Lockdown Scavenging: Reds from General Wine

So. How’s lockdown been treating you? Personally, I’m struggling with the cognitive dissonance wrought by (on the one hand) friends moaning about boredom, blithely sharing quizzes and sourdough diaries to fill the time and (on the other hand) my own sodding lack of any time whatsoever.

The smallest lockdown violin, I’m aware, plays for those who are still in their (absolutely, incontrovertibly) non-essential jobs. Before the mob gathers to stone me, I’ll add that I’m aware of my good fortune. Perhaps less aware when I’m three hours into a goddamn conference call. But aware nonetheless.

April passed, I observe, and the Industrial Content Megahub that is Old Parn, Inc cranked out a total of three posts. Lamentable, eh? (Though the last one was pretty good, I thought.) But while I may not have been posting abundantly, you may be reassured that I have been drinking abundantly.

And I suppose, whether you’re running out of hairs to pull out or thumbs to twiddle, you may well have been doing the same. I know I’m far from alone — in these virus-addled, socially distanced times — in leaning all the more heavily (metaphorically, don’t worry) upon my local independent wine merchant. Fortunately, I have a rather good one: The General Wine Company. What it may lack in nominative flair it delivers abundantly in charm and (as we’ll see) fine booze. They have shops in Petersfield and Liphook and they deliver free within a 15 mile radius of those towns (or further afield, if you can bring yourself to pay for delivery, you stingy bugger).

Here are a few of the bottles with which I’ve enlivened my conference calls so far.

Ego Bodegas Jumilla El Goru 2018
(£11.99, General Wine)

Now, if you’re on the General Wine site looking for Spanish wine, a word of advice: don’t use the filters. These mysteriously list more wines from Mexico (3) than Spain (0). Give me a shout if you need some help with your site navigation & tagging, chaps… Instead, follow the above link to this handsomely (if mildly terrifyingly) labelled bottle.

Ego Bodegas El Goru -- wine bottle label with illustration of wild-haired old man

I found the liquid inside barely less interesting: chocolatey and smooth (thanks to a dab of oak) with a savoury counterpoint of warm spice (nutmeg and pepper) and smoke. Dark, vermillion red, it has that femme fatale assertiveness you get from Iberian reds that aren’t the usual suspects (y’know, Rioja et al), with cherry and plum and a gentle solventy punch to keep you from getting over-familiar. A wine, I’d say, that sits at the intersection between ‘accessible’ and ‘interesting’. And, as anyone who’s set up their deck chair at Oxford Circus can tell you, there are far worse intersections at which to sit.

Wine Grade: B
Label Grade: A+
Website Filter Grade: F
(Jokes, jokes. I know it’s not easy for small businesses to manage websites. That, after all, is why I have a job — and, indirectly, is also to blame for all these damn conference calls, come to think of it…)

Brunilde di Menzione Aglianico del Vulture
(£13.49, General Wine)

Booof! Well, this is what is referred to in technical wine critic terminology you probably wouldn’t understand as a damn full gob of booze. It’s dense as hell: a really nice, chewy fellow. There’s some tannin in there but it’s still pretty accessible. Perhaps a bit of marzipan and candyfloss too? Hell, sounds good, doesn’t it? Or possibly horrendous. But it’s not horrendous, dear, I promise you. I’d whack this into a decanter: it mellows and takes on a delightful creaminess. I’m sort of regretting the bit about the candy floss now. Please don’t be put off.

In summary: full and super rich. Like an oligarch who’s just been to a restaurant.

Wine Grade: A
Russia’s Implementation of a Market Economy Grade: E

Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois ‘Emma’ 2017
(£11.99, General Wine)

‘O dark dark dark’ wrote TS Eliot. He may not have been writing about a bottle of Minervois. He’s dead, so perhaps we’ll never know for sure. (He wasn’t.)

This wine has something of an identity crisis, as it’s called Domaine Lignères Lathenay Minervois (y’know, normal wine type name), but also has ‘Emma’ written on the label, in a manner disconcertingly reminiscent of the logo of the mattress brand of the same name. I do not think this is the mattress-flogger/French winery collaboration for which tone deaf marketeers have been howling, but I’m not sure. It is odd.

