Floyd on Parn

This blog had lost its way. It took the charismatic inclusiveness of the wonderful Keith Floyd to reanimate the somnolent Old Parn. The result: a new beginning of sorts…

I haven’t written here for ages. Come on, pretend you noticed. I think my silence has been a result of increasing discomfort maintaining an authoritative tone on booze. That’s a shame (or perhaps a blessing, depending on your perspective), as I continue to think that the legitimisation of ‘normal’ (ie. untrained) voices talking about wine is an important thing.

In many ways, more important than democracy, scientific progress or the rule of law. Continue reading “Floyd on Parn”

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.)

What I like (wine and metaphor)

In which Old Parn meditates upon the human face of wine, and the wonders of the metaphor

I’ll tell you what I like.

I like it when I take my first dilated, vibrating sniff — no, actually, not sniff — which sounds altogether too truncated and furtive — not sniff — what, then? — when I gasp in my first savage breath of a dark, red wine. And it just smells proper. It smells like someone made it.

Once you get past the fact that wine — so long as it’s good stuff, not some grim, loveless shite — is generally pretty nice to drink, what pushes a particular wine into the realm beyond? I think this is it. The fact that there’s a kind of human thing to it. An asymmetric, imperfect, loveable quality. It’s like it has a face.

‘[N]ow that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face … Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and the loneliness of it.’

That’s Marilynne Robinson in the (pretty beautiful) novel Gilead. And it’s true. We’re all so powerfully primed to be fascinated by humanity. And what’s more human than a face?

Not a wine, that’s for sure.

Which lands us — dunnit? — at a problem. Why am I writing a wine blog, not a people blog?

Actually, when I put it like that, I should definitely write a people blog. Old Parn’s People Reviews. Fuck yes. I can’t foresee any problems with that. Though we’d have to work out exactly how the free samples worked.

Whoa. I’m digressin’ like a mo-fo, I realise.

Digressing by digression from digression.

So. Yeah. Bear with me, chaps.

You see, I think wine might just be a little bit like metaphor.

You know what the idea of a metaphor is? To enrich your mental image of something by describing it as if it were something else. Which sounds pretty useless and illogical, really, doesn’t it? WELL LOGIC CAN JUST FUCK OFF, ALRIGHT?

An example? Okay. If I talk about ‘a blaze of flavour’, the concept of taste is overlaid with the concept of fire. And somehow I imagine the flavour in a way that is far more vivid. Precisely because it’s not like a fire in so many ways, the sense in which it is like a fire is magnified and sharpened. And an inexact description has managed to be far more exact than a clinical, literal one. Take that, clinical literalism.

So when two things are very different from one another (as a bottle of wine is from a person) there is massive satisfaction in the sensation when those two things are brought together by metaphor. When the one concept is infused with the other.

And when a wine makes me think of it as if it were a person — that’s when I reach for my superlatives.

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!


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.

Old Parn’s Wine Awards 2011

In which Old Parn presents the first tranche of wine awards for the year that has been

Shallow depth-of-field shot of the necks of wine bottles protruding from a wine rack

So. 2011. I think it’s time you and I had a sit down and reassessed our relationship. We’ve both done some things we shouldn’t have. Mainly you.

Now, I’ll grant you, you’re being pretty damn lovely. But, as years go, I’m not going to pretend you’ve been consistent. In fact, if we’re talking consistency, you were about at the level of a schizophrenic pitbull terrier on amphetamines, wearing a knitted pink bonnet.

But — consistency? You and I, my dear, sweet, syruppy reader (if I may move to include you in this hitherto somewhat self-indulgently exclusive conversation), you and I aren’t here for consistency, are we? We’re here for life. And, um, probably wine, too. Which is (if I may remind you) a subset of life.

Not the other way round, you pathetic, hyperventilating alcoholic.

Anyhow. Here’s the deal. Over the course of the next two posts, I hope you’ll permit me to extend the self-indulgence and to present — with desultory trumpet fanfares and some misguided bugger strumming a mandolin — OLD PARN’S WINE AWARDS, 2011. Yes, there is something a little troubling about looking back over a year exclusively through the prismic glass of empty wine bottles. But no matter. Onward. Acrossward.

Like I said, the awards will come in two parts. In the first, today’s, I’ll canter through my most notable wines of the year. In the second, to follow, I’ll add a few more general awards (luxuriating in the delusion that anyone’ll give a toss) and — with a halfhearted nod towards democracy — present your favourite posts of 2011.

But that’s all to come. Excitingly. Meanwhile, though —

Old Parn’s Individual Wine Awards

Most evocative wine

Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier — Bulgarian woodsmoke, adolescent ennui and being a bit shit with orphans.

Most wanker-demolishing wine

Potel Aviron Moulin a Vent — Reminding us that the word ‘fruity’ belongs to us, to the hedgerows, to the soil — not to some bunch of oily FMCG bell-ends.

Most redemptive wine

D’Aquino Reserve Merlot — One Merlot that can grab onto my ankles any day of the week.

Most androgynous wine

Act Five Shiraz Viognier — Strapping, crocodile-wrestling shiraz with florally fecund viognier. Yes please.

