Pain, Lloyd-Webber, Relativism, Redditch and Macon-Villages

In which Old Parn has his pain threshold put to the test, both physically and psychologically, and his concept of luxury dramatically redefined — before collapsing into the embrace of a Wine Society half-bottle.

A photo of a white plastic mask as seen in Phantom of the Opera

‘So, Tom,’ Elaine asked softly, ‘how high is your pain threshold?’

Elaine is, it turns out, very, very strong.

10 minutes later, I am face down with Elaine’s elbow in my back, wimpering like a child.

Elaine grew up in Redditch. I learnt to drive in Redditch. There are lots of roundabouts in Redditch.

My driving teacher, a luxuriantly mulleted old love called Jerry, used to pick me up at the school gates, the strains of The Phantom of the Opera booming from his tiny Peugeot.

Our mutual love of music previously (alas) affirmed, Jerry was eager to know my opinion of Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s seminal work.

I, conversely, was eager to get the fuck out of the school car park. But Jerry wanted me to practise a three-point turn.

Calmly. Carefully. Slowly.

‘…The Phantom of the Opera is there!
Inside my mind.’

Oh, please, Christ, it’s going to be break-time in three minutes.

There is a kind of theme, here. Have you noticed that? It has to do with me being helpless, vulnerable, and yet almost impossibly heroic in the face of danger.

‘Are you doing alright there, Tom?’ asks Elaine.

My hearty reply is undermined as my voice cracks pubescently. I hope that this laryngeal betrayal is muffled by the towel pressed hard across my face. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

So. I need to relax.

‘With 90% of the people who come here,’ says Elaine, conversationally, ‘I start on the back then, when that’s done, I go down to the legs. You’re not going to be in that 90%.’

Her tone of voice isn’t menacing. I don’t think she intends this as a threat.

At some point I start burbling manically about pyjamas. This happens increasingly often, these days. This time, though, I keep having to pause, mid-sentence, in a way that is, frankly, entirely lacking in rhetorical justification. The pauses are my only bulwark against a bellowing Parn-howl like that of a bear with its testicles snagged on a barbed wire fence.

And, as bulwarks go, the pauses (right now) feel pretty fragile.

‘… My power over you / Grows stronger yet…’

Briefly, I contemplate the possibility that my life may be flashing before my eyes.

Elaine likes pyjamas. (I also like pyjamas.) She is mildly perplexed at the idea of a dressing gown more expensive than her car. And she is probably right to be perplexed. From my vantage point, the concept of ‘luxury’ has, over the past hour, been rather dramatically redefined simply to denote any experience not involving an elbow in one’s back.

I guess that explains, then, why I hobbled out of that massage and immediately bulk-booked five more. Because what’s an hour of pain and humiliation when the rest of the week suddenly seems, by contrast, like glorious liberation? The Upper Richmond Road has seldom seemed more gold-paved.

And that’s why you should trust absolutely nothing I’m about to write about the bottle of Macon-Villages from Domaine Talmard that I cracked open afterwards. Because, frankly, after all that, I could probably be drinking the bottled contents of a pub urinal in Croydon and still find something positive to say about the experience.

(Well. Okay. Maybe not Croydon.)

So here’s what happens when you drink a half-bottle of Domaine Talmard after a massage from Elaine — your body smugly freed of toxins, your conception of luxury redefined.

You notice, first off, that Domaine Talmard smells a whole lot of apples. Like old, English apples that’ve been sitting around for a bit too long in a crumpled paper bag in the sun.

When you raise the glass to your gob, you experience an electric jolt of pain across your upper back, and your eyelid starts to twitch madly.

But it was worth it. Because it tastes pretty damn nice. Principally, it tastes of toxins. Sweet, delicious toxins. Welcome back to my bloodstream, toxins. I’ve missed you. You and me, toxins, we were a team. I should never have thought otherwise. We belong together.

‘Floating, falling, sweet intoxication
Touch me, trust me, savor each sensation…’

Lazy, perfumed lemon and (yes) those apples, and a bracingly serrated edge of bitterness. And, in your slavering, toxin-thirsty gob, it feels intoxicatingly plump.

Domaine Talmard, you see, didn’t ask me about my pain threshold. Innocent in its demure half-bottle, it just sort of shuffled up close and lent on me a bit. And (unlike that fucking weirdo on the Tube the other day) Domaine Talmard is quite welcome to do that.

But I’ll be going back to Elaine next week.

Because comfortable, snuggly Chardonnay is all very well. But nothing’s going to be quite the same any more.

‘The Phantom of the Opera is there
Inside my mind.’

