Slovenia vs Slovakia (wine and geographic confusion)

In which two utterly different wines from two utterly different countries are arbitrarily compared on the grounds that Old Parn sometimes gets their names mixed up.

Slovenia, Slovakia; Slovakia, Slovenia. Two nations that, I realise, are entirely distinct and just happen to have names that a mindless idiot like me is always getting mixed up. I’ve never been to either (perhaps, had I done so, my confusion would cease). But I have met several people from both countries, all of whom have been delightful human beings.

On this principle, I approached both Slovenian and Slovakian wine — neither being exactly easy to find, here in the UK — with optimism. And decided to crack open a bottle from each and to pit them against one another in an attempt to use the medium of wine to overcome my inability to remember which country is which.

(Okay. That’s one of the lamest excuses I’ve come up with to open two bottles of wine. And that’s saying something.)

A bottle of Pinot Gris from Tilia Estate, Slovenia

So — the outcome of this meaningless and artificial clash of two proud nations? Something of a one-sided contest, I’m afraid. Because — alas! — my Slovenian contender was less than championship material. A Tilia Estate Pinot Gris (★, £12.99) that I bought from Naked Wines a while ago — which was, honestly, just a bit depressing. Sort of like Luton airport, but without the prospect of being en route anywhere better.

I mean, it’s not undrinkable or anything. But it’s slack in the gob; rather heavy and sullen. A pudgy child who’d rather be playing Call of Duty than turning up to PE. There’s nothing outright offensive about it. I just, well, hoped for better.

The label of a bottle of Alibernet by EleskoWhich is just as well. Because better is exactly what I got, courtesy of Slovakia and Adam Priscak, who kindly brought me back a bottle from his latest trip home. Step forward one wine made by Elesko called Alibernet 1, neskorý zber, suché, 2009 (★★★★). Which is a lot of words that I don’t understand. Nice, eh? Adam tells me that this wine is made in small quantities. Fine by me, so long as I get some of it. Because it is sodding lovely. As deep as a very deep hole (with some mushrooms growing in it, perhaps). Ripping and earthy and proud. There’s a kind of polishy quality to it (as distinct from Polishy, which is a bit further north — for the benefit of those of you using this blog as a guide to central/eastern-European geography. You poor, poor buggers.)

It’s full and fruited, but not remotely glib. Dark, big and extremely good. Thank you Adam; thank you Elesko. Fine representatives of your nation.

So it looks like the scoreline is currently Slovakia 1; Slovenia 0. Based on a ludicrous and utterly unrepresentative sample. Just the way we like it. So I’m putting out a call for recommendations of Slovenian wines that could even the score… Suggestions in the comments, s’il te plait.

A Pinotage that’s all fruit and curves and perpetual smiling

Manley Estate’s Pinotage is all fruit and soft curves and perpetual smiling — and I can’t help wishing it’d make me work a bit harder

Closeup of the Manley Estate label — fairly traditional line drawing of vineyardManley, it’s not you; it’s me. You’re great. Really, I mean it. It’s just — well — you’re just too nice.

I like wines that make me work a bit. Not a lot, you understand (I’m way too lazy for that) — but a tad. And there’s something about Manley Estate’s Pinotage that is a bit too easy. It puts itself on a plate for me. Not, you understand, literally (although that would be fine: I’m happy to take my wine from whatever receptacle presents itself), but, y’know, metaphorically.

That’s not to say Manley is bad. It’s really not at all. It’s all fruit and soft buy furosemide tablets curves and perpetual smiling. I’d just like to see what it looks like with a frown on its face, too.

Christ, enough with the metaphors, Parn.

So, yeah. Fine. Easy to drink. Quite full. Smiley. Could do with more brusqueness. A tad expensive. But fine. Nice.

Oh Manley. When this is all over, I do hope we can still be friends.

This bottle was received as a free sample from Naked Wines

Rating ?? 2 stars (fair)
Region Tulbagh
Grape Pinotage
ABV 14.5%
Price The 2009 is sold out, but the 2010 costs £13.99 from Naked Wines (£10.49 for members)

Battery Chardonnay or Jane Austen Chardonnay?

… may not possess Austen-esque poise, but it has manners, and doesn’t overwhelm and disgust you with noxious belching

Closeup of the label of a bottle of Stephen Miller Chardonnay, complete with typography and logo — a bearded man's face, complete with hat

Chardonnay’s a beautiful, beautiful grape. Matt Walls got it right when he compared it to Farrah Fawcett, Beyonce, Scarlett Johansson and Leonardo DiCaprio.

But all too often, Chardonnay is treated shabbily. The result is a battery chicken of a wine, all pumped up and fattened and flabby and morally offensive.

I’ve spoken to so, so many people (of all ages and degrees of wine knowledge) who’ve said that they ‘don’t like Chardonnay’. Because they’ve only knowingly tasted battery Chardonnay. And fair enough. Because battery Chardonnay is fucking heinous stuff. Swollen, belching, flabby and gaudy, the kind of wine that yells out to its mates then falls over in the gutter. Where it belongs.

