Cellophanity, Putin-pleasuring and Pinot Gris

A significant portion of which is devoted to a spirited ‘crie de coeur’ on the subject of ready meal packaging, and most of the rest of which contemplates distasteful sexual activities practised upon Russian politicians. I’m up-front about this stuff, y’know.

Bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris and some oven ready meal instructions‘Remove cardboard sleeve and peel away plastic film.’

It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But, honestly, they may as well have said, ‘Remove cardboard sleeve and give Vladimir Putin a blowjob’, for all the chance I have of accomplishing their instruction with any modicum of ease or pleasure.

I’ve written before about my intense dislike of cellophane that fails grotesquely in its sole goddamn interaction with the customer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t write again. I mean, Christ. Collectively, think of the time humanity wastes on attempting to peel off a plastic seal and instead peeling off a ludicrous thread of plastic from around its rim, repeating this process at each of the carton’s four corners, before (defeated, humiliated) grabbing a knife and slashing psychopathically at the bastard cellophane until our collective shirts are spattered with ragu sauce that looks for all the world like blood.

Time that could be put to better use in — oh, I don’t know — curing cancer or eradicating poverty or watching the latest episode of Sherlock.

Oh, that Sherlock. He wears a nice dressing gown, doesn’t he? (Declare an interest? Me? Piss off.)

But don’t just think of the time. Think of the fucking psychological despoliation wreaked by this supposedly peelable cellophane. Whole generations demoralised by their inability efficiently and rapidly to prepare a godforsaken ready meal (the very words themselves a hollow mockery — for this now ungrippably-cellophanated carton in front of me couldn’t be any less ready); to follow even the unglamorous preparatory instruction — mere prelude to the complex matrix of oven types and temperatures, and frozen vs chilled states. When we see growth rates in the developed world stalling and purchases of pre-prepared food rising, do we not pause to consider the relationship between the two?

JUST AS SODDING WELL, THEN, that I have a half-bottle of Hugel Pinot Gris, 2010 (The Wine Society, £6.95) to calm my cellophane-rage. A sluicing of very pleasant-tasting alcohol to numb my brain to the injustices and indignities of the food packaging regime — analogous, one might venture, to an autocrat’s cynical pampering of an emerging middle class with the finite proceeds of a natural gas boom whose days are numbered.

SEE WHAT I DID, THERE? YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED IT, BECAUSE IT WAS QUITE SUBTLE. RE-READ THE ABOVE PARAGRAPH IF YOU’RE NOT SURE.

It’s nice, Hugel Pinot Gris. Of the Wine Society’s praiseworthy array of half bottles (several of which I’ve written about already), it’s one of my favourites. I like the way it lies, deliciously inert (like a coma coated in syrup), in your mouth. The way it rings out with fruit, but leaves your tongue free of that ganky aftertaste of the sugary muck that often gets called ‘fruity’.

(Speaking of which — fuck. When you’re pretty much living off wine from TWS and Waitrose, you sometimes forget just how goddamn withering a bad white wine can be. I was in a pub, the other week, and forgot myself to the degree that I actually ordered a glass of white wine — somehow extrapolating from the fact that most wine I drink is quite nice a kind of rule that all wine I choose to drink will therefore be nice. A rule whose inherent fallacy was pitilessly exposed by said pub and its vinous offering.)

Hmm. Somewhere between talking about presidential fellatio and rotten pub wine, I was doing a kind of wine review, there, wasn’t I? Christ alive. Sorry about that. We’ve dispensed, haven’t we, you and I?, with any kind of flimsy, cellophane-esque pretence that you’re here for in-depth or nuanced alcoholic commentary. The commentary of an alcoholic, maybe. But not alcoholic commentary. So let’s leave it at this. Hugel Pinot Gris. Easy to open (if you have a corkscrew). Doesn’t cause you to flail around with a kitchen knife. And definitely tastes better than my ready meal.

Not to mention Putin.

Pedro Ximenez Don Marcelo Jerez review

… is delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy. Even if it *does* taste of raisins. Because wrinkles can be sexy, too.

A dark brown bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, with out of focus daffodils behindOkay. It’s Valentine’s Day. And in celebration thereof, what better alcoholic beverage than one that tastes MIND-BLOWINGLY STRONGLY of raisins? — thereby reminding you that whilst you may be taut-skinned young grapes right now, one day, you’ll both be shrunken and wrinkly.

BUT YOU’LL STILL TASTE LOVELY.

(Realism beats Romance every time, eh? Just ask TS Eliot if you’re unsure.)

