Wise up and smell the Casillero del Diablo

In which Old Parn burbles unconvincingly about branding in wine, before drawing some frankly ill-considered analogies and scattering his sheep’s pellets of wisdom in the direction of all who don’t move away quickly enough

Bottle of Casillero del Diablo red wine label

Winemakers, in general, need to wise up. Okay, sure, practically everyone (myself almost certainly included) needs to wise up. But winemakers need to wise up, specifically, because they are lamentably bad at communicating with normal people.

(Notice the ease with which I refer to normal people. Almost as though I knew some.)

Winemakers generally do a shambolic job of any kind of branding or advertising. In fact, a recent study revealed that 76% of actors taking parts in wine adverts subsequently suffered savage assault on grounds including (but not limited to)

  • Their ostentatious clinking of wine glasses
  • Their smug, bastardly laughter
  • Their smarmy hair
  • Generally being goddamn annoying

[Blah, Christforsaken blah. Listen, I’m quite tired, alright, and I’m just writing this because the charming @CuriousWines said something nice about me on Twitter. I have a crick in my neck and everything.]

The point? Oh, right, yeah. The point is that — as Robert McIntosh said, considerably more eloquently, a week or so ago — most winemakers don’t get branding. But one of them seems to have more of a clue:

I like branding. Doesn’t mean I always trust it, by the by. But I like it, and I respect the skill that goes into it.

Anyhow, having read Robert’s piece on the ad, I cracked open a bottle of Casillero del Diablo (albeit not the wines promoted in the ad) I had rolling around in my cupboard. A 2011 Chilean Reserva Malbec.

So. There’s a lot of coffee. Coffee all over the sodding place. Coffee is the first thing that hits you when you snout around in it, and coffee is pretty quick to grab your tastebuds when the wine gets itself into your mouth.

After that, though, it’s surprisingly sharp. A bit like a typical article in Vice Magazine: going out of its way to give an impression of depth, but actually rather harsh and one-dimensional.

TAKE THAT, VICE. YOU JUST GOT ZINGED.

Yeah. It’s not awful, but it’s a shame, nevertheless. And it’s sort of confusing, too — because this isn’t really the kind of wine that feels like it’s come to you from some tepid focus group — all blandness, sweetness, superficial charms. No, it’s a bit too aggressive to be a crowd-pleaser (I’d have thought).

What I’m saying is, I don’t know who’s the, y’know, target audience.

What I do know is that, for the price, there’s better to be had elsewhere. Some old fart will probably say that they should be spending less money on advertising and more money on the wine, I guess. To that old fart, I say: IN THAT CASE, MAKE YOUR OWN WINE AND DISPENSE ENTIRELY WITH THE MUCKY REALITIES OF CAPITALISM, WHY DON’T YOU?

Jesus, a humanoid figure just flew past my window. He seemed to be made of straw. God knows what that was about.

(Boy, how you must’ve missed me.)

Rating ★★ 2 stars (fair)
Wine Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2011 Reserva, Chile
Price £7.99 in Tescos and doubtless similar in many other places

Lemons, stones and sunshine for a sodden marmoset

Tresolmos Verdejo from the Wine Society is exactly what you need after battling through the bleak London rain

A bottle of Verdejo; in the background, the blurred, rainy street lamps of London

What do you need after battling through the bleak London rain? What do you need after huddling shivering and sodden on the back seat of a bus whose windows have been inexplicably flung open by some masochistic Chelsea commuter?*

You need a glass of Tresolmos Verdejo, you miserable, trauma-eroded marmoset, you.

Because it’s very nice. And (which is One Of The Reasons For Which I Love The Wine Society) it defibrillates your tastebuds with a flavour you can’t pick up off the shelf at your local express supermarket, that’s for sure.

Defibrillation for £7.50. Save the NHS a few quid and do it my way.

So, as I jerk back to consciousness, my gob’s suddenly alive with bitter, gripping zest — lemony pith. But alongside the electric, citric jangle, there’s that fullness. That almost indecent fullness, set alongside all that bite and the zing. But it’s not a bit oily, not a bit flabby. It’s cialis online to buy like a slim, clean sort of chap who goes to yoga five times a week: he may look slender, but he’s strong.

