Bargain Booze: Esprit de Puisseguin Saint-Émilion from Waitrose

Today’s Bargain Booze is a Bordeaux from Waitrose. 1/3 off at the moment. It may not set your meticulously curated world alight, but it’s pretty good. A proper everyday Bordeaux.

Consider this a weary, ambiguous gesture in the direction of topicality. Another occasional series of posts wherein I’ll highlight alcoholic offers and deals that you might find interesting.

Continue reading “Bargain Booze: Esprit de Puisseguin Saint-Émilion from Waitrose”

Say it loud and there’s music playing / Say it soft and it’s almost like praying

Last time we talked, dear buttery reader, was when I blathered on for ages about drinking a Waitrose St Emilion and not really having an opinion.

I like to think that, in contrast with (say) Ed Miliband, I was at least honest about my lack of opinion, and didn’t artificially attempt to take a position purely for the appearance thereof.

One of my commenters, Maria, offered a different perspective. I quote:

‘so you bought a bottle of wine…it happened to be a Bordeaux one. did you like it, or not? what did you experinced? that is what we would like to know….next time give us 2 pages on how you buy a soap’

O Maria! O Muse!

So. This one’s for Maria.

The other day, I went into Waitrose. I quite often go into Waitrose. What can I say? I feel at home there. Apart from when weird blokes start offering me cakes whilst telling stories about the queen.

I needed some shampoo. But I know even less about shampoo than I do about wine. So I went into the shampoo/soap aisle. I cast about, somewhat, being confronted by an array of options (though, I might add, not nearly as great an array as that proffered by the wine aisle). There were a ridiculous number of potential shampoos from which to choose. So how did I pick? By the following criteria:

— Packaging
— Price

I bought the most expensive shampoo I could find that didn’t look wanky.

Do you want any more detail? Well, unlucky for you. Because THERE IS NO MORE.

It must really hurt, Maria. It must really fucking hurt that sodding thousands of people, every day, choose wine based on similar criteria to my shampoo purchase.

That’s all, really. Thanks for your comment.

The Irrational Purchase of St Emilion

In which Old Parn explores his difficult relationship with authority, his deification of Waitrose, and his peculiar peccadillo for the eponymous Bordeaux sub-region.

Me, holding a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion 2011I have a problem with authority. Yeah, I bleached my hair and defied my school dress code to exactly the calculated degree of defiance that’d piss people off but not get me told off. But that’s not what I mean. I have a problem with being arbitrarily dictated to, sure. But I also have a problem with dictating.

You see, I’m not a rational wine-drinker. And I don’t really know that much about wine.

And I think it might actually be a turding great problem, y’know, that — when writing about wine — there’s a huge pressure to be an authority.

The only context in which we engage with wine opinion, most of us (if we engage with it at all), is a context in which the one with the opinion is authoritative and definite; objective.

But most of our own personal engagements with wine (even — dare I venture? — those of us who write about the fucking stuff) are leagues away from objectivity.

Here’s an example.

I’m, right now, drinking a bottle of Waitrose St Emilion (currently 25% off, making it £9.99). Why am I drinking it? Well. First up, it was on offer. I don’t typically buy wine because it’s on offer (as — working in retail myself — I nurture an informed suspicion of retailers’ motives in discounting). But when it’s a Waitrose own label, I figure that’s okay. Because saying a product is Waitrose own label is a bit like saying a person is Jesus own label.

So, it was on offer. Fine.

I was in the supermarket, at 7pm, buying myself dinner. My stock of wine at home was running low (normal people look in my wine cupboard and laugh incredulously when they see my idea of ‘low stock’. I realise this).

I saw the St Emilion and I picked it up. Why? I’m not sure. Rationally, I wouldn’t tend to buy Bordeaux at £10–15 from a supermarket. I’d calculate that my money would be spent better elsewhere, in terms of the quality of wine I’d probably end up with.