Most heinous and detestable wine

Le Froglet — Foul piss of Satan. Foul piss of Satan, what’s more, served like a goddamn yoghurt.

Most sado-masochistic wine

Domaine de Mourchon — Seduce me with a heady waft of fruit. Then pull me up, slap me and strap me, look me fucking dead in the eye and ask me if I reckon I’m hard enough.

Most ungluggable wine (this is a good thing, damn it)

El Seque Alicante — A wine that doesn’t apologise, doesn’t smarm, doesn’t pussyfoot.

… and the sought-after Best In Show:

Nicest wine of 2011

Vina Arana Reserva Rioja — Soft but strong. Firm but gentle. Confident but seductive. It yields and it withstands. Balance.

So that’s it for today. Stay tuned — won’t you? — for part two. And do feel free to share your own vinous awards in the comments, should you be so moved.

Old Parn’s Christmas Wine Recommendation

In which Old Parn comes out with it and gives his own (much sought-after) opinion as to which wine you should be drinking this Christmas

Two out-of-focus bottles of wine in the background; in the foreground, rolls of wrapping paper on a festive red tableclothSometimes I get utterly sick of the idea of wine writing. Literally. A bit of sick comes up. (Medium-bodied, with notes of bile, acid and gastric juice; lacking in balance, but with a very long finish.)

First up, this idea that we’re all (we wine writers) on some kind of crusade to educate the common palate. Bullshit. I couldn’t give a lawnmowed turd about educating your palate. And I hope that’s a sentiment you find reassuring. Unless you’re mowing the lawn. Because I reckon your palate is just fine the way it is, whatever you like to drink.

If we imagine two people, both really enjoying a bottle of wine, and one of them has a £5 wine and the other a £50er, I don’t think the latter has accessed some kind of higher level on the game of life (by defeating the end-of-level-1 boss of cheap New World Chardonnay). Enjoyment is enjoyment is enjoyment. Sensual pleasure doesn’t have a hierarchy, and sensations are not absolutes.

I’m not claiming, by the way, that I don’t adore expensive wine — that I don’t often prefer the £50 bottle to the £5. No. And, sure, I have opinions — pretty strong ones, at times — about which wines are good and which are bad. But let Christ tear me apart with his saintly teeth before I imagine my own opinion on this shit is any better or more worthwhile than anyone else’s.

What I’m saying is this: I do not remotely think of it as my job to convert any £5er to a £50er. I’m not a goddamn missionary.

(I’d be an awfully shit missionary, really, wouldn’t I?)

So I don’t care what people drink. I don’t care about ‘teaching’ you to drink ‘better’ wine. Hell, I don’t even, when it comes down to it, care all that much about wine.

What the hell do I care about, in this nihilistic world of mine?

Well, I care about making you laugh. I care about diverting your attention for a while. I care about stories. I care about putting unique, irrepeatable experiences into words, and trying to preserve them in tiny crystalline gems. If I were writing about sunsets, I wouldn’t want to educate you to seek out better sunsets. I’d just want to try and use these weird little clumps and clods of letters to make something like that same sunset hang shimmering in your mind.

And I’d probably want to throw in a few sunset-themed swearwords in there, too. But that’s by the by.

So Old Parn’s Christmas Wine recommendation is as follows:

This Christmas, drink whatever the hell you really love drinking.

Not what looks impressive, or what the critics say you should drink, or what your farty old uncle of yours will approve of, or what that otiose prat Old Parn likes. No. Drink Whatever The Hell You Love Drinking.

Because that really is all that matters.

Happy Christmas, y’all.

How to choose wine in the supermarket

In which Old Parn trots out a bit of advice on how to choose good wine in a UK supermarket

This is an extended version of a guest post I wrote for Groupon UK. You can read the shortened version on the Groupon blog.

Dramatically angled photo of a statue in which a naked Theseus slays the Minotaur

You remember Theseus? Yeah — the bloke who had to kill a savage, halitosis-ridden minotaur, then find his way out of a vast and treacherous labyrinth. A labyrinth, what’s more (though the legends don’t tend to mention this) that was probably ankle-deep in minotaur crap, unless there was some kind of sophisticated drainage system in place.

You may think Theseus made a pretty good job of all the above. And I wouldn’t disagree. But what I say is: put Theseus at the entrance to an out of town supermarket and tell him to come back with a half-case of exciting, high-quality wine?

Suddenly, that minotaur business don’t seem so taxing.

Because picking out the good stuff from your average supermarket wine aisle is a grim and potentially psychologically traumatic experience. But fear not, adventurer! Here are six tips to help you get out of the maze without putting your foot in something nasty:

1. Be suspicious of the beautiful label

Something to bear in mind, especially if you’re looking at the cheaper wines (around the £6–7 mark and below): at this price, a scandalously small amount of your money is going towards the actual wine. Most of it gets eaten up by taxes, duties and other such shaboddle. Read this article on UK Wine Duty and weep (a taster: spend £5 on a bottle of wine and less than £1 of that was spent on the wine itself)

So if you see a cheapish wine with a beautiful label, bear in mind that the producer already had a very small amount of money to make the wine, and that label design and branding consultancy don’t come cheap.