So when I see a cheapish Chardonnay from the new world, I hope I’m not in for a run-in with one of these characters. Fortunately, Stephen Millier’s Chardonnay isn’t one; it’s an altogether more demure affair. Not as much as some (Chardonnay is capable of Austen-esque poise), but it’s got manners, and doesn’t overwhelm and disgust you with a gigantic belch of alcohol. In fact, if you chill it down decently (perhaps a bit more than you really ought to chill chardonnay), it’s quite nimble and sprightly in the old gob.

Chardonnay can, of course, do quite a lot more than not be disgusting. And I realise that, as recommendations go, this is scarcely a clarion-call. But so it goes. If you’re a Naked Wines member, you fancy Chardonnay, and you have a budget of £5.99, I’d say you should give this’n a go.

If you’re not a member, save your £7.99 and put it towards a copy of Pride & Prejudice.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Grape Chardonnay
Region California
ABV 13%
Price £7.99 from Naked Wines (£5.99 for members)

A wine that’s all about blackcurrant

… is basically just like my parents’ blackcurrant jelly

Closeup of the label of this bottle of Stephen Miller Shiraz. Typography and line-drawing logo of bearded man in a hatMy clever old parents make blackcurrant jelly. Darker, less translucent than those confected supermarket ones, it smells like the essence of the fruit. Intense and sharp, it stains your toast black-red.

Stephen Miller’s Shiraz smells almost exactly like my parents’ blackcurrant jelly. It tastes vaguely similar, too. Once your tastebuds have vaulted over the towering wall of blackcurrant, there’s not too much else to talk about: it’s a relatively straightforward kind of wine. It has a whack of alcohol — and there’s a smear of liquorice in there too — and the whole shaboddle hangs together pretty well. But, really, it’s all about the blackcurrants. Which is all very nice — but Stephen Miller’s Shiraz makes for an altogether less suitable (and socially acceptable) breakfast accompaniment than does my parents’ jelly.

So, altogether, I’d say it’s fun enough, y’know. The kind of wine that even people who don’t like wine much would probably drink relatively happily. But — for me — it’s a smidgin too intense in its fruitiness. In a manner that I hope won’t cause too many parallels to be drawn between myself and George Osborne, I’d prefer a bit more austerity.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good — if you like blackcurrants)
Grape Shiraz
Region California
ABV 13.5%
Price Was £5.99 to me as a Naked Wines member. But it’s sold out now, I’m afraid.

A loving 70s housewife of a wine

… has a picture of a horse on it

A bottle of yellow-labelled Arabella (stock image)Slightly too much bosh when you first slug Arabella into your gob — but other than that, she’s pretty nice. Especially if you don’t chill the pants off her, but instead do her the courtesy of drinking her only slightly chilled. Then you get all the luscious tinned fruit she’s been saving up for you like a loving 70s housewife, fearful of imminent nuclear apocalypse.

Mmm. Tinned generic cialis cheapest fruit.

Pear drops crop up in there, too (though quite as dramatically as we’ve seen elsewhere). Rather nice, actually.

And it’s got a picture of a horse on it.

Um. That’s all I’ve got to say. Can I go and play in the torrential rain now, please?

Rating ??? 3 stars (good)
Grape Chenin Blanc
Region South Africa
ABV 12%
Price £8.49 from Naked Wines; £6.25 if you’re a member

Old Parn’s Wine Awards 2011, part 2

In which your host doles out some more awards, in his customarily otiose manner, including those for best wine retailers — and your own favourite posts from 2011

A week or so ago, I dusted off my red carpet (sorry about those stains — I’ve no idea where they came from) and presented Old Parn’s Individual Wine Awards. You’re a sucker for a bit of that award night glamour, aren’t you?

Which is, of course, why you’re back for today’s second instalment. So let’s get on with it. Mandolin-strummer, step forward; do your strummy thing!

(NO, NOT LIKE THAT. I MEANT ON YOUR MANDOLIN, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. GET OUT OF MY SIGHT.)

Wine retail awards

Best online wine selection

The Wine Society — if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll’ve gathered that I love the Wine Society as though it were a small, adorable puppy. A small, adorable puppy that brings me lovely, lovely wine. Brilliant.

Best online wine communicators

Naked Wines — These guys are doing something different. For this I love them as though they were all small, adorable puppies that by their very existence somehow subverted the notion of puppyhood while simultaneously also selling some rather good wines.

(Let me know if the puppy analogies cease to be illuminating at any point.)

Naked Wines is firing a champagne cork into the arse of the stodgy, stolid wine world — by according prominence to the wines that normal people like, rather than wines that the establishment recommends. I’m not saying the establishment’s recommendations have nothing going for ’em, incidentally. But there’s a balance that needs redressing. And it’s a thing of joy to see those Naked folk redressing it.

