Boss Wine

In which a glass of delicious Valpolicella is pressed into the not-remotely-reluctant hand of Old Parn, and he feels guilty, the next day, for his inability to review it properly

A bottle of Bussola ValpolicellaWhen your boss invites you round after work and gives you a glass of wine, you’re not reviewing that wine.

But you still notice when that wine happens to be a lovely fucker, don’t you? And if you have some kind of weird disorder whereby you actually feel a bit guilty for not reviewing a lovely wine (as though the wine’s feelings might be hurt by this scandalous omission), you end up resolving two things:

  1. TO MAN THE FUCK UP AND STOP ANTHROPOMOPHISING THINGS, YOU LOSER; and
  2. to write an unabashedly subjective blog post about it, anyway.

So. My boss (who has a very generous way with the wine, I might add — a generosity that has its drawbacks, the following day) pressed a glass of Bussola Valpolicella into my hand. And — jeeps, boy — it was very lovely indeed. Huge, intense, strong — but soft, yielding, gentle.

The wine, that is; not my hand.

Though my hand is also all of those things.

Anyway. Bussola Valpolicella is a delicious wine. I’m not going to give it a star rating, because this ain’t a real review. But if you’re in Majestic, I’d grab a bottle (it’s £22). You don’t have to review it, either. Just drink the old bugger and enjoy it. Sharing it with your boss is optional.

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 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.)

Bonterra Chardonnay 2009 review

… is the kind of wine that probably wouldn’t mind holding onto your parcels for a day or two

(For the background to the following, read the previous post, ‘When Clemmie Misses Her Train’.)

Feeling unaccountably like the boy waiting outside the Headmaster’s office, I found myself standing at the door to my neighbour’s flat.

Pull yourself together, Parnell, I murmured — and administered a falsely assertive rap upon the door.

(When I say ‘rap’, I mean in the sense of ‘knock’ or ‘tap’. Not in the sense of performing a piece of urban spoken music. Though perhaps I should have explored this kind of rap as an alternative means by which to announce my presence. It might have allowed me to retain the initiative a little longer in the ensuing encounter.)

The door swung open. From behind it, a disembodied voice: ‘Do come in.’

Now, reader, let me tell you this: I was all prepared for a doorstep exchange, here. And this invitation to enter wrongfooted me straight away. But what’s a chap to do? I couldn’t very well reply, ‘Um, no, I’d rather conduct this conversation in public view’, now, could I?

So in I went.

‘Don’t you want your parcel?’

This struck me as a needlessly adversarial opening to our conversation.

‘Oh, um, yes please,’ I replied, somewhat meekly.

‘Well why didn’t you pick it up? It’s been here for two days!’

Oh yikes.

‘Gosh — I’m very sorry: it was quite late when I came in last night…’ (Yes, I have a tendency to use expressions such as ‘gosh’ in such situations. I fondly nurture the delusion that it makes me seem charming and socially assured.)

‘But what about the night before? Why didn’t you pick it up then?’

This, I began to suspect, is what intense police interrogation feels like. I began to be confused, to lose track of my cover story. ‘Um… I…’

‘If you’d prefer, I won’t take your parcels. Would you prefer that?’

At this point, I’m sort of stammering — so entirely disorientated am I by the fierce barrage of accusatory questions emanating from this small 98-year-old woman.

‘Um… I don’t know. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.’

‘Well, pick up your parcels! I don’t mind taking them in, but I don’t want the responsibility of keeping them for days.’

(Responsibility indeed.)

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Well. That’s all. You can go now.’

***

A bottle of Bonterra, label with minimalist floral illustrations and handwritten text. In the background a second bottle, out of focusAfter that, as you may well imagine, I needed some kind of alcoholic bracer. And that’s where Bonterra came in.

Bonterra’s is a fruity, a creamy, a taut Chardonnay. While it’s far from self-effacing, there’s none of that wenchy quality that New World Chardonnay can have. There’s some pepper in there, and it’s altogether rather nice — sprightly but full.

