East London Liquor Company London Gin Review

So East London Liquor Dry Gin is apparently made somewhere near Victoria Park, which is not so far from where Amy used to frolic and kick her heels until I gentrified her with my ludicrous Putney ways. Yes, Amy used to be cool until I appeared in her life, like a branch of Jojo Maman Bébé opening its doors in a street of trendy record shops and fashion boutiques.

Anyhow. The East London Liquor Company makes a range of gins, another of which I have lingering in my gin cupboard awaiting review. This, their ‘standard’ London Dry Gin, is the lower priced option, weighing in at about 20 quid.

Twenty quid well spent? Let’s see, shall we?

East London Liquor Co. Gin & Tonic

So this works quite nicely. I’d put East London Liquor Company’s London Dry Gin in the spicy category, with the dominant flavour to my taste buds being cardamom — though there’s pepper, allspice and aniseed hanging around in the background like recalcitrant teenagers at their parents’ dinner party. We have a decent dose of juniper, plus lemon to keep it balanced. Pretty nice, assuming you like cardamom. By dint of fate or circumstance, I’ve found myself tasting a bunch of cardamommy gins lately (Hidden Curiosities and Norwich Gin are two more) and I will stick my scrawny old neck out and say that — in my humble — cardamom is a flavour that can become a little wearisome to excess. It’s very dominant, and as a result, I’d keep this family of gins as an occasional rather than staple boozy pleasure.

Of course if you’re the kind of macho champion who munches through a pot of cardamom pods for breakfast, you’ll disagree. Come at me, you freak.

Verdict: Gulp it!
G&T Grade: B

ELLC London Gin Martini

First, Duke’s Hotel style. Again, it’s spice-led. Cardamom first, then the piney juniper backed by pepper. There’s a general sense of sweetness and roundness, even though the initial kick is fairly strong and there’s a bit of booze burn. I like this gin with a twist rather than an olive, as I think you want to raise the citrus profile a little to balance the spice.

In classic martini it is still damn strong and assertive. Better, I think, with the meltwater influence which softens it a little. The flavours blend more, and it certainly still has punch. That said, the Dukes-style martini is more zingy and tingly, sends that boozy jolt up yer nose. So I suppose it’s a question of what you want.

Verdict: Gulp it!
Martini Grade: B

ELLC London Dry Gin Negroni

I think the cardamom gubbins works particularly well in a negroni, giving it a pleasant additional warmth and blending rather well with the vermouth (I’m using 50/50 Dolin and Punt é Mes). I’m not normally an advocate of including premium gins in the negroni, as I think you struggle to get much of the spirit’s complexity when it’s rubbing up against such burly bedfellows as Campari and Vermouth, so a cheaper gin such as this is a nice option.

Verdict: Gulp it!
Negroni Grade: B+

In Summary…

East London Liquor Gin bottle label

So that salvo of ratings suggests a gin that’s very good but not quite great — falling short of the coveted ‘Neck it!’ award in any category. But, again, bear in mind this gin’s lower-than-many price, on which basis I think it’s pretty damn commendable. Question is, I suppose, what the East London natives would make of it, rather than some one-time SW15 posho like myself. I would ask Amy her view, but she’s too busy on the Jojo Maman Bébé website…

(Oh god, what have I done?)

You can buy East London Liquor Company’s London Dry Gin at Master of Malt, where it’s normally £21.95 but currently reduced to £19.95.

Boxer Gin Review. Punchy or Paunchy?

I mean, when a gin’s called Boxer, how am I meant to avoid the most bloody obvious metaphor? Christ. Give me something to work with. Fortunately, Boxer Gin does exactly that, in abundance, as soon as you get it into your gob. Here’s how it measures up.

I bought Boxer Gin because it was the gin of choice at Poco Tapas Bar, the excellent Bristolian tapas restaurant at which I first discovered the Negroni Manzanilla. And given my predilection for punchy gins and stooping to lowest-common-denominator wordplay, what could be more auspicious than a gin that is literally punchy?

Continue reading “Boxer Gin Review. Punchy or Paunchy?”