Fortunately, the wine is less confusing. Indeed, it’s rather delicious, inky stuff, with gentle tannins but plenty of fruit: raspberry, cherry and so on. Not rubbishy fruit, obv, and this is not a fruit bomb, thank god.

Fairly typical of Minervois, I’d say (which is good as far as I’m concerned), and pretty decent value.

Wine Grade: B+
TS Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ Grade: A+

Okay, that’ll do for now. You’ll notice I’ve kept it summery with three hoofing great red wines, but that’s just how Old Parn rolls. I’ve had some nice General Wine whites, too, but given my shoddy post-count, I should probably spin this out and save those for a follow-up.

While you’re waiting, do fill your eCommerce baskets with some good booze, won’t you? Have a look at General Wine if you’re in my neck of the woods. And if you’ve loads of time on your hands, do me a favour and keep it to yourself, you bastard.

Now, excuse me. I have a conference call to join.

A Squid Supper + Portsmouth Fish Market

‘How about this one?’ he says, at length, with the barest modicum of enthusiasm.

We look at the fish. Potato looks at the fish. The fish looks glassily at the ceiling. Portsmouth Fish Market falls silent once more.

It is a beautiful (if somewhat blustery) Spring morning, and we are outside Portsmouth Fish Market. For the past year or so, Amy and I have repeatedly vowed to make this peregrination — this piscine pilgrimage — but despite living half an hour or so down the road, we’ve failed to enact our vows.

Until now.

Continue reading “A Squid Supper + Portsmouth Fish Market”

Nordesia Red Vermouth Review

Nordesia Red Vermouth may initially get you a few weird looks at a party. But those looks will quickly turn worshipful when the buggers actually try the stuff, I’ll warrant.

I blame the Asterley Brothers.

Ever since I snagged that bottle of their English Red Vermouth, I’ve been mildly obsessed with seeking out new (to me) vermouths.

Continue reading “Nordesia Red Vermouth Review”

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

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.)

Winsome White Wines from Waitrose

In which Old Parn points a quivering finger at two excellent wines you’d be a damned fool not to go and buy right now

Two bottles of wine (a Gruner Veltliner and an Albarino) standing side by side

Here’s an idea. Next time you’re in Waitrose (don’t protest, I know you’re always in there. You’re so middle class.), snag yourself the pair of wines depicted above. Both of them are on offer (yes, yes, my pretties) — 25% off, I think — and both of them are bloody good.

Both are zingy and dry and gob-enlivening as you like. The Vina Taboexa Albarino is all zest and candied lemon and crisp spring mornings; the Domane Wachau Gruner Veltliner is stonier, leaner, less fruited. Both of them are goddamn delicious. If this sodding rain would ever stop, you’d be entirely sensible to sneak out into the evening sunshine with a bottle of either.

Snap them up (potentially in bulk) while they’re ludicrously cheap. That is, in the next two days.

BUT STAY AWAY FROM WAITROSE IN PUTNEY. Those’n’s are mine.

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.

Natureo 2010, Torres review

… is just the kind of de-alcoholised pick-me-up you DON’T need after being told stories of martini-making for the Queen

The label of this bottle of de-alcoholised wine by Torres — a picture of a leaf adorns the label of this trap for unwary wine-shoppers

Now. I wish I could present what follows in the light of intrepid, altruistic experimentation. The reviewer acting on the behalf of his beloved community.

But no. Alas. The only valid explanation is, I’m afraid, my own bestial idiocy.

Picture me, then, as I stroll through the aisles of Waitrose. Perhaps, yes, perhaps I am a little more distracted than usual; my thoughts elsewhere. Specifically, my thoughts are still stuck at Waitrose’s cakes/baked goods counter, to which I was bewilderingly summoned, moments ago; interrupted amidst my blithe perusal of the organic eggs:

‘Excuse me, sir! Can I tempt you with my cakes?’

My dear reader: I am not accustomed to being tempted with the cakes of strangers. Least of all strangers wearing Waitrose caps and aprons. But, heedless of warning signs, I amble across.

‘Is that a bottle of gin I spy in your basket?’ cries this affable (by which I of course mean fucking weird-ass) baker.