On the flip side, though, great label design on a more expensive wine may well be an indication that a producer is focused on its customers. So I’m not saying you should avoid nice labels per se. Just be aware that you’re paying for that label design.

2. Avoid the big names

We’ve all heard of the grand and prestigious wines from places like Bordeaux, Burgundy, Chablis, Sancerre, Barolo, Chateauneuf du Pape … But here’s where I’m going to tell you to ignore them.

Well, not entirely. But I virtually never buy big-name wines at the supermarket (except perhaps Waitrose). Why? Because often they are bad, bad examples of great wines. Sold on name alone.

If you want a grand old Bordeaux for a special occasion, I’d always go to an independent wine shop — where someone will help you find a good’n — or order online.

But, in the supermarket, I suggest you avoid the big names — and instead …

3. Seek out the unknown gems

These are the wines from places and grapes you may not be acquainted with. Why buy these? Because supermarkets know that most people buy the familiar stuff — slap ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Pinot Grigio’ in big letters on a label and that wine will probably sell.

But slap ‘Torrontes’ or ‘Musar Jeune’ on a label? Not so much. These are wines that will generally be bought by more seasoned winos. As a result, they’ll tend to be better quality. Because the wine can’t rely on name, so has to prove itself by quality.

A perspective shot of several bottles of red wine in a row

4. Be wary of 2 for 1 deals

Ah! The mythical 2 for 1. Bargain, right? Alas, dear trolley-pusher, it may not be so…

Because there’s a bunch of wines that only ever sell when they’re on 2 for 1. At other times of year, they’re shelved somewhere out of the way, at a high full price that hardly anyone would pay. They are designed to be sold at 2 for 1. And that fact is built into the pricing.

So don’t be so sure that a pair of 2 for 1 wines for £10 is actually worth £20. It probably isn’t.

5. Look for the medals

Like a shrewd, discerning singleton at a military officers’ ball, you need to keep your peepers peeled for the glint of polished metal. Wine awards aren’t the be-all (many brilliant wines don’t win medals) — but if a wine does have an award festooning its label, chances are it won’t be a dog.

Unless you’ve somehow strayed from Tesco’s to Crufts.

6. Search high and low

The way things are shelved in supermarkets is incredibly significant. Products placed at eye level will sell best. So if Mr Supermarket wants to shift a particular brand (or a particular brand pays Mr Supermarket for the privilege…?), that brand gets the prime space.

And, once again, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that the best quality wines won’t necessarily be the ones that Mr Supermarket is keenest for you to buy.

So get on your knees — and your tip-toes — and scan the badlands of the top and bottom shelves. This is where those modest beauties may be coyly hiding.

Well — I hope these tips fortify your next voyage supermarketwards.

Oh, yeah, and on your way out, give that Theseus a kick in the shins, won’t you? (For Ariadne.)

Minotaur photo by BrotherMagneto

Wine’s image problem is about far more than supermarket pricing

In which Old Parn outlines his own opinion as to why a love of wine is so often associated with snobbery

The question that’s flapping around the wine world like a startled goose is, ‘Why won’t the British treat wine seriously?’ — and, in parallel to that, why does wine have such a problem with allegations of snobbery?

Well, that flapping goose has woken me up, too. So here are my thoughts.

First up, I think it’s a little too easy to blame supermarkets for the situation in which wine-lovers are stereotyped as snobs.

Guy Woodward (in the Guardian piece I linked to, above) writes:

‘It’s a situation that several supermarkets have helped to create. By directing consumers to the “3 for £10” promotions, stores are hardly encouraging us to discover new wines. The wine industry’s own trade body, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, has even criticised such “deals”, arguing that they stymie consumer education.’

But I’m not sure that supermarkets’ pressure to hit the lowest price points is really responsible in a fundamental way for perceptions of wine snobbery. After all, supermarkets have surely also remorselessly driven down the price of meat and beer (Guy’s two examples of segments not afflicted by perceptions of snobbery).

So why is wine a target, while meat and beer are not (or are much less so)? It can’t be as simple as supermarket pricing, the issue on which Guy’s article focuses pretty much exclusively.

Incidentally, I absolutely agree with everything Guy says about wine pricing in supermarkets. I just don’t think this is the root of wine’s problems with snobbery.

To which I think there are at least three major contributing factors he doesn’t mention.

Wine’s history

Historically, wine has been associated with privilege in a way that beer and decent meat have not (to anything like the same degree). I’m not saying this association is fair. I’m saying it exists. Powerfully. Not especially because wine was historically expensive, but more because it is associated with Oxbridge cellars, arcane drinking societies, aristocratic dinner parties — in a way that beer and decent meat are not.

That gives wine a hill to climb that others don’t have to contend with.

The lack of a ‘story’ for wine

People have been told a story that allows them to understand and relate to the benefits of spending more on better meat (and allows them unequivocally to feel good about doing so).

The story is that animals get to lead a better life. The customer is supporting a small farmer, not a big corporation. There’s a human touch. Local meat feels more connected to the customer. And so on.