Fort Gin Review: Mighty Fortress or Crumbling Ruin?

Now, a fort is supposed to protect you against danger, right? I’m not convinced. Fort Gin, y’see, is pretty damn dangerous in itself. Take a gulp and you’ll understand why…

Portsmouth! Following last week’s account of our adventures at Portsmouth Fish Market, we’re back to Pompey today — but this time we’re swapping fish for fortifications. Specifically, Fort Gin (£31.95, Master of Malt), which is made by the Portsmouth Distillery.

Continue reading “Fort Gin Review: Mighty Fortress or Crumbling Ruin?”

Clos Triguedina / Clos Putney High Street / Cahors Blimey

Jesus, if this is what Putney smells like, no wonder SW15 property prices are so bloody high.

Bottle of Cahors. Bloody rare chunks of bavette steak. A*‘Ah, that smells good! It reminds me of Putney.’

Stick that on your label, Clos Triguedina, why don’t you? Putney! Sweet, odiferous Putney, home to possibly the most polluted highstreet in London. Putney, the place in which weekly wipe-downs of my kitchen windowsill would stain cloths black. Ah, Putney!

‘I mean, it’s the kind of wine you used to give me in your flat in Putney.’

O reader! What the hell went wrong, I ask myself, since Putney? Why am I not giving Amy wine like this every sodding evening (or, at least, weekend, in moderation, in a manner consistent with government guidelines on alcohol consumption)? I mean, Christ, I thought I’d been doing a pretty good job, here in Ealing, but no; relative to my barnstorming debut in SW15, my domestic sommelier performance in W5 turns out to be the ‘difficult (ie. shit) second album’. I guess I’ll have to try harder.

…Which might, I suppose, just mean ordering a few cases of Clos Triguedina.

Because it’s bloody good. I mean, you should know, I guess, that the level of aggression behind my fandom of Cahors is sufficient to put your average English football hooligan to shame. I’d certainly start chants about it, if not all-out fistfights. If I could be arsed, I’d steer this already ludicrous comparison off onto some otiose tangent whereby I’d exploit the fact that the letters QPR not only stand for an English football club (so I gather) but also for the phrase ‘quality:price ratio’. But you and I, my buttery little reader, we are beyond such fripperies, aren’t we? I’ll give you the dots; you join ’em. #engagement

Anyhow. Because it’s a Cahors from The Wine Society, I’m predisposed to like this quite a lot. But even bearing that in mind, it’s jolly nice. Dark, blue-tinged, rich, spicy. Tantalisingly vampiric. And all the usual good stuff. Hedgerow fruits, tobacco and darkness.

If I were a patient man, I’d perhaps have kept this a tad longer; I’m pretty sure it’ll be even nicer in a year or two. But I had a thick chunk of bavette steak and a thirst. And perhaps, somewhere in the recesses of my lizard brain, a hankering to cast myself back to those soot- and Malbec-sodden days of Putney Hill.

Rating ★★★★★ 5 stars (excellent)
Wine Clos Triguedina Cahors 2011
Price £14.50 from The Wine Society

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.

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.

Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier review

… smells like Bulgarian woodsmoke in August; smells like respite from the guilt of being A Bit Shit With Bulgarian Orphans; smells like charmingly self-indulgent adolescent ennui

A bottle of Arabella Shiraz Viognier from Naked Wines. Black and bright yellow label, with a line drawing of a horse's head

Later, I’m going to tell you about a pretty nice red wine.

But first, let’s talk about Bulgaria.

Bulgaria, see, occupies a distinct position in my personal geography. At the tender (bruisably tender) age of 20, I spent three weeks there. Ostensibly, I was looking after orphans. In reality, I was having trouble enough looking after myself. Oh boy, was I hungry for my own attention.

Plus ça change, dear reader, plus ça change.