What’s more, relative to other chardonnays hailing from its part of the world, it has a pleasant lightness to it. A certain easygoing quality.

The kind of wine, in other words, that probably wouldn’t mind holding onto your parcels for a day or two.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Grape Chardonnay
Region Mendocino Valley, California
ABV 13.5%
Price £10.44 from Waitrose, £10.99 from Majestic

Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco review

… conspicuously lacks the dance, the verve, the pizzazz — in both its label and, alas, its taste

The green and gold label of Marques de Caceres' white Rioja — rather lacking in design style

Take a look at the label. What do you reckon? Any reaction? Any strong feelings?

Or just a blank expression? A shrug?

Yeah. Slightly ugly in an unremarkable kind of way, right? Not horrific. Just mediocre.

Well, in this case, it turns out that label and wine aren’t far from being in accord. Because this is a fairly unremarkable wine. Not offensive, but, really, I can’t see too much of a reason to buy it.

It’s a bit empty, a bit veggy, a bit harsh and globby. Not much finesse. Sure, it’s got a fair old bit of presence around the sides and back of your trap, but it’s conspicuously lacking the dance, the verve, the pizzazz at the front.

And I’m all about the dance. The verve. The pizzazz.

It’s trying to be fruity & summery — but if it’s fruity & summery you’re gagging for, you’d be better off (at this kind of price) with something like Sainsbury’s Gruner Veltliner or Benny D’s Picpoul de Pinet from Naked Wines.

For the price, I guess it’s acceptable (I wouldn’t complain), but — at the same time — there’s better to be had. And better labels, too.

Rating ★★ 2 stars (average)
Region Rioja
Grape Viura
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.99 from Majestic; £6.99 if you buy a couple.

When Clemmie Misses Her Bus

In which the eponymous heroine sets in motion a long and complex chain of events, including (but not limited to) the consumption of hefty amounts of wine

A line of five empty (or half-empty) wine bottles and three mostly-empty wine glasses

This is what happens when Clemmie misses her bus home.

Clemmie and I, you see, work at the same venerable organisation. We have also been known to aid one another in the noble pursuit of shitfacedness. On occasion.

So when Clemmie misses her bus, there’s really only one thing to be done.

We begin, then, with decorous restraint — neatly polishing off a leftover half of Naked Wines’ rather good Picpoul de Pinet (which I’ll review properly another time). According to Clemmie, this is an outstanding match for Marlboro Lights.

(Though it transpires that just about anything is an outstanding match for Marlboro Lights.)

Picpoul drained, we move onto a nifty Albarino. Now, Albarino is a happy, summery kind of wine, and this was no exception. So it’s hardly surprising that, by the end of the bottle, we are talking about family breakdown and terminal illness. Because THAT’S THE KIND OF CRAZY CATS WE ARE, ALRIGHT?

But I’m afraid, Albarino, I remember little about you. Don’t take it personally.

And (in any case) at this point we welcome Chris — Clemmie’s paramour — and, without ado, bellyflop our way into a bottle of The Wine Society’s Suagna. I’m going to review this’n properly, another time, too. But, for now, let’s just say it’s rather good.

This means it doesn’t last long.

Our next resort is a bottle of Minervois from M&S. Unfortunately, as resorts go, this one is the kind of resort that looks lovely on the website but turns out to feature views of a building site, stinking loos and an all-night death metal club located directly underneath your bedroom.

‘Do you know what this smells of?’ says Clemmie, as I return to my seat.

‘What?’

‘Balsamic vinegar.’

Chris and I sniff our glasses. Tears rise to our eyes.

‘Balsamic vinegar? I think that’s pretty charitable.’

Turns out that Clemmie’s balsamic vinegar is everyone else’s nail varnish remover.

If there was any nail varnish in the flowerbeds of my garden, it is now (I confidently predict) removed. Because that’s where three glasses of M&S Minervois rapidly make their way.