Wine Macon-Villages, Domaine Talmard, 2011
Grape Chardonnay
Price £5.75 for a half bottle from The Wine Society

A Csárdás in a glass — Hilltop Hungarian White

… is a tantalising, gob-watering Csárdás of a wine that lobs a grenade of tropicality — mandarins, lychees, peaches, the kinds of fruits that ooze when you squidge them — that follows up with an aftershock of dry, icy citrus

Closeup of the purple label of this Hungarian wine. Simple typographic design.

Here’s a happy, carefree, unselfconscious dance of a wine. A Csárdás. A whooping whirligig of fruit and flavour and life. Like the best dances, it’s got energy, momentum. Which might be just an absurdly pretentious way of saying you can get through a bottle of this stuff pretty damn quickly; pretty damn happily.

Into your cavernous gob, Hilltop Estates Cserszegi F?szeres lobs a grenade of tropicality — mandarins, lychees, peaches, the kinds of fruits that ooze when you squidge them — that follows up with an aftershock of dry, icy citrus. In response, your poor mouth can only conjure up bucketloads of saliva like a really shit magician.

ROLL UP! ROLL UP! SEE THE AMAZING DRIBBLE-CONJURURING MOUTH! BE AMAZED, OR YOUR MONEY BACK IN FULL!

This — listen, buy lasix 40 mg now, because this really is amazing — this tantalising, gob-watering Csárdás of a wine is £5.75. It’s only 11% ABV. It’s outstanding for the price, and I’ll be ordering more. Serve it up to dinner-party guests as an aperitif and make them guess where it’s from. Indulge yourself in innumerable hungry/Hungary puns. Go on! Tease ’em! IT WILL BE FUN.

Almost as much fun as the dance.

Wines like this are the reason I’m a member of the Wine Society. Exciting, unexpected, and the kind of thing most supermarkets would dismiss with a peremptory flick of the hand.

Well — joke’s on them. £5.75, you daft plonkers. £5.75!

Time to get dancing.

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Hungary
Grape Cserszegi F?szeres
ABV 11%
Price £5.75 from The Wine Society

A sherry suckerpunch of Manzanilla mouthjoy

…is one half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy — the sea-wind bite, the roll of it, the swell of it, the crescendo

A bottle of sherry and a condensation-beaded glass -- on the background of a floral print

Sherry, sherry. I adore sherry. I adore it in its many guises and manifestations. Whenever I’m passing through a decent wine shop or supermarket, I scour the shelves for half-bottles of sherry. Because half-bottles of sherry, my dear friend, are like anchovies: my kitchen is bereft without them.

So last time I was salivating my way round Whole Foods, I tossed a half of Fernando de Castilla Manzanilla into my basket.

And Manzanilla (oh! Manzanilla!) is possibly the sherry I adore most of all.

Why? Because of its richness, its depth and its bite. This one is a half-bottle-sized suckerpunch of mouthjoy. The impossibly woody, dense, complicated smell. The sea-wind bite — like spray from the cold Atlantic. The roll of it, the swell of it, the almost overwhelming crescendo of the flavour once you have it there in your gob.

The way it leaves you gasping for another mouthful.

This is an excellent Manzanilla. I can imagine drinking it with some of those anchovies. And lemon. Salt. Bite. Yeah. That would be fucking lovely.

Staggering, mouthwatering, delicious.

Drink it. Drink sherry. Drink!

Rating ???? 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
ABV 15%
Price £6.49 (half bottle) from Whole Foods, High Street Kensington; £10.95 (whole bottle) from Stone & Vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup.

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

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.

Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner, Ried Kaferberg 2002 review

… is like the taste equivalent of a massage that makes every single part of your body feel amazing. It’s a perfect, coruscating globe of flavour, tickling every tastebud, expanding to fill every corner of that slavering gob of yours.

A bottle of Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner on a table, alongside glass, plate and squeezed lemon sliceWell, what do you know? 2011’s best sensory experiences occurred in December.

Perhaps mercifully, this blog will concentrate purely on the wine-related amongst them.

Which is the cue for Brundlmayer’s Gruner Veltliner to make its suave entry upon the stage. Yes, with the dregs of Vina Arana Rioja barely rinsed from our glasses, it’s time for another five star rating. Bearing in mind the fact that, over the course of this blog’s existence, I’d previously only awarded five stars to one sodding wine, this is somewhat remarkable. And altogether quite a splendid thing.

Well done, Brundlmayer. Take a bow. Not a deep bow, though. We wouldn’t want any of you spilling.

So what makes it good? It’s like the taste equivalent of a massage that makes every single part of your body feel amazing. It’s a perfect, coruscating globe of flavour, tickling every tastebud, expanding to fill every corner of that slavering gob of yours.

Often, the more complicated and joyously symphonic a wine is, the less point there is in describing its flavour in any detail. Because I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty damn hard to conceptualise an enormous itemised list of flavours. But let’s pick out a few of them, shall we? Just for shits and giggles.