Best supermarket for wine

Waitrose — Are you surprised? Really? Are you? REALLY?

Best value wine retailer

The Wine Society — Yes, again. I’m not going to apologise. I don’t know of any other wine retailer, online or offline, whose selection of £4.50–£7 wines has such a goddamn high hit rate.

Your Favourite Posts

Finally, here’s my token nod to democracy. Here are the five posts from this ol’ blog of mine that received the most traffic in 2011. I realise that it’s an unjustifiable leap of reasoning to deduce that these are your favourites. But I’m all about unjustifiable leaps.

(Ow. I just twisted my ankle.)

So. Here are 2011’s most trafficked posts:

  1. The Shit Written on Wine Labels
  2. Wine Writing is Broken
  3. Le Froglet Wines (the horror! the horror!)
  4. Five reasons to swear — about wine or anything else
  5. Benjamin Darnault Picpoul de Pinet review

Well. That’s is (I promise) for the gratuitous end-of-year list posts. Thanks for bearing with me through the oscillations of 2011, and let’s clink our glasses in that vulgar way we do in honour of 2012. In daringly Mayan-defying style, I have a feeling it’s going to be good.

Mauricio Lorca, Angel’s Reserve Malbec review

… is one angel that takes a while to grow on you — metamorphosing from an empty disappointment to a rather pleasant gob filler

The label of a bottle of Angel's Reserve — decorated with a tribal drawing of a bird

Well, here’s a thing.

You may remember (but may not, given the alcohol-marinated state of your brain) that, a few weeks back, we minced a word or two on the subject of the Angel’s Reserve Torrontes — also made by Mr Lorca.

Now, I rather liked that Torrontes.

But here’s the Malbec. And my first impressions, honestly, weren’t great. I cracked the blighter open, and snouted/throated a few doses. And found it, well, kind of empty. There’s a spiky brambliness to it around the sides and at the front of your mouth, but it dies away very swiftly.

So I plugged up Mauricio’s Malbec and shoved it to one side. Not aggressively, mind. I’m a mild and moderate chap, as you’ll scarcely need telling. But there may have been a touch of pique, nevertheless, in that shove. For I was disappointed.

Spool forward a couple of days, and you join your chum the Parnmeister as he stuffs a bunch of grated-courgette-coated pasta into his ravenous maw. And is grasped by a mighty thirst. Blindly, his quivering arm reaches out, only to encounter that same bottle of Angel’s Reserve.

And — what know’st thou? — it’s one hell of a lot nicer, tonight. That back-and-sides quality of day one has mellowed into a proper ol’ gobfiller. It’s softer, rounder, fuller: it’s gone to seed in the best way imaginable.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not transformed into a blinder. But it’s transformed into rather a pleasant way to keep my mouth busy (in the scheme of things, y’know).

So, yeah. Even Angels, it seems, can take a while to grow on you.

Rating ★★ 2 stars (a kind of averaged-out rating, here)
Region Mendoza
Grape Malbec
ABV 14%
Price £8.99 from Naked Wines (£5.99 to members)

Villebois Sauvignon Blanc Prestige review

… goes straight down the Sauvignon Blanc line. Doesn’t veer off at idiosyncratic angles or bisect it haphazardly like a drunkard playing hopscotch. Oh no. It goes down that line.

Closeup of the simple typography of this Sauvignon Blanc label — silver lettering on a black label

Imagine a line. You got it? Just a line. Make it whatever colour you like. Come on, get a move on. It’s only two dimensions, for Christ’s sake.

Right.

Well, that line you imagined? This Sauvignon Blanc goes straight down it. Straight. Doesn’t veer off at idiosyncratic angles or bisect it haphazardly like a drunkard playing hopscotch. No. It goes straight down that line.

What I’m saying is — in my achingly, piteously laborious way — is that this is a Simple, Straightforward Sauvignon Blanc.

So I don’t really need to describe it too much. It’s got that nettley, grassy, springy thing. That gob-pleasing blast that’s the white wine world’s equivalent of MSG. Accessible. Light yet tongue-clubbingly flavoured.

I get a bit bored of Sauvignon Blanc, to be honest. But a fucking massive order propecia tablets bolus of people don’t. And for those people, Villebois is a solid choice. Because it’s not facile, like some SBs, nor is it so stuffed with zing that your poor gob is overzinged after the first glass. It’s got a bit of poise to it; it’s full, yet it doesn’t cloy.

And if you’re a Naked Wines member, it comes at an extremely attractive price.

So — depending how you like your wines and lines to interact (no, not in a druggy way, you foul cur) — you’ll either like it or you won’t.

Which is pretty much the level of insight you come to this blog for, right?

Rating ??? 3 stars (good)
Region Loire
Grape Sauvignon Blanc
ABV
Price £10.99 from Naked Wines (£7.33 to members) — but, oop, it’s sold out. Bah.

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.

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)