While I (natch) make my way again to that trusty wine rack. To uncover a bottle of Errazuiz Merlot. Given to me (I now recall) by the same kind folk who gave me that bottle of Oyster Bay Merlot.

Chris notes that the Errazuiz doesn’t have much tannin. No indeed not. It does, though, have a bountiful crapload of sugar and fruit. But there’s an odd mouth-shrink to it, nevertheless, even with the sweetness. Kind of like the worst bit of tannin somehow did make its way into there, but without any of the benefits.

‘It’s not really very nice, is it?’

‘No. Not really.’

‘No.’

After a meditative pause, we all continue to drink.

At this point, Clemmie is emphatically vowing to buy shares in local businesses. Errazuiz Merlot has evidently tapped into her capitalistic streak. Millions are (hypothetically) changing hands in the balmy evening air.

When, at length, Errazuiz too is emptied, and I sway gently to my feet to go to the bathroom, we suddenly become aware that it is half past eleven. On a Tuesday night. And in front of us are five open (mostly empty) bottles of wine.

‘Oh my god!’ exclaims Clemmie, ‘We have to go!’

***

But as I return, minutes later, Clemmie is sloshing more of the abandoned M&S Minervois into her glass — the scent of solvents filling the night air, as insects spiral and die in the fumes.

Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2010 review

… has got some chub — and is (perhaps) wearing clothes that’re ever so slightly too tight to be quite becoming

Macro closeup of the label of a bottle of Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc

Today, a humble South African Chenin Blanc did battle with THE GARCLICKIEST PESTO IN THE WORLD. A meal so astoundingly garlic-laced that my colleagues tomorrow will be fucking reeling at the stench of it off me.

Anyway — how did our plucky Chenin Blanc stand up to it all? Not too badly, really. I mean, it fizzes a bit in the gob (in protest, I guess), but the acidity and body mean that it’s not utterly overwhelmed. A respectable performance.

And the wine itself (when experienced outside the blast radius of the garlic)? Perfectly nice. There’s a slight veginess to the smell that I’m not totally wild about: it’s not the classiest honker, to be honest. But absolutely fine. Some (not unpleasant) soap and flowers wafting around there.

Taste-wise, again, it’s perfectly acceptable. That vegetable quality is there (though, I should emphasise, in the background). Otherwise, there’s a homely cheniny podginess to it — fullfruited, syrupy, yet acidic. A wine that’s got some chub, and (perhaps) is wearing clothes ever so slightly too tight for it.

Verdict

So what do I think? Acceptable. And, yeah, it’s fairly cheap (indeed, bloody cheap, if you pick it up before 2 May as part of Majestic’s 20% off South Africa deal)

But I love Chenin Blanc. And this doesn’t really zing and sparkle in the way the grape can. Most of all, I’d like it to be fresher. And to lose that slight ponk of compost.

Then again, given the amount of near-raw garlic in me right now, I’m scarcely in a position to talk.

Rating ★★ (2 stars — given the price)
ABV 13%
Price £5.99 at Majestic (currently £4.79 if bought with another South African bottle — until 2 May)

Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling 2009, Zimmermann Graeff

… is cloying, over-sugared, facile — with that kind of stagnant sweetness that leaves a residue of post-boiled-sweet-overdose gank in your mouth for about an hour afterwards

The label of this (unpleasant) bottle of Riesling, featuring some funkyish blue graphics

You know how German wines are unfairly shunned on account of a reputation for sickliness garnered by the years of Hock, Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun? You know how getting some people to try a glass of German Riesling is like persuading Fidel Castro to front a Gilette ad campaign?

Well, let a doubter taste this Piesporter Michelsberg and you’ll set back the cause a decade or two. Because it’s cloying, over-sugared, facile. That kind of stagnant sweetness that leaves a residue of post-boiled-sweet-overdose gank in your mouth for about an hour afterwards.

Okay, so it’s not an expensive Riesling. But, hey, I’ve drunk plenty of great Rieslings at this price. I hoped we’d left this kind of thing behind.