Yeah, sure, the more expensive meat also tastes better. But that’s not actually the main thrust of the story. The emotional story of animal welfare, conservation and support of farmers is the more emotionally compelling factor. Even if it’s not always true or accurate.

Wine is not yet successfully and consistently broadcasting an emotional story that’s as good as this. It could. But it’s not. Notice that Naked Wines is making progress on this — getting customers to relate to wine stories, to see what being a small wine producer (and supporting those producers) actually means.

The relative weakness of wine advocacy

This links with the story argument, above — but goes further.

Neither the decent-meat lobby nor the beer industry persistently shoot themselves in the foot in the way that the wine industry does. I’ve written before about my belief that wine writing is too often insular and exclusive. If wine wants to shake off its snobbish stereotype, the industry needs to make a concerted effort to stop blathering on with terminology nobody understands and implying that there is a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, the upper echelons of which are reserved for the cognoscenti.

I’m not saying there’s not a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, incidentally. You may think there is. But implying this is powerfully alienating to people who feel like they’re far from cognoscenti.

Anyhow. Lots of the success of the decent-meat lobby is down to its use of charismatic, passionate advocates to put across its story in an immediate and accessible way: Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and all. People who are selling the lifestyle and the benefits, not just the product; who talk to their audience in language that is free of jargon, who seem like ‘one of us’. And, yes, people who have a very high profile.

Now, I realise it’s all very well for me to say ‘the wine world needs advocates like Jamie Oliver’ — when it’s not exactly easy to propel oneself into a position of that kind of influence. I’m not pretending the wine world can just create charismatic, popular advocates — like that. Nor am I saying, incidentally, that every single advocate that currently exists for wine is rubbish. Obviously that’s not the case.

Not one of the above three factors has a quick’n’easy solution.

What I am saying is that, combined, they are (in my view) hugely implicated in the allegations of snobbery with which wine is beset. And that whilst supermarket pricing may play its part, I’d say that the wine industry deludes itself enormously if it lets itself believe that this is the only — or even the principle — cause of its snobbery woes.

The Shit Written On Wine Labels

In which Old Parn takes issue with the arse-woundingly banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels

A macro shot of the text written on the back of a bottle of red wine from Marks & Spencer

There are plenty of things in this life that give me a wounding great pain in the arse. If you want to hear more about them, I suggest you follow me and my wounded arse on Twitter.

But, today, my arse is in ribbons thanks to the banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels. Here are four arse-wounding things that wine producers should stop doing. Right now.

1. Giving ludicrously specific/esoteric food matching suggestions

Excellent. So your wine goes well with lava-cooked unicorn steaks marinated in dolphins’ milk and irony. That’s helpful. Your head goes well with your arse. May I suggest you match the two?

2. Giving ludicrously vague/fallacious food matching suggestions

Oh really? Goes well with fish, chicken and meats, you say? Now. You realise that chicken is meat, right? Yes, so Shakespeare could get away with doing stuff like that. ‘Angels and ministers of grace’ — that kind of thing. But you can’t.

Moreover, if your wine actually does go well with everything from pan-fried plaice to seared chilli tuna steaks to coq au vin to frigging beef and ale stew, congratulations. You have succeeded in distilling the mythical liquid of ambrosia. And all the other winemakers might as well just give up now and start constructing dubiously phallic monuments in your honour.

Or else, you’re a lying charlatan.

Now, which’ll it be?

3. Spewing out interminable, drivelling blather

I don’t give a halfhearted wipe of a frog’s arse about the view from your winery. Nor do I trust your declarations of ‘passion’ any further than I could throw the metaphysical concept of passion. Which is no distance. Because it’s a metaphysical concept, and TRY AS I MIGHT I CAN’T SEEM TO PICK IT UP.

I’ll be the judge of your goddamn capacity for passion. So let’s get a hotel room and we can work out a mark out of 100.

4. Including any kind of pun in the wine’s name. Whatsoever. No exceptions.

I’m not going to elaborate. I’m tired now.

What wounds your arse, dear reader?

What else do those label-crafting buggers do that causes you to double up in agonised rage and frustration? Tell us — share the pain — and, in so doing, administer the internet’s very own soothing arse-balm, by leaving a comment.

UPDATE: Inspired by Graeme’s comment, below, I’m upping the stakes. Provide a particularly lamentable example of wine label wank (in the comments, below) and I’ll send you some kind of prize. To be decided. So search those wine racks/liquor store shelves for the purplest prose you can find. Enter as many times as you like. Make us laugh/cry. Wound our delicate arses. You’ve got until the end of the week.

UPDATE 2: Okay, so the prize will be a bottle of this rather lovely wine, Verd Albera, I just reviewed. The best comment(s) will get one (unless you’re overseas, in which case you might have to settle for something else).

Wine and sex

In which Old Parn — in celebration of his 100th post — draws a shimmering parallel between two hedonistic pastimes

A cropped photograph of a woman sexily licking her brightly-lipsticked lipsEach time you have sex, do you give it a mark out of 100?

I think you do not.