So it’s priligy low price woody and fruity and rounded. Golden, honied, rich. There’s aniseed there, and spice and a fucking ecstatic (almost chilli-like) kick somewhere in the middle of it all, just in case you’d stopped paying attention (you hadn’t). Very goddamn nice. And pear. Pear! Juicy, ripe, mellow pear. (Like that pear you gave me, Amy. That was a nice pear.)

I hadn’t had an aged Gruner Veltliner before. On the strength of this, I’d do more than recommend it. I’d put you in a headlock until you agreed to try some too. It’s still got that sexy leanness I associate with the grape, but with a whole new layer of controlled richness and blossom and goldenness that makes me think of a lovely (and doubtless expensive) white Burgundy.

Oh. Yup. This was good. Boy, this was good.

So here’s to sensory experiences, eh? Bring it on, January. Bring it the fuck on.

Rating ????? 5 stars (outstanding)
Region Kamptal
Grape Gruner Veltliner
Price I bought mine from The Wine Society for something in the region of £30. I can’t find this vintage anywhere, now. Majestic has the a different Brundlmayer GV from 2010 for £14.99, which is doubtless worth a go, though will be a different beast entirely.

Vina Arana Reserva, La Rioja Alta 2001 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chivite Gran Feudo 2005 Reserva review

… will make you go Pfooouf

The label of this bottle of Gran Feudo — gold and black lettering, and a dribble of red wine running down it

I wrenched the cork from this blighter and snatched it up to my nose (by now, uncorking and bottle-neck-sniffing form one seamless movement — almost, I like to think, choreographed in its elegance). And — to the empty rooms of Flat 7 — I made a kind of wow-type exclamation.

Actually, to be honest, it probably went something like, ‘Pfooouf!’

(An approbatory ‘Pfooouf!’, though. Not an I-just-smelt-something-a-bit-farmyardy kind of ‘Pfooouf!’. It pays to be clear about these things.)

That’s not to say there’s not a bit of the farmyard about Gran Feudo. Assuming this is a farmyard in which bulls tear up and down and spill dark blood on grey flagstones — rather than some disgusting, spiritually impoverished Bernard Matthews job.

A smokey, inky depth here — from a wine that’s dark, rich, concentrated. It’s like the mixture of blood and sweat in your gob from that fight you just had. But you should’ve seen the other guy.

Oh, yeah, and you could easily keep this wine a while longer and get even more out of it, I reckon.

So. You may’ve gathered, I like red wines like this. Red wines with a bit of earth and blood and soul to them. And I really like the fact that this critter costs a good bit less than a tenner. That, Waitrose, is sodding commendable.

Or, to put it another way, Pfooouf.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Navarra
Grapes Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot
ABV 13.5%
Price £8.54 from Waitrose online

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

D’Aquino Reserve Merlot review

… is one Merlot that can grab onto Old Parn’s ankles any day of the week — soft yet taut; fleshy, springy, grabbable without being podgy

Naked Wines' D'Aquino Merlot: simple label with cursive typography and traditional crest

Bang! That’s my boy, Naked, that’s my boy. A confident, bold, self-possessed Merlot. Merlot with dignity. Not gutter-Merlot that grasps at your ankles, wheedling and baring its rotten teeth in the terrifying semblance of a smile, reeking of cheap sweet perfume.

(Oh Merlot. Poor maligned, abused Merlot.)

No. For whilst D’Aquino certainly throws up a bountiful snoutful of smells, cheap sweet perfume is not amongst them. Because this Merlot smells good.

Once you snatch it away from your nose and get it down you, you’ll encounter that familiar softness that can (at times) be Merlot’s own worst enemy. That voluptuousness that so easily goes to seed. But here it’s soft yet taut. Fleshy, springy, grabbable without being podgy. Very, very appealing.

Deliciously fruity, it’s backed up (and balanced) with a thrilling savagery. A coffee bitterness, a sprightly, sexy little kick of petulance. And a dab of oak immediately to caress buy cialis pills away the resultant bruise.

Verdict

Interesting that this (I’ll come out and say it: the best Naked Wine I’ve drunk so far) is perhaps one I was least fussed to try. I wasn’t closed-minded, but wondered whether I might be in for a pubbish tutti-frutti Merlot.

But if I found a pub that sold this, I’d be able to stop hanging around in poncy wine bars.

(Who am I kidding? I’d still hang around in poncy wine bars.)

And to get the full five stars? I’d like a little more presence in the gob, I think. I’m a greedy bugger for presence in the gob, though. And let’s not quibble. Because this here is one Merlot that can grab onto my ankles any day of the week.

Rating ???? (4 stars)
ABV 13.5%
Price £10.99 from Naked Wines (£7.33 to members)