So leave off persuading your friends to pick up a bottle of Zimmermann Graeff’s Michelsberg. You’d be better off pitching Castro that ad idea of yours.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 9.5%
Price £5.99 from Majestic Wine

Spy Valley Gewurtztraminer 2009

… makes an F-117 Stealth Fighter look a bit indiscrete and rough round the edges

A bottle of Spy Valley Gewurtztraminer from New Zealand

Now, Spy Valley may not mean much to you. Not even with its trendy Modern Warfare-type label design. To you, it may be just one more highish-end New Zealand wine brand.

But Spy Valley and me? We got history.

Okay, as history goes, this is very recent history. History from last Wednesday evening, to be precise. On which date, several bottles of Spy Valley Pinot Noir ushered me — disarmingly — far, far down the path of inebriation. To a destination marked ‘Hammered’.

You know. The head-in-hands, only-daring-to-peek-between-clawed-fingers, occasional-abject-moaning-to-noone-in-particular kind of hammered.

(Resulting in, incidentally, a maybe-if-I-wear-my-suit-into-work-today-I-will-trick-my-brain-into-behaving-like-a-professional kind of hangover, the next morning. I don’t think the suit fooled anyone, to be honest. My brain least of all.)

Anyhow. You may well imagine the barely-concealed suspicion and simmering resentment with which I eyed the bottle of Spy Valley Gewurtztraminer I subsequently found lurking in my wine rack. The way you might regard the sister of a man who’d recently punched you in the face.

But, Spy Valley Pinot Noir, all is forgiven!

Because your sister, it turns out, is pretty damn fit.

In other words, this is a very good Gewurtztraminer. Putting it to your nose is like turning on a big tap of flowers, tropical fruits, perfumes of the Orient.

And this wine is smooth. It is so smooth it’s practically frictionless. It makes an F-117 Stealth Fighter look a bit indiscrete and rough round the edges. And it sits in your mouth like nectar. It may well be the quietest, stillest thing you’ve ever had in there: it’s the polar opposite of fizzy. It’s almost as if it went right through ‘still’ and came out the other side.

This is anti-fizz.

And, Christ alive, it’s nice.

Verdict

Unlike our earlier Alsatian fling, Cave de Turckheim, the hefty alcohol of this wine is brilliantly handled, with no flabby belch of ethanol to trouble your quaffing. This is a pedigree Gewurtztraminer — exhibiting all the classic characteristics of the breed. Its honeyed — almost candyflossed — greeting mellows to an unctuous, gobfilling equilibrium. Deliciously inert. And there’s some raisiny depth (and a distant bite of gooseberry) there too, in case this is all sounding a bit too flimsy and high-note for you.

Almost indecently drinkable, then. I could get through bottles of the stuff.

So beware, Old Parn: maybe she’s not so different from her brother after all.

Rating ????
ABV 13.5%
Price £10.95 from The Wine Society (no longer in stock), though I got it in the January sale for a delicious £9.50. They still have it though (for £12.49) at Majestic, and their current deal on New Zealand wines potentially brings that down to £9.99. At that price, I would. Wouldn’t you?

Review: Bollinger Special Cuvee Champagne

… will remind you why celebration is — and e’er will be — fizzy

I’ve a few posts waiting in the wings for you, o dear & faithful reader — thanks to the seasonal profusion of alcohol from which we’re just emerging.

We’ve already done the sherry, so accompany me onward through my festive imbibitions. Next up? Pre-Christmas dinner champagne (courtesy of some bloke who took my parents’ old car off their hands and repaid them with a bottle of Bollinger. Which is exactly the way to do things.)

A bottle of Bollinger Special Cuvee Champagne

I love good champagne. Conversely, I despise the cheap, astringent carbonated pisswater that all too often comes in its stead.