Oh, how provocative! Oh, how extreme! Oh, but rating wines is not remotely like rating that other thing. Oh, it’s quite disgusting! Guards! Guards! Take him away!

But wait: I’m just trying to give an account of what I’m doing, here. Because I don’t want to write about wines like an examiner; I want to write about wines like a lover. I want to be shamelessly abandoned, shamelessly subjective, in a pursuit which invites (and is pretty much meaningless without) shameless abandonment and subjectivity.

Not saying there’s no place for ratings out of 100. Not lashing out at nobody who does it. This is about me. My approach. (Yeah, what a fucking egotist I am. But you know this.)

I guess it’s important to be upfront about this. If you want studied objectivity, go elsewhere in your noble quest. Hell, I admire objectivity. But I admire it from a fucking massive great distance. Like a prudent stalker armed with camo gear and good binoculars.

Anyhow. The above explains why my favourite wines are often pretty damn fuckable.

That’s all. As you were.

(Oh, yeah, and this is Old Parn’s 100th blog post. If the earth moved for you at any point, do leave a comment.)

Wine writing, irreverence and rebellion

In which Old Parn takes issue with the idea that wine is due any kind of reverence — and defends an anti-establishment stance on the subject of wine writing

The author stares directly into the camera, thumbing his nose and sticking out his tongue -- but with a thoroughly unamused expression

Okey dokey.

I wrote a post, a while back, saying that wine writing is broken. I guess I probably didn’t say everything quite right, because I made some blokes with beards quite tetchy. And if there’s one thing I definitely take no pleasure from, it’s making men with beards get tetchy.

It’s heart-rending.

But, honestly: I actually hate this kind of thing. Behind my swaggering bravado, you see, there’s a swaggering vulnerability. My swaggering bravado does something crazy — like shouting ‘WANKERS!’ at a group of drunken and rowdy men with beards — and then promptly vanishes. My swaggering vulnerability is left, tremblingly exposed to the bearded ire and violence that my swaggering bravado has unleashed.

So you have to imagine me here, vibrating with adrenaline and panic, every time I think another man with a beard* might be angry with me.

You think I’m joking, don’t you?


Anyhow. I had another surge of adrenaline the other week (who needs illegal stimulants when you have a blog, eh?) when I found out that another man (who may or may not have a beard) had written an article mentioning me. But — not to worry, sweeties — I’m fine. This man — whose name is Stan — is polite and measured, and has written a piece that I’d actually like to engage with: thought has gone into it and it has no double exclamation-marks.

I would’ve written a comment on the post itself. But then I found out I’d have to create a bloody account just to do that. (Word to the owners of the site: this is probably not the best way to encourage reader participation.)

So instead of writing a ludicrously protracted comment that few people will care about, I decided I’d write a ludicrously protracted blog post that few people will care about.

Specifically, I’d like to respond to three points — or, perhaps, questions — raised by Stan — who seems, incidentally, like a pleasant and moderate chap. But a chap with whom I do disagree in certain respects. These three questions are, in order:

  1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?
  2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?
  3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?

Stan agrees with Tom Wark: if Old Parn thinks wine writing is broken, Old Parn needs to prove it. To name names, to give examples.

Now, there are two ways to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’. The first is to interpret it as meaning, ‘All wine writing is shit’.

If that’s what I meant, how would I prove it? By quoting three examples of bad wine writing?

Hmm. How hard would it be to find three examples of bad wine writing? About as hard as picking up three Saturday papers.

Because you can always find examples of bad anything. Examples actually prove nothing. How many examples of bad wine writing would prove that all wine writing was bad? Could I prove to you that red wine is bad by giving you ten glasses of shit red wine?

Yup, yup, yup, Parn. We get your point. Move on now, please.

The second way to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’ is to interpret it as meaning, ‘Something is missing from the world of wine writing’.

Just as I could tell you (well, actually, on point of fact, I couldn’t, because I’m a clueless imbecile in such matters) that a car engine was broken because it was missing a certain key element, I reckon I could also claim that wine writing was broken for similar reasons.

If I showed you this car engine and it was missing (say) a spark plug (INDULGE ME: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CARS), and I said, ‘Look, sir! This engine is broken. It has no spark plug’, I suspect you wouldn’t ask me to give examples that proved the engine wasn’t working. Me pointing to the gap where the spark plug should be would (I hope) be enough.

The engine itself might have plenty of more than serviceable parts. But the fact that it was missing a key element would still mean it was broken.

That’s why I burbled on about Giles Coren and Jeremy Clarkson and all that pish. I was saying that the world of mainstream wine writing lacks verve, excitement, provocation.

And that’s an opinion even my swaggering bravado is prepared to stand behind. Without examples.

2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?

Stan says there’s a nagging question: ‘Do we need to throw in a lot of expletives and rebel against the established critics and wine writers?’

I don’t think the expletives and the rebellion are necessarily linked, to start with. I’ve said this before, but I actually think that swearwords are just words. I happen to like them. Some people don’t like them. The people that like them are probably going to get on better with my blog than the other ones. It’s just style, innit?