Anyway, I maintain that this is a Romantic wine. It’s big and swingeing and unashamed. It scatters your bed with petals and serenades you with sentiment-sodden ballads. And tenderly crams handful after handful of raisins into your gob.

It is sweet. Really, really, really sweet. Even as you’re pouring it, you’re thinking of molasses and treacle and whatever other viscous liquids you might find appealing. And it’s almost impossibly rich and dark when you get it into your mouth.

It’s hard to believe, in fact, that something can be as sweet as this and still seem, y’know, even vaguely grown-up. Especially when drinking it puts you in mind of cramming your stubby fingers into those little boxes of Sunmaid to extricate the pieces of fruit that’d wedged themselves right into the bottom corners. But it is grown up. Possibly because it’s so outrageously goddamn decadent-tasting. And also because it’s not sickly.

Or, at least — and here, once again, the raisin likeness holds — it’s not sickly unless one consumes it to excess.

In summary: delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy.

A small terracotta dish with ice cream, scattered with dried rose petals

Oh. And may I leave you with a ludicrously specific serving suggestion? Put a glass of this alongside a bowl of rosewater and cardamom ice-cream. Buy the dried rose petals from a nice man in the Iranian deli on High Street Kensington. He may even give you a free biscuit. Then simultaneously boast and congratulate yourself for doing all of the above by photographing it and posting it on your silly little blog.

You pathetic specimen.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Grape Pedro Ximenez
ABV 16%
Price I got mine from The Wine Society some time ago for about £9 (half bottle). But it ain’t there no more, I’m afraid. Sozamonia.

Alsace Pinot Noir, Kuentz-Bas Collection 2005 review

… will help you avoid meting out acts of equine violence should you be confronted with the prospect of a Pinot Noir Twitter shindig

Closeup of this Alsace Pinot Noir's label: gold and brown, with a simple crest and typographic focus

Way back — way, way back — there was some kind of pinot noir ‘event’ on Twitter. ‘Let’s all drink pinot noir,’ the governing philosophy of said event seemed to be, ‘and pretend that doing so has some kind of higher purpose or conceptual justification.’

Well, Old Parn doesn’t necessarily need conceptual justification to wrench the cork from a bottle of PN. But one doesn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, does one? (Or, in the words of Young Parn, many years ago, one doesn’t knock a gift horse in the mouth. Which would be even more churlish.)

Anyhow. Conceptually justified to the max, I took out the above-depicted half bottle of Kuentz-Bas. And rather fine it was, too: poised and sharp, cialis online to buy fruited and taut. Its colour was pale, russet-tinged. Once it’d been out in the glass a while, it really bloomed and softened. Relaxed.

(A little like that gift horse did, once it realised I wasn’t about to crack it a swift uppercut to the jaw.)

Verdict

Supple and smooth, with a tiny gruff stemminess at the back of it. Beautiful to hold in your gob. Light, effervescent.

It is an absolute avalanche of joy to be able to buy a wine like this in a half bottle. Thank you, once again, Wine Society; thank you. And thank you, Pinot Noir Day. Or whatever your name was.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Alsace
Grape Pinot Noir
ABV 13%
Price £7.50 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

Mauricio Lorca Angel’s Reserve Torrontes review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon Beyer Pinot Gris 2008, Alsace review

… is a mightily exotic gobful — an olfactory rollercoaster

A bottle of Leon Beyer Pinot Gris. The label is adorned with cursive script and a line drawing of a chateau. In the background, out of focus flowers and greenery

Turkish delight. Bubblegum. Nectarine. Rhubarb. Pepper. Cream. Lavender. Honey. More cream.

Well, hot darn. Ain’t that an olfactory rollercoaster, and no mistakin’?

So, yup, this is another virtuosically aromatic Alsatian.

Compared to others of its ilk, this one’s on the acidic side of things, meaning it’s less smooth, less limpid, less pacific than some. It’s got quite a crisp old bite to it. Also (which is less welcome) it’s just a touch over-the-top — that ol’ belch of alcohol hits you if you keep it in the gob too long.

And I’m no fan of that alchbelch.

Verdict

But, mmm, yeah, it’s pretty nice otherwise. And as my initial salvo of flavours might imply, it’s a fairly exotic gobful. So exotic, in fact, that I decided to photograph it in front of some delightfully out-of-focus springtime flowers.

With a bit more refinement, it’d be a four-star. Anyhow, serve it up to people who complain that Alsace wines are ‘too sweet’.

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 13.5%
Price £13.50 from The Wine Society (no longer available, link is to the 2005 vintage)