottles that most frequently lurk in my wine rack; my vinous staples. I realise it’s scarcely an original formulation, and I spent at least a minute trying to think of a wittier name for the series. Without success.

‘That’s your problem, Parn: your lack of imagination holds you back. That’s why you’ll never be a successful wine blogger.’

Oh Amy. You should read some successful wine bloggers.

Clos Triguedina / Clos Putney High Street / Cahors Blimey

Jesus, if this is what Putney smells like, no wonder SW15 property prices are so bloody high.

Bottle of Cahors. Bloody rare chunks of bavette steak. A*‘Ah, that smells good! It reminds me of Putney.’

Stick that on your label, Clos Triguedina, why don’t you? Putney! Sweet, odiferous Putney, home to possibly the most polluted highstreet in London. Putney, the place in which weekly wipe-downs of my kitchen windowsill would stain cloths black. Ah, Putney!

‘I mean, it’s the kind of wine you used to give me in your flat in Putney.’

O reader! What the hell went wrong, I ask myself, since Putney? Why am I not giving Amy wine like this every sodding evening (or, at least, weekend, in moderation, in a manner consistent with government guidelines on alcohol consumption)? I mean, Christ, I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job, here in Ealing, but no; relative to my barnstorming debut in SW15, my domestic sommelier performance in W5 turns out to be the ‘difficult (ie. shit) second album’. I guess I’ll have to try harder.

…Which might, I suppose, just mean ordering a few cases of Clos Triguedina.

Because it’s bloody good. I mean, you should know, I guess, that the level of aggression behind my fandom of Cahors is sufficient to put your average English football hooligan to shame. I’d certainly start chants about it, if not all-out fistfights. If I could be arsed, I’d steer this already ludicrous comparison off onto some otiose tangent whereby I’d exploit the fact that the letters QPR not only stand for an English football club (so I gather) but also for the phrase ‘quality:price ratio’. But you and I, my buttery little reader, we are beyond such fripperies, aren’t we? I’ll give you the dots; you join ’em. #engagement

Anyhow. Because it’s a Cahors from The Wine Society, I’m predisposed to like this quite a lot. But even bearing that in mind, it’s jolly nice. Dark, blue-tinged, rich, spicy. Tantalisingly vampiric. And all the usual good stuff. Hedgerow fruits, tobacco and darkness.

If I were a patient man, I’d perhaps have kept this a tad longer; I’m pretty sure it’ll be even nicer in a year or two. But I had a thick chunk of bavette steak and a thirst. And perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of my lizard brain, a hankering to cast myself back to those soot- and Malbec-sodden days of Putney Hill.

Rating ★★★★★ 5 stars (excellent)
Wine Clos Triguedina Cahors 2011
Price £14.50 from The Wine Society

Shoehorn in a Tube strike reference, why don’t you?

Shameless. Fucking shameless.

Bottle of Lunate Fiano on a chopping board

Wowch, hello, Lunate Fiano.

This is a properly powerful character. Lots of Fianos are the kind of middling, inoffensive cack that’s practically crying out for a Tesco’s Finest label. This one isn’t.

It’s bloody full, for a start. Sort of like Earl’s Court station has been, lately. But it smells a fair bit better.

(Jesus God, imagine if Earl’s Court smelt like this…)

I like white wines that give your gob something to grab onto, rather than dancing lithely away like smoke. That savoury, stony, dominant quality. (Oh, why do you always wilfully misinterpret me when I say dominant? Yes, you.)

It’s not a fabulously intellectual wine. It’s not, ultimately, going to make a load of irritating winos crumple up their little faces in appallingly pseudo-orgasmic delight. Thank Christ for that. But it’s interesting, it’s got a character, and it costs less than a tenner. It’s the kind of wine I want to crack open when I’ve crawled past the middle of the work-week’s seesaw and am starting to feel the bastard tip downward.

Especially when I had to change trains at Earl’s Court in the middle of a fucking Tube strike.

This bottle was received as a free sample from Fine Wines Direct UK, where it costs £7.99. And I reckon I’ll give it 4 stars in a spirit of post-commute largesse. If you have a problem with that, do piss off.