But: ‘Do we need to rebel against the wine writing establishment?’ is an interesting question. And I thought about this — all the way to Marks & Spencer and back.

And I think the answer is yes.

Okay, so I happen to know that I can find lots of lively, entertaining winey chit-chat — with thoroughly unpretentious folk — on the internet.

But most people who like a glass of wine aren’t going to start reading wine blogs. And, yes, that certainly includes mine, I should add.

I suspect, in fact, that most people who like a glass of wine either think that wine writing is a crock of shit, or else think it’s somehow for people who ‘understand that stuff’.

I think (from things he’s written) that Stan agrees that this is a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be tackled (and is being tackled) on many fronts. And one of those fronts absolutely should be outright protest. Not the only front. But one of them.

Given what I perceive to be a widespread mistrust of the ‘snobbishness’ of the wine world (perhaps especially in the UK?), I’d say there’s at least an argument for going all-out to challenge those perceptions. And the first step in challenging perceptions is getting anyone’s attention in the first place.

Sometimes, you have to be extreme to do that, I think.

3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

Stan’s post is entitled ‘Is irreverence taking over the wine world?’ — and he closes with the hope ‘that the consumer does not need irreverence or a dictionary to peak [sic] their interest in wine.’

I’m absolutely with him on the dictionary part.

But here’s a thing. Reverence. Reverence is what I accord to a firefighter on 9/11 who went back into a smoke-filled hell without thought for his safety. Reverence is what I accord to the victim of gang-rape in the Congo who nevertheless proclaims forgiveness of her violators. Reverence is what I accord to Rosa Parks, to Galileo, to Martin Luther King.

And I’m sorry, but wine is due NO FUCKING REVERENCE AT ALL. I’m not denying that it’s (often) wonderful stuff. But it’s a luxury and a frippery. A damn nice frippery, for sure. But still incredibly, mind-bogglingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.

It’s all this reverence shaboddle, in my opinion, that alienates so many people. That alienates people who actually think, ‘Wait a minute, this is just liquid that I enjoy drinking some evenings because it tastes nice and makes me get a bit pissed.’

Of course, there are also lots of people who are hungry for knowledge and information about wine. These people are already massively well-served by available sources. They are also the converted. They don’t need some ill-informed words from a foul-mouthed twenty-something like me.

But just because we in the wine bubble may take something seriously, I think we need to be reminding ourselves constantly, remorselessly: not everybody does. Reminding ourselves that perhaps, for some people, it’s the seriousness — not the irreverence — that feels like it’s taken over.

My swaggering vulnerability would like to reassure you that I have no quarrel with the notion of the beard — which is often a fine facial adornment, and one that Old Parn himself has occasionally (if never exactly luxuriantly) sported. Many of my favourite men have beards. And a couple of my favourite women. Back to main article

Five reasons to swear — about wine or anything else

In which Old Parn sets out his Manifesto For A Blogosphere Of Unrestrained Profanity — enumerating the reasons for which swearing in a blog post is not only justified, but positively to be encouraged

A youngish man with scrunched eyes screams an obsenity

1. The Kiddies Are Safe, Thank God!

Let’s get this boring one out of the way first: the only reason I can see for not swearing is that of exposing young children to THE AWFUL, AWFUL, CORROSIVE BADNESS of it. And I don’t think many young children are going to be reading sites like this.

They have better things to do, and I’m jealous of them for it.

I mean, hell, I was a massive fucking loser when I was a child (plus ca change), but even Young Parn wasn’t so much of a loser that he was reading wine blogs.

2. Swear Words Are Indecorous

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

I don’t think the First World War poet Wilfred Owen was massively into decorum. Nor am I. The difference is, of course, that he was writing slightly (if understandably) iffy poetry about a vast human tragedy and I’m writing a slightly (and less understandably) iffy blog about alcoholic grape juice.

But I think we can agree, Wilf and I, nevertheless: decorum is a sham. Decorum is a wretched, weak-bladdered means by which to intimidate the uninitiated, to make the underling fall in line, to belittle the outsider. Decorum is a way to make you feel shame because you don’t know what the words are that the Proper People use. SO JUST SHUT UP, YOU IGNORANT SERF, AND GO STUFF MY CODPIECE.

The youngish Old Parn screams an obscenity once againIf I write that a wine is ‘fucking good’, I reckon that’s actually kind of inclusive. That’s what it’s meant to be, anyway. Because no way does anyone think that ‘fucking good’ is The Proper Way To Describe A Wine. To me, using language like this is like hanging up a big old sign saying, ‘In my book (and on my site) you don’t have to use the ‘correct’ words to express a valid opinion (just so long as you don’t use the word toothsome)’.

I mean, it’s obviously okay — really, truly, more than okay; it is the only thing that fucking matters in the slightest — to describe this wine stuff in any way you damn well please. And, yes, I must grudgingly admit that this even extends to use of the word ‘toothsome’. Even though, I reiterate, NOBODY KNOWS WHAT IT MEANS.

Anyone who relies on decorum is probably also quite stupid. Because decorum is a weapon of the stupid.

3. Swearwords Are Joyous

It feels fucking good to swear. I imagine you’ve tried it yourself. Isn’t it nice?