‘Er, yup.’

‘Ah, Plymouth. Good choice. I bet it would go wonderfully with one of my cakes.’ (Looking at his cakes, this strikes me as an unsound wager.) ‘May I ask what you plan to do with your gin?’

‘Um … make martinis?’

At this, Waitrose Man’s face lights up like a napalmed shellsuit factory.

‘Martinis! Oh, well! Martinis! I’ll let you into a secret: martinis are something of a speciality of mine. I used to make martinis for a very special person. I can’t tell you who. But a very special person.’

‘Oh,’ I reply, weakly. ‘That sounds like a story.’

You will note that I choose to punctuate the above with a concluding full-stop, rather than a question mark. For, dear reader, it sounded like a story I did not much want to hear. But a story I had a feeling I was going to hear, full-stop or no.

And I was right.

‘Well, let me tell you … I can’t talk too much about it …’ (he looks left and right for eavesdroppers, leans forward and continues, sotto voce) ‘… but I’ll put it like this: when you’re making martinis for the Queen, you must be doing something right.’

***

When at length I’d extricated myself from the above exchange, I blundered dumbly for some time through the aisles of Waitrose, visions swimming before me of my wild-eyed cake-seller shaking his regal martinis.

And it was in this semi-delirious state that I picked up a bottle of Torres Natureo.

Now, you might not be thinking that this sounds like much of a disaster. Torres is a brand that makes some good mass-market-type wines. Indeed, it was this fact, coupled with its being on offer, that motivated me to grab a bottle: ‘I’ll review this for those splendid readers of mine,’ I thought. ‘For they are the sorts who’ll surely flock to snap up a Waitrose special offer, are they not?’

Well, maybe you are.

But maybe you’re not a blind fool like me.

And maybe you’ll therefore have observed those evil, evil words skulking beneath the name of this bottle (in something that looks appallingly like that fucking Brush Script typeface, no less):

‘De-alcoholised wine’

You may imagine my horror when, back at home, my eye fell upon those nauseating words. I felt a searing pain comparable (I am almost sure) with that of childbirth — and let out an appropriately agonised wail:

By the blackened arsehole of Beelzebub — NO!

But, heck, I pulled myself together. Gathered up the scraps of my journalistic impartiality (ha!) and decided to taste the blighter.

And, okay, I’ll be honest: when first I walloped some of the despicable liquid into my trap, I actually thought, hell, this isn’t as appalling as I expected. There’s a snap of acidity that’s almost bracing. A kind of Riesling-esque poise.

Alas, that poise disintegrates more rapidly than a leper in a wind tunnel. And is rapidly succeeded by a grim, pitiless flavour that is hauntingly like that of too-weak orange squash (from cheap-brand concentrate).

What’s more, it leaves about as pleasant a legacy in your mouth as the US did in Vietnam.

Ganky, cloying rot.

Look, it must be really hard to make a good wine with this little alcohol in it. So — how’s this for an idea? — don’t bother. I mean, if you don’t like alcohol, why in the name of the nailed up Messiah would you want to have a bottle of crappy fake-wine? And if you do like alcohol (but you have to drive later, or something) a mouthful of this is a patronising insult to your tastebuds.

Either way: stick to Schloer.

Or, if you’re the Queen, stick to martinis.

Rating ☆ 0 stars (lamentable)
Grape Muscat
ABV 0.5%
Price Currently 20% off — £4.55 — at Waitrose. A temptation to be resisted like the cakes of a lunatic.

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.

Williams and Humbert 12 Year Old Oloroso Sherry review

… will show you (yet again) that sherry is not just a drink for your grannie.

A half bottle of Williams & Humbert, bathed in red light

Marzipan and meat and cream (so goddamn creamy I want to die). Light wood. Smooth wood. Not cheap wood. But smooth. Dried fruit. And the warm, spirity burn of alcohol caressing your throat.

Your lucky, lucky throat.

Drink it — like I did — with sweet, pink chicken livers, spinach, caramelised onion, pine nuts and the gang. There’s a recipe in the first Moro cookbook that you’d do well to follow. Actually, drink it however you want.