Mischievous Italian flirtation, with a hint of gruffness

… will flirt fruitily with your nose, before getting gruff with your gob

The label of this bottle of Falerio shows crest and vineyard

Fill your snout with a decent sniff of Saladini Pilastri Falerio and you’ll think that you’re in for a flighty, flirty, fruity kind of wine. Mischievous, light-footed, scarpersome. There’s that beguiling waft of pear drops, for one thing, that always puts me in mind of smalltime juvenile delinquency.

But swish a bit of the stuff round your mouth and you might be surprised at the amount of fullness and depth. There’s a nice hint of bitterness; a gruff quality that contradicts (or enhances, I guess, if gruffness is your thing) the flirtatious, fruity, sweet-shoppy goings on.

It’s not a blindingly extraordinary wine, but neither is it a typical one. And for the rather goddamn lovely price of £6.25 — I’d contend — this is the kind of bottle you could well be cracking open in the middle of the week and still tasting something new, something interesting.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Falerio dei Colli Ascolani (South Italy)
Grapes Passerina and Pecorino
ABV 13%
Price £6.25 from The Wine Society

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

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.)

Old Parn’s Christmas Wine Recommendation

In which Old Parn comes out with it and gives his own (much sought-after) opinion as to which wine you should be drinking this Christmas

Two out-of-focus bottles of wine in the background; in the foreground, rolls of wrapping paper on a festive red tableclothSometimes I get utterly sick of the idea of wine writing. Literally. A bit of sick comes up. (Medium-bodied, with notes of bile, acid and gastric juice; lacking in balance, but with a very long finish.)

First up, this idea that we’re all (we wine writers) on some kind of crusade to educate the common palate. Bullshit. I couldn’t give a lawnmowed turd about educating your palate. And I hope that’s a sentiment you find reassuring. Unless you’re mowing the lawn. Because I reckon your palate is just fine the way it is, whatever you like to drink.

If we imagine two people, both really enjoying a bottle of wine, and one of them has a £5 wine and the other a £50er, I don’t think the latter has accessed some kind of higher level on the game of life (by defeating the end-of-level-1 boss of cheap New World Chardonnay). Enjoyment is enjoyment is enjoyment. Sensual pleasure doesn’t have a hierarchy, and sensations are not absolutes.

I’m not claiming, by the way, that I don’t adore expensive wine — that I don’t often prefer the £50 bottle to the £5. No. And, sure, I have opinions — pretty strong ones, at times — about which wines are good and which are bad. But let Christ tear me apart with his saintly teeth before I imagine my own opinion on this shit is any better or more worthwhile than anyone else’s.

What I’m saying is this: I do not remotely think of it as my job to convert any £5er to a £50er. I’m not a goddamn missionary.

(I’d be an awfully shit missionary, really, wouldn’t I?)

So I don’t care what people drink. I don’t care about ‘teaching’ you to drink ‘better’ wine. Hell, I don’t even, when it comes down to it, care all that much about wine.

What the hell do I care about, in this nihilistic world of mine?

Well, I care about making you laugh. I care about diverting your attention for a while. I care about stories. I care about putting unique, irrepeatable experiences into words, and trying to preserve them in tiny crystalline gems. If I were writing about sunsets, I wouldn’t want to educate you to seek out better sunsets. I’d just want to try and use these weird little clumps and clods of letters to make something like that same sunset hang shimmering in your mind.

And I’d probably want to throw in a few sunset-themed swearwords in there, too. But that’s by the by.

So Old Parn’s Christmas Wine recommendation is as follows:

This Christmas, drink whatever the hell you really love drinking.

Not what looks impressive, or what the critics say you should drink, or what your farty old uncle of yours will approve of, or what that otiose prat Old Parn likes. No. Drink Whatever The Hell You Love Drinking.

Because that really is all that matters.

Happy Christmas, y’all.

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

The Wine Society’s Chilean Pinot Noir review

… is just the kind of wine into whose welcoming alcoholic embrace you’d yearn to tumble after a day of bubblewrap and despair

A closeup of the magenta-dominated label of the Wine Society's Chilean Pinot Noir. The label bears an image of a flower.