It’s a verbal ejaculation — yes, thank you, I can use that word — and as such it’s a thing of joy. It’s a trumpet-blast of feeling. It’s life-affirming, it’s defiant. It’s like all the best things about humanity in one deliciously blunt four-letter syllable. A buttery, crumpetty nugget of life.

Surely I can’t be the only one who finds verbal abandonment both fascinating and sexy? No, it turns out I’m not. It’s there — all over the fucking place — in Chaucer, in Shakespeare, in Joyce. Who’d’ve thought?

And if you should come across someone who mocks the revelry of your swearwords, pity them for the arid, joyless puritan they are.

Thus, the kind of fool who’d mockingly quote your swearword back at you (perhaps inserting, with a tin-eared editorial flourish, a double exclamation mark?) is probably also the kind of fool who’d try to insult you by paraphrasing a self-deprecating pun that you actually wrote yourself, as if that were somehow meant to achieve or prove something other than a chronic dearth of wit.

(My example is hypothetical.)

4. Swearwords Are Anglo-Saxon And Therefore They Are Awesome

Fuck. Cunt. Arse. Shit.

Don’t be afraid, I’m not about to start into that cringe-inducing ‘comedy’ scene from The King’s Speech. [Shudder.] No. But I am going to talk about Englishness.

Or Anglishness.

You see, all the best words in this sexy mongrel language of ours are Anglo-Saxon. Well, okay, maybe I should qualify ‘best’ — I guess I mean ‘most evocative’. Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English poet from back in the 1800s, is good on this: he pretty much refused to use anything but Anglo-Saxon-derived words in his poetry, because words derived from Latin (words like ‘derived’, in fact — or ‘evocative’ or ‘refused’ or ‘exclamation’ or ‘deprived’ or ‘misguided’) have a clinical, cold, precise, impersonal feel to them. They’re somehow more remote, more official, less affecting.

Profile of our hero halfway through exclaiming a word beginning 'sh—'They’re not where the music is, in other words; not where the gut-punch is.

No, the music is in the old, old words. In the fist-clouting, axe-bitten, mud-tramping Anglo-Saxon stuff.

And right up there at the top of the pile are the most defiantly Saxon of them all: the swearwords. Old as the soil and the blood and the rock and the shit of England before it was even England.

Show me an English swearword that’s not Anglo-Saxon and I’ll show you a shit swearword.

5. Swearwords Are Just Words

Yes. I know. I’m wheeking this one at you from left-field. But those words that we call swearwords are still, in fact, just words. The clue is in the ‘word’ part of the word ‘swearword’. If you look carefully, it’s there. At the end, after the ‘swear’ bit. Stop me if I’m going too fast (Jesus, stop me) or using the word ‘word’ in a way that you find confusing, ambiguous and/or offensive.

But — listen! It’s about to get good! — they really are just words. And anyone who’s an adult and relatively well-adjusted surely ought to realise that they’re no more or less legitimate (or indeed remarkable) than any other means of expression. And that pointing them out and making an issue of them causes you to look like a child squealing and giggling at his first potty shit.

What I mean to say, I suppose, is —

A high-contrast photo of a youngish man shouting a swearword at the camera


Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Wine writing is broken

In which Old Parn launches into a tirade at the leprous state of wine writing in 2011, and the miserable failure of its practitioners, en masse, to inspire, engage or reach out through their words

A splintered pane of glass makes a crescent. In the background, obscure, dark colours

Here’s what’s wrong.

The world of wine writing is insular. It treasures its own elitist terminology. It prizes information before communication. It jealously, gleefully guards its own exclusivity — a hideous, smugly masturbating gatekeeper — crooning and babbling, gollum-like, at its own shrivelled genitals.

(So. That’s the metaphor over with, eh?)

See, it’s my opinion that far too little wine writing reaches out to the uninitiated. Next time you’re reading an article about wine, ask yourself: if I were new to wine — if I knew none of the terminology — would this mean anything to me? Would I find it engaging? Indeed, would I even have read this far in the first place? Far, far too often, the answer is no.

I am staggered — actually, I’m fucking angry — that something so many people love is still largely written about either in patronising and insipid ‘buy this one not this one’ columns, or in exhaustive, geekily inaccessible prose.

Of course there are exceptions. But where is wine writing’s Giles Coren, wine writing’s AA Gill? Hell, where’s wine writing’s Michael fucking Winner, come to that? Or where’s wine writing’s Jeremy Clarkson? I can’t fucking stand Clarkson. But at least I’m not indifferent to him. At least he gets my attention.

And how? Let’s see. Does Clarkson’s weekly column go like this?: ‘A common feature of many cars is air conditioning. [Insert dumbed-down, humourless technical explanation of air conditioning and its origins]. So this week we’re going to look at three cars with air conditioning and write a few tired adjectives about each one, then tell you where you can buy them and what kind of roads you might like to drive them down’

Not it does fucking not.

There are scandalously few people in the mainstream writing about wine with passion and verve. Our public face is timid, introverted, gawky, dull, apologetic. Geeky. But without the leftfield charm.

