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

English Bacchus Reserve, Chapel Down

… will give you a subtly blossomed English caress — but perhaps leave you dreaming of ecstatic frenzy and phallic symbolism

A bottle of English Bacchus from Marks & Spencer. Stylish black, red and gold label

Trust the Romans, eh?

Those unimaginative Romans, who came along and — without a by-your-leave — pinched the Greeks’ pantheon of gods, slapped a bunch of considerably less poetic names on them, carried out a few changes to make them altogether that bit more shit, and touted them as their own.

The Romans were a bit like Microsoft.

Anyhow. Bacchus was the Romans’ rebranded version of the Greeks’ Dionysus, god of wine — a tantalisingly androgynous kind of chap, holding (according to the oracular Wikipedia) ‘a fennel staff, tipped with a pine-cone and known as a thyrsus’.

For my next profile picture, incidentally, I intend to brandish a thyrsus, sure in the knowledge that I’ll thereby attract a large following of ecstatically raving bacchantes — female devotees who, via dancing and intoxication, ‘lose all self-control, begin shouting excitedly [and] engage in uncontrolled sexual behaviour’.

(Not to imply that I don’t already enjoy such a following, natch.)

Anyhow. Bacchus is also — and I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a crashing shock to you, after all that deity stuff — a grape variety. Grown in England, of all places.

So from Olympian heights, we find ourselves in the wine aisle of Marks & Spencer.

Mundane enough for you?

But let’s stave off thoughts of our own desperate mortality and get some of the stuff down our gullet, shall we? (Reminder: if you actually are in the wine aisle of M&S, you should probably buy the bottle and get it home before you do this.)

So — what’ve we got? First off, bacchus bears more than a passing likeness to sauvignon blanc. It has that springy zing to it. But here, there’s an appley softness, too. A subtly blossomed caress, if you want to get all wanky about it.

Yeah, it’s rounder, more welcoming, less showy-off than your everyday sauvignon blanc. Not quite as ‘June is bustin’ out all over’, y’know? But still with that crispness, that green taste to it — if you’ll forgive me coming over all synesthaesiac on you.

Nice and long and dry, with rather a lovely balance.

Yeah, it’s on the pricey side (which keeps it from earning that oh-so-coveted fourth star) — but perhaps that’s what you have to stump up for a subtly blossomed English caress, these days.

Alternatively, blossomed caresses be damned: just get yourself a thyrsus and bring on the ecstatic frenzy of those bacchantes. Who’s with me?

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
ABV 12.5%
Price £10.99 from Marks & Spencer

Val do Salnes Albarino 2009 review (Sunday quickie)

… will hit your snout like a sharp gust of sea breeze, then indulge your gob with a full, florid plumpness

Closeup of the label of this Albarino from Marks and Spencer. Elegant bottle and label, black, white and gold

Here’s a quick little Albarino review to keep you on your toes.

(You do stand on tiptoe when you’re reading this blog, don’t you?)

I snaffled this rather elegant bottle from M&S a few weeks ago. And within is a rather nice wine: dry (but not bone dry), lemony, gobtingling. A properly bracing smell — like a sharp gust of sea breeze — then, when you get it in your mouth, it’s full, florid, fruity. Slightly plump, slightly indulgent, but not remotely unbalanced.

Very nice, very nice, very nice.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars: very good)
ABV 12.5%
Price £10.99 from Marks & Spencer

Bellingham ‘The Bernard Series’ Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2010

… comes dressed in an attention-seekingly sparkly top and laughs raucously enough to distract you from your own conversation.

Closeup of the typographically elegant label of this bottle of Old Vine Chenin Blanc

I came to this wine thirsty and optimistic. Optimistic because it has a beautiful label, with elegant, restrained typography of the kind that floats the Parn boat. So — does the taste match the typography?

Nope.

Which isn’t to say it’s bad; it’s merely of a totally different character. Whereas the label is stylishly minimal, the wine itself is confident. Confidently podgy. A fat, extrovert wine, dressed in an attention-seekingly sparkly top, who laughs raucously in restaurants and distracts you from your own conversation.

Altogether, it smacks you in the chops in a pretty unapologetic kind of way. It’s boshy and veggy and clompy and — mm hmm — not perhaps distinguished by its finesse. And, curiously, there’s an almost chickeny quality to it. Make of that what you will.

Verdict

Now, here’s order viagra 25 mg online where individual taste comes in. Because, for me, a tub-thumping white like this is too full-on. I know some people love this kind of thing, but me? Not so much so.

No. I wouldn’t call this a lovely wine. It’s too chubby and loud. Then again, it’s certainly not flawed — in fact, I’d say it’s well-made — and I rate it accordingly. It’s the kind of thing I might occasionally fancy — a bit of a sensory blast — but afterwards end up feeling I’ve spent a fair wodge on an experience I didn’t really find terribly luxurious.

A bit like a meal in a restaurant — on the table next to the hen party.