I’m on my way to London. Right now. Yeah, check out my power-commuting ass.

(Poor beast. He really doesn’t like the motorway traffic. I knew I should’ve taken the camel instead.)

Jokes, jokes. I’m actually on a bus. A bus enchanted with the sweet, sweet magic of wifi. When I boarded this bus, accompanied by a suitcase big enough to bury me in (although, I like to think, aesthetically unfit for such a purpose: let it be noted that I’d prefer my final place of rest not to possess zips and expandable compartments), I chirpily remarked to the driver that I had ‘all my worldly possessions’ with me.

That, dear reader, was what is known in the trade as a downright fucking lie.

Because — I have discovered — the sum total of Old Parn’s worldly possessions is roughly equivalent in volume to the sum total of the worldly possessions of the dragon in Beowulf.

(Although drastically inequivalent in terms of fiscal value.)

So you may well imagine (if you have nothing better to imagine, you poor, impoverished sod) the innumerable hours of box-stuffing, newspaper scrunching and cutlery-sorting that have lately consumed my evenings. As I BUBBLE-WRAP MY LIFE.

(Or rather — let’s keep this metaphor on its toes, shall we? — as I decide that large portions of my life will probably survive the journey without bubblewrap, because I can’t be arsed with that nonsense.)

Wha’? Uh, sorry, I think I just nodded off, there. You were saying something? Wine? What? You say this is a blog about wine? Uh. Right. Okay. Jesus. Have some patience, won’t you?

Because what I was leading up to (if you’d just let me finish) was this: should you find yourself bubblewrapping your life, what you’re going to need is a welcoming alcoholic embrace into which to tumble, at the end of the tedious, tedious day.

And The Wine Society’s Chilean Pinot Noir gives a pretty comforting embrace.

First up, let’s talk price. Because people keep saying these are straitened times (though I guess they might actually, on reflection, be saying that these are straightened thymes, and I’ve been reading a wholly unintended economic subtext to what are in fact observations of niche culinary trends. It would explain why they were waving a bunch of unusually rigid herbaceous offcuts in my face at the time).

YES, LONDON, YOU ARE LUCKY TO HAVE ME. There ain’t no suitcase big enough to bury my puns.

In any case, this wine is very, very good value. It’s relatively soft. Pinot Noir can (especially at a price like this) be on the austere side. Not so here. It’s pretty ripe, y’know? Fruited, gobfilling. Very accessible. It’s a wine that gives of itself generously; no haughtiness.

To be fair, it doesn’t have anything to be haughty about — it’s not a fine wine, not a highly-strung Pinot Noir racehorse. But you probably don’t need me to tell you that Pinot Noir racehorses don’t come with a price tag like this.

So should you find yourself — drained and desperate — at the end of a day of packing, I urge you to tumble into the welcoming arms of the Society’s Chilean Pinot Noir.

As opposed to tumbling into the dark, hypnotic maw of that large open suitcase in front of you…

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Leyda Valley
Grape Pinot Noir
ABV 14%
Price £6.95 from The Wine Society

Mauricio Lorca Angel’s Reserve Torrontes review

… is perfect for a reception or a party or a sly few mouthfuls before dinner with interesting company. Or even with boring company.

A bottle of Angel's Reserve: simple white label with a green piece of tribal-looking art (a drawing of a bird)So, from those spunky folk at Naked Wines, here’s a pleasant young wine. You’ll get on nicely, I reckon. Very gentle and soft, you know? Peachy, scented, a smidge of sweetness. Ever had Gewurtztraminer? This is a bit Gewurtzty.

Very fruited but not sickly, it’s not mind-blowingly spice laden in the way that Gewurtztraminer can be — and doesn’t have the mesmerising frictionlessness of the likes of Spy Valley Gewurtz. No, it’s lighter, easier. Perhaps a little less remarkable.

Which isn’t the same as saying bad. Not at all.

This is an incredibly easygoing wine. Perfect for a reception or a party or a sly few mouthfuls before dinner with interesting company.

Or even with boring company. You’ll need cheering up, I guess.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region La Rioja
Grape Torrontes
ABV 13%
Price £8.99 from Naked Wines (£5.99 to members)