If I’m a casual wine-drinker, I am not going to be captivated by information about terroir, viticulture, grape varietals. Chances are, I have far better things to do than memorise the French classification system. If I wanted to know this stuff, I’ve got a whole bloody internet to search. Or there are books on this stuff, aren’t there? I don’t need to be educated in tiresome, condescending, uninspired weekly instalments. Not to say that there’s no place for this information. But on its own — as the main feature — it’s both boring and alienating.

And here’s another thing: don’t ever tell me a wine is ‘toothsome’. What the fuck is that supposed to mean? Seriously. Does anyone ever use that word except wine writers? Toothsome? Fuckoffsome.

In fact, allow me to propose a simple mechanism for wine writers. If there’s a simpler alternative to the word you’re using and yet you’ve decided to stick with the more complex, ask yourself the following question: ‘Am I James Joyce?’

If the answer is no, I recommend you spare us and just use the bloody simple one.


You see, when I read about something (by choice, in my leisure time) I want to be inspired. Or tickled. Or shocked. Or provoked. I don’t want drab, dusty sentences or bland, self-effaced meanderings.

So why are there so few inspiring wine writers? Or, at least, why are the most visible wine writers generally so uninspiring?

If we love something, are we not capable of transcending jargon, pedantry and narrow-horizoned pedestrianism — to emblazon our love, bold on paper?

Until more wine writers are writing to inspire — whilst we’re still belching out our mass-produced £4.99 prose — how the hell do we have the nerve to castigate the buyers of £4.99 bottles?

Edit: I should perhaps clarify that the above is very much concerned with wine writing for public consumption — in the mainstream print & online press, particularly — and not wine writing for a niche/expert/obsessive audience, whose demands and appetites are clearly quite another kettle of wotsits. —OP

A word on ratings

In which the venerable Parn explains (for those who care to know) the intricacies of his rating system

Well — hello. My subscriber stats tell me that I’ve garnered a bunch of new readers over the past couple of days. So if that’s you: much ‘bliged. Stick around, won’t you? This very minute I’m gurgling my way down a bottle of South African red from M&S, which’ll make its appearance on these pages soon, soon, very soon, passing soon.

Meanwhile, though, I wanted to scrawl a few haphazard words about my rating system, here at Old Parn’s.

I don’t do the ‘out of 100’ style ratings beloved of many tasters. Maybe I’ll someday graduate to those. But my own ‘system’ is somewhat more laid-back.

The star rating you see at the end of a review is an ‘overall’ mark that takes into consideration not only a wine’s qualities, but also – to some degree – its value for money. Here’s a brief rundown:

  • ????? (0 stars) – a wine with very little to recommend it. Either it’s simply unpleasant to drink, or else it’s extremely overpriced and mediocre. Example: Oyster Bay Merlot 2008
  • ????? (1 star) – a wine that may have some merit, but is let down by very notable flaws that are more or less unforgivable. Example: Banear Friulano 2009
  • ????? (2 stars) – a good order clomid online canada wine. Typical enough, everyday. Not a treat, but competently made and relatively enjoyable. A safe pair of hands. Example: Domaine de Gournier, VdP Cevennes 2009
  • ????? (3 stars) – a good and interesting wine. Nothing outstanding, still, but very good all the same. Better than most other wines of its type. Example: Loios, Vinho Regional Alentejano 2007
  • ????? (4 stars) – an excellent wine. This will either be a very fine example of its kind or else will be a very good wine with a distinctive, fascinating, unusual quality – or an extremely good price. Example: Domaine Font de Michelle 2004
  • ????? (5 stars) – an outstanding wine. I won’t give a wine five stars unless it is exceptionally good. If you see this rating, it means I judge this to be a brilliant wine (not simply a very good value one). A must-drink. Example: Waitrose Sancerre, Joseph Mellot 2009

So, yeah. There y’are. As you’ll see, most of the ratings are positive: anything above and including 2 stars is a good wine. I’m not so interested in the differences between a bad wine, a nasty wine and an execrable wine.

They’d all get zero in my book.

Welcome to Old Parn’s Wine Reviews

In which your hero identifies his old, bad self and declaims (at no great length) his principles (or lack thereof)

Greetings, ladies; greetings, gentlemen. This blog exists solely for the purpose of cataloguing my consumption of alcohol (and my token justification of said consumption via the trusty mechanism of critical analysis/appreciation). Here’s the score.

  1. As I drink wines, I’ll write about them. I might even rate them, if I can bring myself to that formidable degree of decisiveness.
  2. I’m not a wine critic (though I once applied for a graduate traineeship at Majestic Wine. Rejected.) I buy these wines myself (though would be more than happy to receive donations from generous wine emporia, let it be noted).
  3. I’ll be covering a range of prices, from cheapish to bowel-clenchingly expensive. The latter considerably more rarely than the former. Unfortunately.
  4. Sometimes (I do not promise always), I’ll give y’a bit of background. Perhaps in the case of an unusual grape variety, obscure region or suchlike. This I will include in my posts (some will say counterintuitively) under the heading ‘Background’.

That’s pretty much it. More to follow shortly.