My memories of Bulgaria are multifoliate — and extraordinarily intense. Children running through sand littered with cigarette butts and glass shards towards a dirty sea. Children pointing at skyscrapers and Coca Cola adverts, repeating one word — phonetically, something like ‘Hubava! Hubava!’ — that turned out to mean, ‘Beautiful! Beautiful!’ Cafes selling blessed tumblers of 1-part gin, 1-part tonic — and the fucking nicest hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. And me writing a fuckload of shit, self-indulgent poetry.

And when I took a sniff of Arabella (yeah, add your own witty double-entendre here, please) — I was right back there. In Bulgaria. Sitting on a stained plastic chair outside one of those cafes, surrounded by the smell of woodsmoke and midsummer.

Which is, of course, absolutely no use to you at all. Because you (I’m almost sure) weren’t there. So you don’t know what it smelt like.

Christ, how that must suck.

But there we are; it’s official: this wine smells like Bulgarian woodsmoke in August. It smells like respite from the guilt of being A Bit Shit With Bulgarian Orphans. It smells like charmingly self-indulgent adolescent ennui.

SO PUT THAT IN YOUR SODDING BOOK OF TASTING NOTES, ALRIGHT?

Verdict

What else do you want to know, then? Apart from whether it actually tastes nice or not. Which it does, thanks.

Okay. Well, there’s spice and berry and wood. And chocolate. And coffee. And you can fucking bury me before I’ll roll those last two into one and say ‘mocha’.

But it’s pretty soft, and pretty accessible — not bolshy and severe. Yeah, sure, there’s a bit of bite (it’s not a pushover), but it’s not one of those cryptic crossword wines that’ll furrow that lovely brow of yours.

All in all, Parn approves. Parn also approves of the price.

And Arabella is certainly a good deal more hubava than those fucking tower blocks and Coke billboards.

Rating 3 stars (good)
Region Western Cape
Grapes Shiraz, Viognier
ABV 14.5%
Price £9.99 from Naked Wines (£6.66 to members, which is a frigging steal). I was drinking the 2009, but the link is to the 2010, as the older one’s all gone
Aching for a second opinion? Well, you should check out the Cambridge Wine Blogger’s review of Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier. Because we seem to agree. And he doesn’t say ‘mocha’, either. Good man.

Bricco Rosso Suagna Langhe Rosso 2006 review

… is neither despicable nor mucky. Or, if it is a tiny bit mucky, only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way.

A bottle of Suagna from The Wine SocietyYet again, a staggeringly good value Italian red from The Wine Society. If they’re not careful, they’re going to start topping consumer satisfaction lists, y’know?

I mean, look at the despicable muck you could be buying for £3.50 more than this. Look at it. Weep.

I said WEEP.

This is neither despicable nor mucky. Well, maybe it’s a tiny bit mucky — but only in a reassuringly rustic kind of way. You know. Aniseed, a bit of leather and bramble?

Nothing wildly unexpected, I suppose. But that’s not the point, is it? The point is that it’s £6.50.

Good point.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Piedmont
Grape Dolcetto
ABV 13.5%
Price £6.50 from The Wine Society

Potel Aviron Moulin-a-Vent 2005 review

… triumphantly reminds us that the word ‘fruity’ actually refers to real, honest fruit — not the synthetic sugar-water peddled by oily bell-ends in ugly suits

Label of this bottle of Beaujolais from Moulin a Vent. Simple, text on white

What have we here? A bottle of Beaujolais, yeah. This’n hails from the region of Moulin-a-Vent — one of the ten so-called ‘crus’ (specific small areas of Beaujolais that are classified as the top regions).

Which is all, doubtless, very nice to know.

The reason I mention it, though, is that you may already have an idea what to expect of a nippy little Beaujolais. And this Moulin-a-Vent may upend your expectations.

Because Beaujolais is the Lolita of the red wine world, except (I damn well hope) with a bit less implicit moral degeneracy. We expect a Beaujolais, don’t we, to be consumed in the very bloom of its youth? All flowers and fruits and heady perfume.

But it needn’t always be thus. And this is one wine that you may not want to tip down your gullet before it’s even reached its second birthday.

And so — with the aid of my parents and some damn nice lamb leg steaks — I decided to give this six-year-old a whirl.