Because, yeah, I’ve said it before. (And I don’t care that I have.) Drink sherry. Sherry is not just a drink for your grannie (though far be it from me to deprive her of it). Sherry is lovely.

This one particularly so.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Type Oloroso
ABV 19%
Price (half bottle) I got mine from Wholefoods, High Street Kensington for an amount I can’t recall. Online, I see it at £6.14 from Cambridge Wine Merchants or at £6.85 from Alexander Hadleigh

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

Verd Albera, Emporda review

… is a plump, florid, indulgent kind of wine — a hint of that chardonnay roundness and chubbiness, overlaid with a sprinkling of spice and pepper

Closeup of the elegant label of a bottle of Verd Albera from The Wine Society: minimal typography on a textured plain label

God, don’t you get sick of me telling you about wines from The Wine Society that are sodding good value?

Well, apologies. Because here’s another. Verd Albera is a relatively plump, florid, indulgent kind of wine — it has a hint of that chardonnay roundness and chubbiness to it, but overlaid with a sprinkling of spice and pepper. So the luxuriant fruity, buttery gubbins is cut with a savoury bite. And it’s all dashed through with that matt zing of lemon zest.

Extremely nice, and tastes as though it could’ve cost a fair stack more than it does. It also looks good, in an understated, elegant sort of way.

What’s more, I’m going to send a bottle of this as a prize to the person who posts the funniest/most ludicrous example of terrible wine label writing on my post of yesterday. Quick!

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Emporda
Grapes Muscat and Grenache Blanc
ABV 13.5%
Price £7.95 from The Wine Society (for the 2010 vintage)
Don’t take my word for it? [Sob.] Check out Jamie Goode’s review of the same wine — posted, would you believe, on the same day — for a second (also glowingly positive) opinion.

Marques de Caceres Rioja Blanco review

… conspicuously lacks the dance, the verve, the pizzazz — in both its label and, alas, its taste

The green and gold label of Marques de Caceres' white Rioja — rather lacking in design style

Take a look at the label. What do you reckon? Any reaction? Any strong feelings?

Or just a blank expression? A shrug?

Yeah. Slightly ugly in an unremarkable kind of way, right? Not horrific. Just mediocre.

Well, in this case, it turns out that label and wine aren’t far from being in accord. Because this is a fairly unremarkable wine. Not offensive, but, really, I can’t see too much of a reason to buy it.

It’s a bit empty, a bit veggy, a bit harsh and globby. Not much finesse. Sure, it’s got a fair old bit of presence around the sides and back of your trap, but it’s conspicuously lacking the dance, the verve, the pizzazz at the front.

And I’m all about the dance. The verve. The pizzazz.

It’s trying to be fruity & summery — but if it’s fruity & summery you’re gagging for, you’d be better off (at this kind of price) with something like Sainsbury’s Gruner Veltliner or Benny D’s Picpoul de Pinet from Naked Wines.

For the price, I guess it’s acceptable (I wouldn’t complain), but — at the same time — there’s better to be had. And better labels, too.

Rating ★★ 2 stars (average)
Region Rioja
Grape Viura
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.99 from Majestic; £6.99 if you buy a couple.

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

Castillo de Tafalla Angel’s Selection Rose review

… is like a character in a trashy romance novel — for drinking now, asking questions later

A macro shot of the label of a bottle of Castillo de Tafalla rose from Spain

Before we start, I’d just like to tell y’all: this is a review of a free sample I received from Naked Wines. Obviously it receives no special treatment as such, but, yeah, just so you know, right?

Okay. Here’s a wine that’s simple, fruity, easy and goes down very readily. In all respects, then, it’s rather like a character in a trashy romance novel.

In contrast to roses such as the Paxton Shiraz Rose I wrote about a while ago, this one’s far lighter, without that reddy tannin, that grip on your gob.

And it’s a real fruit bomb. A fruit bonbon bomb. The raspberry bonbon, obviously. It’s even the same colour. And it’s a bit sugary, too, bit sweet. Yup, this wine is pink as you like. It’s smooth going down, leaving you very little to think about.

Which is maybe how you like it, I guess.

Me, I prefer a bit of intellectual discourse, y’know? Maybe a few minutes’ talk about the likelihood of stable democracy in Egypt, or the merits of the Oxford comma. Before the going down, I mean.