I drink Tresolmos Verdejo and it makes me think of being outside when it’s not actually freezing and hosing down with rain. If you can picture that scene even vaguely. Makes me think of lemons and the oil of lemons on my fingernails. Of stones and sunshine.

And of a beautifully aerated number 22 bus.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Rueda, Spain
Grape Verdejo
ABV 13%
Price £7.50 from The Wine Society. But — ye gods! — I now find it’s sold out.  Back in stock!
* Yeah, so, according to guardian angel of the online wine community Robert McIntosh, the fresh air is good for me. What-ev-er.

A beautiful, elegant, lithe Pinot Noir — with a glimmer of filth in its eye

… is elegant and lithe and beautiful and charming as you like — but with that little glimmer of filth in its eye.

Close-up of the yellow label of a bottle of 2007 Pinot Noir from Martinborough VineyardsOkay. Let’s sprint through this one, shall we?

Pinot fucking noir. To get one thing out of the way: I love pinot noir. Christ alive, I love it. And this pinot noir is bloody delicious.

That’s probably all you need to know, isn’t it?

In case you’re still reading — rather than bombing down the A1 towards Stevenage in a hijacked articulated lorry in order to ramraid The Wine Society’s warehouse — I’ll give you a bit more. (And, um, they’ve sold out in any case. So save yourself the criminal record.)

It’s got that brilliant pinot noir tautness — a lithe-bodied, gymnastic suppleness — that I find goddamn bewitching. Then add that little spatter of muckiness. Oh, that sweet little spatter. Because this wine is as elegant and lithe and beautiful and charming as you like — but there’s that hint of filth in its eye. Goddamn.

So, yes, there’s the mellow red fruit, the ripeness. And there’s the earth, the muck, the sex.

Yup.

Rating ★★★★★ 5 stars (outstanding)
Grape Pinot Noir
Region Martinborough
Price £25 or so from The Wine Society (no longer available, sadly, but you might want to try the ‘second wine’ from the same producer); or Majestic has the 2009 for £30; £24 each if you buy a couple. Which you should.

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.

Vina Arana Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2001 review

… is like a sweet mouthful of ripest autumn — and is the nicest wine to grace Old Parn’s palate so far this year

Macro photo of the label of a bottle of Vina Arana Rioja

Vina Arana’s Rioja was the nicest wine I drank this year. As such, I wrote about it effusively.

Then I goddamn well managed to save over the file. What a tremendous great pillock.

So now, like someone on a contrived, low-budget TV documentary, I have to attempt to relive that bygone experience at second hand. Ideally, I’d have some unthreatening smalltime celebrity meet me at my house (he’d knock on the door and I’d answer it as though we’d never met and there weren’t a frigging filmcrew standing five feet away) and interview me about Vina Arana. They’d do some Ken Burns effect stuff with slow, repetitious voiceovers, to conceal an embarrassing dearth of actual material, play some music and make it all (no doubt) rather delightful.

But I don’t have the resources for that shit. Even though I am pretty good at concealing an embarrassing dearth of material. So you’re going to have to make do with me embroidering some notes I wrote on my iPhone. Sozamonia.

So. Drinking Vina Arana is like taking a mouthful of autumn. It’s all russet and ripeness and deciduous nostalgia. Juice-dripping plums, spices, that kind of shebang.

There’s this quality called balance that wine writers burble on about. In fact, as things that wine writers burble on about go, this is one of the less pelvis-gnawingly irritating. Because it’s an actual word that a normal person might understand. But still. What balance means in the case of Vina Arana is that this wine is on a knife-edge of ripeness.

You know how there’s that (maddeningly brief) period during which fruit — a punnet of raspberries, say — is perfectly ripe? A day less and it’s still a tiny bit young; a day more and it’ll start going ever so slightly rotten and degenerate. But right now? Right now, it’s perfect. Right now, that fruit absolutely fucking sings.

And that’s where this wine is. Right goddamn there.

It doesn’t have that loose, woofy, over-the-top quality where the flavours start to become caricatures of themselves. But it could hardly be more ripe. And — like perfect fruit — it’s all about acidity underpinning sweetness.

It’s soft but strong. Firm but gentle. Confident but seductive. It yields and it withstands.

I like wine like this almost as much as I like people like this. (Oh, boy: people like this.) And, like I said, it was the nicest wine I’ve drunk all year.