And a rather damn good whirl it was, too.

Verdict

First, can I just say: fruit. Fruit. This is what I want to taste when someone tells me a wine is ‘fruity’. I want it to be — like this — as if I’d just crammed my thirsty gob with a handful of sharp, wild berries, picked from, oh, I don’t know, a forest thicket or something. All bright and sharp and savage, the shudder-inducing burst of flavour giving way to the bitter, matt cud of the skins.

That’s fruity. Let us never forget, and allow some oily bell-end in an ugly suit sell us the notion that ‘fruity’ actually means ‘tastes like fucking synthetic fruit-flavoured sugar-water’.

So this is fruity like wild cherries fished from your the pocket of your grandad’s tweed jacket — overlaid with spice and tobacco and polish and leather. Still youthful, oh yes — but this is a kind of autumnal youth, a rustic youth. Not a lab-grown, foetal youth.

I love wine like this — wine that combines a come-and-get-me vitality with a self-confident integrity.

And reminds us that the word fruity belongs to us, to the hedgerows, to the soil — not to some bunch of pink-tied FMCG wankers.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Moulin-a-Vent, Beaujolais
Grape(s) Gamay
ABV 13%
Price £10.99 from The Wine Society (no longer available)

Sainsbury’s Gruner Veltliner 2010 (Taste the Difference)

… is exactly the kind of dry white wine with which you’d want to slake your dusty thirst after half an hour’s bypass-trudging

Label of this Austrian Gruner Veltliner, with a traditional crest and purple accents

And so I made my aching, slow way — beetle-like, beneath a beating sun — cars and buses roaring beside me as I clung to the narrow verge with its grey, dusty grass. Along the bypass.

Bypassing nothing.

There are whole stretches of this world that we are never expected to see from certain angles. The denuded backsides of highstreet shops, for instance, glimpsed voyeuristically through rarely-opened delivery gates. Laced with dark varicose veins of piping that give the lie to their gilded plastic frontages.

Just so with this bypass. This place of transit, designed (like piracy warnings on a VHS) to be absorbed at fast-forward — but now viewed through the slow, unexpected eyes of a pedestrian.

The insistent thrum and shudder of passing cars, beating out You should not be here. This is a place of vehicles. What right have you? Why are you here?

And what sinister explanations might have troubled the minds of those motorists as they passed this figure, shambling, alone? What did they imagine might lurk within the bag he hoisted from shoulder to shoulder?

What was this Bypass Wanderer’s heavy burden?

***

Three bottles of wine and a ludicrously, masochistically large number of tins of assorted beans, it turns out.

Because, yeah, I went to Big Sainsbury’s. On foot. Like a fucking idiot.

The question on your lips (that is a question I can see there, isn’t it? Not some kind of cold sore?) is, I suppose: was the odyssey worthwhile?

On the strength of the selection of wines on offer — emphatically not. My mission, y’see, was to hunt down examples of out-of-the-ordinary supermarket wines. Of these there were scandalously few. Bad show, Mr Sainsbury, bad show. And yet — on the strength of Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner — it turns out my travails were not in vain.

(Also, I now have many different types of tinned bean.)

What’s more, it turns out that Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Gruner Veltliner is exactly the kind of wine with which you’d want to slake your dusty thirst after half an hour’s bypass-trudging.

It’s got the qualities I want in a summer wine: bracing, lightish, dry — but rounded (none of that mean-spirited, thin-in-the-mouth stinginess). There’s an appley sort of bite to it: fruits and spice and pepper. An appetising edge of bitterness and a very pleasant silkiness in the gob.

What’s more, it’s relatively keenly priced.

So — whilst Big Sainsbury’s wine selection was, overall, pretty much as unremarkably barren, unimaginative and bereft of variety as my journey there and back — it turns out that if you walk slowly enough, even the most uninspiring of places may reveal a hidden delight.

Rating ??? (3 stars: good)
ABV 12%
Price £7.99 from Sainsbury’s

Mineralstein Riesling 2010 review (Sunday quickie)

… will zap you with spiced fruit

The simple, minimal label of Marks & Spencer's Mineralstein Riesling: blue text on a white backgroundAnyone up for a Sunday quickie? Excellent. So let’s crack open a bottle of Mineralstein from Marks & Spencer, shall we?