Fortunately, Bollinger’s Special Cuvee is no pisswater. And if you’ve had your mouth shrivelled by one too many thin and acidic fizzes of late (which seems likely at a time of year when cheap fizz is almost mandatory), your first mouthful of Bollinger will remind you why you ever liked this stuff.

For this is a big, generous old toffee-apple sponge of a champagne. It is expansive. It has that characteristic delicious biscuit quality — except that here it’s richer than mere biscuit. More, I’d say, like the topping of a fruit crumble with oats, butter, muscovado sugar — crisped from the oven.

It’s this lovely savoury-sweetness that makes it, that frees it. It gives the wine full license to go bone dry (as we’d expect of a Champagne) without risking astringency.

Smell-wise, the apple and toffee are there, accompanied (subtly) by the aroma of expensive cigarettes.

And it’s a proper bubbler — pretty lively, not so fine a ‘mousse’ as some other champagnes.

Verdict

So, yes, you have it all above. A fine ol’ champagne, balanced, savoury and delicious. And it won’t shrivel your stomach and tongue with acid. It’s a pricey enough bottle, though, at full price — so if you’re spending £30-40, you should damn well expect finesse.

That said, let it be noted that this is very much the kind of champagne I’d like to be given, were someone to take a car off my hands.

(Let it also be noted, howsoever, that I do not own a car.)

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 12%
Price £28 (reduced from £38) at Majestic, £34.98 from Amazon (who knew Amazon sold wine?), and £39.99 from Oddbins.

Oyster Bay Merlot Review

…will alternately patronise and assail your tastebuds

I was about to give Oyster Bay Merlot a bit of a break. But then I looked it up to find that a bottle (admittedly of the 2009 as opposed to my 2008) goes for £9.99 at Majestic. So no break for you, Oyster Bay.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The only reason I have this bottle is that I was given it. By an organisation, I hasten to add, not an individual. A ‘thank you for your business’ kind of thing.

But, yes. I don’t buy wines that look like Oyster Bay Merlot. Nail me into a broomcupboard and call me Satan if you wish (and what else would you do with Satan but nail him in a broomcupboard, I ask you?) — but that’s the unvarnished truth. It’s prejudiced, I realise, but my experience of mass-market wines that look like this and are called things like ‘Oyster Bay’ fills me with a dark, viscous dread.

But the misery of it all is that I was going to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Yeah! I was going to tell you that. Up until I realised that bottle — had I bought it myself — would’ve cost me a sodding tenner, rather than the £6-7ish I was expecting, given the name/label design combo.

Hell, I was never going to recommend it, you understand. But I was ready to concede that simply not being revolted was a kind of triumph.

Well, at £9.99, excuse me if I’m a little less forgiving.

So. The first thing that hits us? Ribena. Or Kia Ora. Or (Christ save us) Snapple. The kind of thing they’d market as ‘Very Berry’ flavour.

To be fair, this initial bouquet is hands down the worst feature of this wine (aside from its price: did I mention its price?). Because once (if) you get through it, you’ll actually be surprised at the amount of bitterness. There’s a touch of vanilla, but most of the finish is dominated by the woody depths of the tannin.

A schizophrenic wine, then. All kiddy sweetness to begin with, then cagey gruffness to finish. And there’s no transition to speak of: the flavours shift abruptly, without ceremony. Quite bizarre.

Verdict

So, as I may already have implied, a price tag of £9.99 on a wine like this is an absolute joke. At £6, I’d have expected the Kia Ora — but been grudgingly surprised at the unexpected tannic depth. It would certainly not have succeeded in making me commend the wine — but it would have succeeded in being better than most of its ilk.

BUT IT IS NOT £6.

Paying ten quid for this is like paying ten quid to have an unattractive gigolo spend an evening patronising you with syrupy platitudes and discussing Nietzsche. In alternate sentences.

Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Me, I chucked the rest of that gigolo straight into a casserole. Yum.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 13%
Price (for the 2009) £9.01 from Waitrose online, £9.99 from Majestic. But don’t, alright?