Verdict

This is a wine that fulfils a particular purpose. It’s not really a wine to criticise or review in depth (SPOT THE INHERENT CONTRADICTION IN THE PREVIOUS SENTENCE FOR A MYSTERY PRIZE). It’s a drink-now-ask-questions-later kind of wine. Where ‘later’ may be defined as ‘when you suddenly realise you’ve got reeling drunk without noticing’.

Perfectly decent, simple fare, in other words, if pretty much bereft of complexity. And very easy.

Buy it to take along a barbecue or something. Yeah, you’re always going to bloody barbecues, aren’t you? You strike me as the chilled out kind of individual who’d be coming down with barbecue invitations.

And with a bottle of Castillo de Tafalla rose in hand and an enigmatic smile, who knows what romantic plotlines you might kick off. You old dog.

Rating ** (2 stars)
ABV 12.5%
Price £7.99 from Naked Wines (£5.33 to members)

Burgo Viejo Rioja Tinto, Naked Wines

… a Naked wine that’s like silk wrapped around a slightly splintery wooden post. Does that sound sexy to you? Eh?

A bottle of Burgo Viejo Rioja from Naked Wines

Decant! Decant! Decant!

Apologies for that triple imperative — arguably a rather abrupt (if not outright boorish) way to begin a blog post. But if you happen to be in possession of a bottle of this Rioja from Naked Wines, let’s hope you’re also in possession of a decanter.

But before I elaborate, let’s talk a little about Naked Wines, shall we? Because it’s quite a funky idea for a business.

Background: Naked Wines

Essentially, the whole shebang is based on the principle that wine is cheaper the earlier one buys it. The logical extension? You buy up all of a wine before it’s even been made. You are giving the maker the security (so the thinking goes) to spend all their time and money making a good wine. Read more about the business model on their website.

Now, I’m not quite sure what I think about this. On the one hand, it’s an attractively original approach, and fosters engagement between grower and customer; on the other, capitalism is economically dominant for a reason, after all, and an organisation that has to fight for its sales arguably has a greater incentive to strive than one that’s implicitly insured against risk. Does a guaranteed income not potentially lessen the drive for excellence?

But that’s theory. I’m no economist; and, besides, we’re interested — aren’t we? — in practice. So let’s dive into this Rioja.

The review

Okay, so here’s where my opening battlecry of ‘Decant!’ comes in. Because the first mouthful I took of this Naked Rioja was pretty disappointing. Sure, up the snout it has a sweet, enticing, raisiny waft. And sure, my tongue tingled like a fairy on acid — but the taste experience was oddly flat, despite the apparent intensity of the wine, leaving an impression of thinness, hollowness. My palate went largely untouched

And my palate LIKES TO BE TOUCHED, alright?

Enter decanter, stage left. Just as well I had a few thumbs to twiddle while I waited half an hour or so to let oxygen work its magic.

And it was worth twiddling. The wine became noticeably deeper, silkier — filled out, if you will. I’m glad my instincts told me I should try decanting, for I was otherwise poised to give this wine a bit of a belting.

The flavours and aromas (initially underdeveloped) expand to transformative effect. Peppered blackberries (just the way momma made ’em); liquorice. The combination of bitterness and fruit is strikingly like that of biting into a dark, dark chocalate-encased cherry liqueur.

Even after decanting, it’s somewhat austere: spiny, coniferous. In some respects it put me in mind of youthful pinot noir: it has that stalky vigour. That haughtiness. It plays hard to get.

Its bitter roughness, however, isn’t so pinot. I wonder if age would meld these two sides of the wine better? At the moment, it’s like silk wrapped around a slightly splintery wooden post.

(What do you mean, ‘That makes it sound kind of sexy’? Jesus.)

Just because it’s naked doesn’t mean you need to get all pervy about it.

Anyhow, this was the first of my six-bottle ‘trial’ case from Naked Wines. So we shall see how the remaining bottles stack up, shall we? They’re certainly in the game.

Rating ★★★ (but only if you decant it, or let it age a while)
ABV 13%
Price £7.99 from Naked Wines (though if you join as a Naked Wine Angel, you get 33% off all the wines)