Well. That is a boshing hell of a waft, right there. A fruity (grapefruity) zap, sprinkled with spice.

Then, in your mouth, it’s lively, nimble, with the softest fizz of bubbles on your tongue. Fruit and flowers. Off-dry, this one, but not cloying like that horrible Majestic number from a few weeks back. That’s thanks to a good strong lacing of sharp acidity — and also to a pleasant savoury quality. Olive? Yes. Biting into a ripe, sweet green olive.

What I’d say is that you want to chill this bad boy down good. It’s absolutely up to being slugged on its own — or, I’d’ve thought, alongside lightish fodder (simple, clean flavours, methinks).

Well done, M&S, good work here.

Rating ★★★ (3 stars)
ABV 12%
Price £8.39

Musar Jeune Rouge 2008 review

… is like inhaling the contents of a bouquet garni. In a damned good way, let me add

Macro closeup of the label of a bottle of Musar Jeune from Chateau Musar in Lebanon. Cursive typeface adorns a white label

Whoa!

Crack this bad boy open and it’s like you just inhaled the contents of your herb rack.

Sometimes a wino will say that something smells herby — then you smell it yourself and go, ‘Eh? Wot? Smells o’ bloody wine to me!’ So let me assure you: this really does smell herby. It’s actually a lot like walking into one of those marvellously crowded little shops that sell every oriental spice, herb and seasoning you could imagine (and several you couldn’t). It even has that same slight headachey mustiness to it.

But, c’mon. Get it in your gob, why don’t you?

Because it’s good. It’s very good. The depth of the herbs is there, yeah, along with a sizzling tingle of pepper. Then the spices come through: cinnamon, nutmeg and the gang.

So far you’d be forgiven for thinking it all sounds pretty gruff.

… But it’s actually remarkably soft and accessible. Fresh (unbaked), with a fair bit of fruit — cooked plum, red fruits, blueberry — as well as wood, chocolate, aniseed on the finish. Rather goddarn rounded, don’t y’know?

Verdict

I’d buy this like a fucking shot. I mean, look at the price. It’s full, generous, balanced, long, rewarding.

Very good indeed.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars)
ABV 13%
Price £8.60 from Summertown Wine Cafe (buy in store only), £9.25 from Bakers & Larners

Domaine de Mourchon 2005, Seguret, Cotes du Rhone Villages

… will seduce you with a heady waft of fruit, then pull you up, slap you and strap you, look you fucking DEAD in the eye and ask you: ‘Do you think you’re hard enough?’

A closeup of the label of a bottle of Domaine de Mourchon. Relatively modern label design for a Cotes du Rhone, typographic emphasis

I’m sorry, but that was fucking amazing.

Rare, rare — fuck, practically endangered — sirloin steak. Meat so tender its fibres splay apart like fishnet. And a big, chunky Cotes du Rhone. Nothing too venerable or refined — still young enough to play loud music and pout when its parents come and tell it to quiet down.

Something avec spunk.

And Domaine de Mourchon’s got spunk. At the same time as being rather complex. Sure, it may play loud music, but it also surreptitiously reads William Blake and watches film noir.

The combination of spunk and complexity doesn’t always come cheap. But I don’t begrudge a sodding penny of the £14.50 I spent on this wine; nor of the £5 I spent on 200g of the best steak I could find. So take your ‘Dine in for £10’, Marks & Spencer, and stuff it up the rotisserie-ready orifice of your choice. Because I’m dining in for £20 — yeah, just me — and it’s STILL A PRIVILEGE.

Yeah, the wine. That’s what we were talking about, wasn’t it?

So — it’s got that initial jubilant fanfare of blackcurrant that you so often find in new world wines from these grapes (Domaine de Mourchon is made from 60% grenache; 40% syrah) — but, here, that gleeful fruit isn’t allowed to dominate. First of all it’s softened up by a delicious — almost bready — savouriness. Then it’s wrestled to the ground by stern tannins, their muscles laced with dark veins of pepper, spice, wood, leather.