Rating ??? (3 stars)
ABV 14.5%
Price £10.99 from Majestic

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.

Mineralstein Riesling 2010 review (Sunday quickie)

… will zap you with spiced fruit

The simple, minimal label of Marks & Spencer's Mineralstein Riesling: blue text on a white backgroundAnyone up for a Sunday quickie? Excellent. So let’s crack open a bottle of Mineralstein from Marks & Spencer, shall we?

Well. That is a boshing hell of a waft, right there. A fruity (grapefruity) zap, sprinkled with spice.

Then, in your mouth, it’s lively, nimble, with the softest fizz of bubbles on your tongue. Fruit and flowers. Off-dry, this one, but not cloying like that horrible Majestic number from a few weeks back. That’s thanks to a good strong lacing of sharp acidity — and also to a pleasant savoury quality. Olive? Yes. Biting into a ripe, sweet green olive.

What I’d say is that you want to chill this bad boy down good. It’s absolutely up to being slugged on its own — or, I’d’ve thought, alongside lightish fodder (simple, clean flavours, methinks).

Well done, M&S, good work here.

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 12%
Price £8.39

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

Le Froglet Wine in a Glass — Review

In which our intrepid hero subjects himself to the horror (the horror!) of three revolting sold-by-the-plastic-cup specimens from Marks & Spencer: Le Froglet Rose, Chardonnay and Shiraz. A truly gruelling experience.

Three plastic cups of Le Froglet wine, sold by the glass — one red, one white, one rose

So, today we’re looking at wines sold by the glass (plastic): three (only moderately depressing-looking) specimens from Marks & Spencer going under the brand name Le Froglet.

Now, you know me for an honest commentator, I hope. So I must confess upfront that my expectations were very, very low. That said, I don’t want to be snobbish about this. There’s nothing remotely wrong with the idea of buying wine this way.

The question is — never mind the idea — what’s the reality like?

In answer, dear reader, I give you —

Le Froglet Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009

So. You’ve got over the novelty of opening a wine as though it were a yoghurt. What now? Stick your big old snout in there, that’s what.

Except that, being full to the thick plastic brim, there’s no room for your big old snout.

So pour it into a proper glass, why don’t you, and try again?

Your labours will be rewarded with a truly awful gutwipe of a smell. Like the breath of a depressed office worker who ate a stale bacon & egg sandwich for his lunch.

It is truly, offensively grim.

At this point, you’re understandably wary. But you chuck it down the hatch in any case, reasoning ‘Since when has my sense of smell ever been a reliable indication of putrescence?’

…and — first gob-impression? IT ACTUALLY TASTES OF NOTHING.

Unfortunately, you will be looking back on that first impression of nothingness as a kind of golden age of Le Froglet Chardonnay. It was at its peak then. ‘The tragedy of Le Froglet,’ you will muse, ‘is that it never recaptured that tantalising early promise of nondescript mediocrity.’

Because, after a second or so of wondering whether you accidentally just bought a plastic glassful of foul-smelling water — the stale sandwich you smelt earlier hits you smack in the gob. And fucking horrendous it is, too. Cardboardy flaps of egg-marinated bacon in that suddenly-not-so-tasty-tasty malted bread.

Now (you might note) the smell’s mellowed a bit. Now it’s like the remnants of a KFC bucket left out overnight in the corridor of a student hall of residence.

If you can manage to get this wine into your mouth without inhaling, it’s just about bearable while you hold it there. But sometime — sometime, my friend — you’re going to have to swallow. Then there’s the aftertaste. The preserved egg sarnie.

I am not exaggerating when I say that this is truly horrific stuff. There will be a patch of dead grass in my garden tomorrow morning where I chucked the rest of this devilpiss.

Onward, then, to —

Le Froglet Rose, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009

Imagine a nightmare scenario in which you are given a plastic teaspoon and ordered to eat an entire washing-up basin full of Tesco Value strawberry jam.

The smell of Le Froglet’s Rose is strikingly, strikingly similar to the smell of the strawberry-scented vomit that you will copiously spew in the aftermath of the above scenario.

Sickly sweet, but with a rancid acidic tang.

At least with the white (incredulous, I find myself harking back) there was some lingering presence of the chardonnay grape, even if in brutally abused form. Here, there is nothing but sickly, rotten, jammy fruit.

Once it’s actually in your mouth? Well, it’s not actually as full-on sweet as I’d expected. But horrible nevertheless. A bit bitter (not in an appetising way, but in the same way as accidentally sucking your finger after touching some chemicals), with overtones of loo cleaner. Not nice loo cleaner, either. The kind of stuff they use in prisons.

When the sweetness comes (which it does, like a warm, candyfloss blanket, once you’ve swallowed) it is almost a blessing.

I’m not entirely sure whether this is worse or better than the white. It’s less in-your-face-evil, but more slyly insidious. The white was like Krang in Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles; the rose is more like Nick Griffin.

I’ll leave you to judge which you’d rather spend an evening with.