Now to post this goddamn review rather than cretinously deleting it.

Rating ★★★★★ 5 stars (outstanding)
Region Rioja
Grapes Tempranillo (95%) and Mazuelo (5%)
ABV 13%
Price I got mine a fair while ago for under £20 (I think) from The Wine Society (but it’s no longer available). A Google search throws up a few places still selling it, such as Smithfield Wine (£22.26). Both The Wine Society (£18) andWaitrose (£18.99), meanwhile, are selling the 2004.

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

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

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

Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier review

… smells like Bulgarian woodsmoke in August; smells like respite from the guilt of being A Bit Shit With Bulgarian Orphans; smells like charmingly self-indulgent adolescent ennui

A bottle of Arabella Shiraz Viognier from Naked Wines. Black and bright yellow label, with a line drawing of a horse's head

Later, I’m going to tell you about a pretty nice red wine.

But first, let’s talk about Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, see, occupies a distinct position in my personal geography. At the tender (bruisably tender) age of 20, I spent three weeks there. Ostensibly, I was looking after orphans. In reality, I was having trouble enough looking after myself. Oh boy, was I hungry for my own attention.

Plus ça change, dear reader, plus ça change.

My memories of Bulgaria are multifoliate — and extraordinarily intense. Children running through sand littered with cigarette butts and glass shards towards a dirty sea. Children pointing at skyscrapers and Coca Cola adverts, repeating one word — phonetically, something like ‘Hubava! Hubava!’ — that turned out to mean, ‘Beautiful! Beautiful!’ Cafes selling blessed tumblers of 1-part gin, 1-part tonic — and the fucking nicest hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. And me writing a fuckload of shit, self-indulgent poetry.

And when I took a sniff of Arabella (yeah, add your own witty double-entendre here, please) — I was right back there. In Bulgaria. Sitting on a stained plastic chair outside one of those cafes, surrounded by the smell of woodsmoke and midsummer.

Which is, of course, absolutely no use to you at all. Because you (I’m almost sure) weren’t there. So you don’t know what it smelt like.

Christ, how that must suck.

But there we are; it’s official: this wine smells like Bulgarian woodsmoke in August. It smells like respite from the guilt of being A Bit Shit With Bulgarian Orphans. It smells like charmingly self-indulgent adolescent ennui.

SO PUT THAT IN YOUR SODDING BOOK OF TASTING NOTES, ALRIGHT?

Verdict

What else do you want to know, then? Apart from whether it actually tastes nice or not. Which it does, thanks.

Okay. Well, there’s spice and berry and wood. And chocolate. And coffee. And you can fucking bury me before I’ll roll those last two into one and say ‘mocha’.

But it’s pretty soft, and pretty accessible — not bolshy and severe. Yeah, sure, there’s a bit of bite (it’s not a pushover), but it’s not one of those cryptic crossword wines that’ll furrow that lovely brow of yours.

All in all, Parn approves. Parn also approves of the price.

And Arabella is certainly a good deal more hubava than those fucking tower blocks and Coke billboards.

Rating 3 stars (good)
Region Western Cape
Grapes Shiraz, Viognier
ABV 14.5%
Price £9.99 from Naked Wines (£6.66 to members, which is a frigging steal). I was drinking the 2009, but the link is to the 2010, as the older one’s all gone
Aching for a second opinion? Well, you should check out the Cambridge Wine Blogger’s review of Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier. Because we seem to agree. And he doesn’t say ‘mocha’, either. Good man.

Bricco Rosso Suagna Langhe Rosso 2006 review

… is neither despicable nor mucky. Or, if it is a tiny bit mucky, only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way.

A bottle of Suagna from The Wine SocietyYet again, a staggeringly good value Italian red from The Wine Society. If they’re not careful, they’re going to start topping consumer satisfaction lists, y’know?

I mean, look at the despicable muck you could be buying for £3.50 more than this. Look at it. Weep.

I said WEEP.

This is neither despicable nor mucky. Well, maybe it’s a tiny bit mucky — but only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way. You know. Aniseed, a bit of leather and bramble?

Nothing wildly unexpected, I suppose. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that it’s £6.50.

Good point.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Piedmont
Grape Dolcetto
ABV 13.5%
Price £6.50 from The Wine Society