And all the while there’s an alluring slip of aniseed waifing around, smiling coyly, just to confuse you.

Verdict

I don’t know about you, but I go weak and jibbly for wines that 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.

I suspect I’m not hard enough.

But get enough blood-oozing red meat and Domaine de Mourchon down my gullet and I might start to think I am.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars)
ABV 14.5%
Price £14.50 from The Wine Society

Le Fraghe 2009, Bardolino Review

… will light up all the buzzers on the pinball table of your palate. For under a tenner.

Closeup of the lettering on a bottle of Le Fraghe, an Italian red wineLe Fraghe. A wee blend of two grapes: corvina and rondinella. From somewhere between Venice and Milan.

And if it has Venice’s sunset-laced romance, it also has Milan’s fashionable, metropolitan elegance.

It’s gentle, toned, soft, pristine.

And it’s rather beautiful.

In your mouth, it’s full — yet light, elegant. There’s some subdued tannin; some savouriness, some meaty depth, some spice, liquorice. And a sustained, beautifully controlled diminuendo to finish.

Stick your snout in there and inhale the cooked (but not jammy) red fruits of a summer pudding.

Verdict

I really enjoyed La Fraghe. It’s a wine that lights up all the buzzers on the pinball table of your palate. And I’d say it’s pretty damn good value for under a tenner.

Crack it out with food — nothing too honky or flavoursome, mind; probably lighter meats, fish — simple, honest ingredients, please; simply, honestly cooked …

… and (pooph!) you’re right there between Venice and Milan.

Rating ???? (4 stars)
ABV 12%
Price £8.95 from The Wine Society

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)

Marks & Spencer Dry Old Oloroso Review

… will allow you to live the dream of swigging 20% ABV sherry from a beer bottle. LIKE A MAN.

Closeup of the text of the Dry Old Oloroso bottle

First things first. This is a bottle of dry oloroso sherry. Indeed, it’s a half bottle. And I’ve made my admiration of both half bottles and good sherry abundantly clear in the past.

The bottle of the Dry Old Oloroso: dark brown, somewhat squat, unpretentious — for all the world like a bottle of beerMy admiration for this half bottle, though, goes a step or two further. Because this is sherry in a beer bottle. FINALLY MY DREAM HAS COME TRUE: I can slyly swig oloroso sherry from the bottle whilst hanging out with the lads — yet not compromise my appearance of nonchalant masculinity.

(An area in which compromise is a fearful prospect indeed.)

So, the only question should be: is this the sherry you’d want to swig? Or should you carry on rinsing out old beer bottles and laboriously refilling them from that tank in your cellar?

Let’s see.

So, uncork the blighter (yeah, they haven’t introduced a bottle-cap yet) and you’ll be greeted by a delicious waft: full, mellow, barrelly. It smells lovely. Once it makes its way into your trap — well, it’s still pretty nice. Nutty, yes, and spicy too. Like spicy nuts. Or nutty spices, I suppose. At first, it’s delightfully smooth. But let it linger in there and it’ll give you a belt around the tastebuds, enough to bring tears to your eyes.

(Or maybe I just cry easily. Nonchalant masculinity, like I said.)

Verdict

So, yeah, it’s not the most refined of sherries. That’s a shame, because I’d dearly like that woody sweetness it has to develop more in my mouth — but I daren’t let it, for fear that my ‘mates’ will discover me weeping over what appears to be a bottle of beer.

Nevertheless, it’s a handy thing, to have sherry in a 37.5cl bottle. And a glassful of this made a goddamn mean sauce for my seared tuna steak with caramelised onions. Which surely has to count for something.

So: a creditable performance, but a tad eye-watering for Old Parn. Sly sherry-swiggers may note with excitement, however, that M&S has a whole range of sherries, all bottled thus. And I’m clearly going to work my way through them all.

Rating ★★
ABV 20%
Price £7.49 from Marks & Spencer