… and skip on, meanwhile, to —

Le Froglet Shiraz, Vin de Pays d’Oc 2009

… Which is dark. Dark as the soul of Le Froglet.

Snout-wise, it’s the least offensive of the three by some margin. That’s not to say it smells promising. No indeed not. But it’s not actively repellent. There’s sweet red fruit (worryingly sweet) and, yeah, vanilla. And cheap wood. It’s like walking into a discount furniture warehouse.

And in the gob, it’s also by far the least horrible. There’s still that ol’ bacon & egg sandwich whiff to the whole affair (which is clearly something to do with either the glue they use to stick on the lid or else some kind of preservative), but at least there’s a modicum of normality to the thing. I mean, it tastes like cheap plonk, sure. But at least it tastes like recognisable cheap plonk, not some outlandish liquid beamed to Earth by aliens as part of a sick reality TV escapade to amuse the folks back home at Alpha Centuri.

It’s very very sweet, yet also laced with a last-minute tannic mouth-shrinker. In no way does this qualify as a recommendation, but it has the dubious honour of being crowned ‘winner’ of this evening’s taste-off. A contest, I might add, that set me back a total of £7.95 (£2.65 each) — a sum I parted with heavily against my better judgement, and largely in order to provide entertainment to you. Yes, you.

So the least you can do is leave me a comment or something.

Now. Christ alive. Get me some malt whisky.

Rating ☆ (0 stars) for all of them. The ‘winner’ included.
ABV 12% (rose), 12.5% (red), 13% (white)
Price £2.65 a pop from Marks & Spencer

Reserve de la Saurine 2010 Review

… is an honest (if brusque) young peasant of a wine

Marks & Spencer's Reserve de la Saurine. The label depicts a French estate (and a drip of red wine has streaked its way down the paper)

Well, here’s a wine that’s not nearly as bad as I’d feared — and a good deal better than our last disastrous encounter with an M&S ‘dine in for £10’ bottle.

It’s a Rhoney kind of red (not from the Rhone region itself, which doubtless helps keep the price down, but from a satellite region and made from Rhoney grapes Grenache, Carignan and Syrah.)

It’s quite nicely rounded (though that does give way to harshness on the finish), with a tannic weight to it. There’s a bit of a metallic tang to it too, perhaps (surely I can’t be the only one who once sucked on a mouthful of coins as a child? What’s that? I am? Oh shut up.) In other words, it’s the kind of wine you’d describe as rustic. Unpretentious.

An honest, rather brusque, young peasant of a wine.

There’s some fruit, yeah (lucky peasant nabbed himself a punnet of cherries), and a herby, stalky bite. No oak, so it’s fresh and supple.

Verdict

Be warned: the tannic roughness does build up, so it’s probably more of a food-partner than a solo quaffer. All considered, though — the price in particular — it’s not at all bad.

(Still, I wasn’t too heartbroken to consign half of it to my bolognese sauce. These peasants mustn’t be allowed to rise above their station, after all.)

Rating ★★ (2 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £5.99 from Marks & Spencer

Palataia Pinot Noir 2009 Review

… won’t blast you with fruit & veg like some crazed pyromaniac greengrocer. No; it’s lean, discrete, introverted. And in disguise.

A closeup of the label of Palataia Pinot Noir from Marks & Spencer

A little illustration of wine marketing, here. Look at the label above. Notice something? Or, rather, don’t notice something?

Yeah. We don’t know where this wine comes from. Sure, we know it’s made of Pinot Noir. But nowhere on the label (no, not even in the blurby writeup on the back) does it state its country of origin. No: this is a wine in disguise. It’s adopted a generic, vaguely South American-sounding brand name; our only clue is a mention of the region: Pfalz.

That’s because — yep — it’s a red wine from Germany.

And this fact, alas, is apparently a stigma to rank alongside infection with pneumonic plague.

That’s a shame, that is. Because — on the evidence of this wine — we have nothing to fear.

This is very much an Old World-style Pinot Noir. By which I mean, it’s lean, discrete, introverted. It won’t blast your gob with salvos of fruit and veg, like some rampaging pyromaniac greengrocer. Which is a relief.

Instead, it’s bitter, herbaceous, intensely savoury. It tastes — and feels — distinguished.

It’s not bereft of fruit, by the way. Indeed, to an unusual extent, this is a wine that actually tastes grapey. But I’m talking the whole package: grape skins, grape pips, grape stalks.

Verdict

Not at all bad, then. The wine’s downfall, as far as I’m concerned, is its lack of length: a mouthful is over relatively quickly; it doesn’t linger much. This gives it a tendency towards emptiness on its own, so I’d pair it with food (something simply-cooked, not too bolshy).

But Pinot Noir isn’t easy to produce. Especially in this (far more unforgiving) style. Especially at this price.

Credit to M&S, then, for carrying an unusual, serious, good value wine like this. It’s just a shame it has to appear in disguise.

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 13.5%
Price £8.49 from Marks & Spencer