But I didn’t make my decision rationally. I often don’t. This evening, I bought St Emilion because I loved the idea of St Emilion. I love the fucking words St Emilion, alright? I love the fact that it’s characterised as a kind of underdog amidst the Bordeaux sub-regions, in exactly the same irrational way in which I love Armagnac for not being Cognac. I love the way it sounds so much more elegant than Pomerol or Medoc.

I didn’t think (even bearing in mind the discount) that this bottle would be the best way, objectively, of spending my ten quid in Waitrose’s wine department. Honestly, I didn’t care that much.

I wanted the idea of a St Emilion more than I wanted to make an objective decision.

And now that I’m drinking the blighter, I’m at a loss as to whether I should write much more about it. On the one hand, I shouldn’t — because I’m so far from impartial. On the other hand, I should — because I’m so far from impartial.

Y’SEE WHAT I’M SAYING?

We don’t engage with wine in objective ways and situations, unless we’re (a) in a tasting, (b) being asked our opinion in a rather serious manner or (c) the kind of dull wanker who writes a wine blog.

In the same way, we tend to choose the restaurant meal we fancy, rather than the one we judge objectively will be best.

I’m enjoying this St Emilion, incidentally. I’m enjoying it because I’m writing to you about it (natch), and you’re a really great listener. And I’m enjoying it because it’s sort of reminding me of the time when I went to look round a prospective houseshare and one of the people living there was studying for one of the various wine qualifications and was partway through a blind tasting. He gave me a glass of the wine he was trying to identify (which turned out to be a modestly priced generic Bordeaux), and the St Emilion I’m drinking right now sort of reminds me of that.

Which was goddamn ages ago. But the past was quite nice at times. When it wasn’t being almightily tedious.

I’m enjoying it because it’s Friday, and because I had a damn good martini beforehand. And I’m enjoying it because I like the idea that I’m drinking a Waitrose own St Emilion with a chunk of rare meat and a mushroom and onion sauce.

Is it good? I don’t — honestly — care all that much. I mean, it’s not bad. I’d care if it were bad. It’s somewhere between nice and very good, and might even be excellent. But might, after all, just be nice.

I couldn’t give a crap. And I hope that’s alright with you.

Guest post: The Ubiquity Of Fizz

In which Old Parn’s first guest blogger, Elly Tams, has her knickers charmed off by Prosecco

Closeup of the simple green label of a bottle of San Leo Prosecco

This is a grand moment: the first guest blogpost on Old Parn. Um, on the blog, I mean. Not actually on me.

Your blogger today is Elly Tams. Elly is a writer; her debut novella Scribbling On Foucault’s Walls wonders what would have happened if Michel Foucault the homosexual French philosopher had in fact had a daughter. I encountered Elly (also known as Quiet Riot Girl) on Twitter, and I liked her tweets straight away. I liked the way she spoke about her area of interest (gender/sexuality etc) with conviction, directness and simplicity. The way she didn’t hide behind abstract nouns and academic terminology.

Turns out Elly likes wine. So I asked her if she’d write a guest post. And she did. Huzzah…

***

Party Like It’s 1999

I blame the Millenium. Before the 31st of December 1999, champagne was reserved for special occasions. I mean REALLY special. Weddings, coronations, Formula One racing, Number One Singles (remember them?), losing your virginity, winning the premium bonds. But ever since that hyped-up, arbitrary, potentially computer-destroying, slightly tacky otherwise ordinary New Year’s Eve 12 years ago, the world has been awash with fizzy wine. I realised the definition of ‘celebration’ was getting a bit loose when I bought a bottle of cava to celebrate the release of my favourite band’s latest album. It’s a slippery slope.

This ubiquity of fizz has meant I have become rather familiar with the genre. Not with the crème de la crème, you understand. I still don’t know the difference between a Dom Perignon and a Crystal. The cheap stuff is my area. My favourite part of a good friend’s wedding rigmarole was a few weeks before the big day, when we did a fizzy wine tasting at her place. There is a fine line between a good cheap bottle of fizz and an awful one (hint: the awful ones seem to be trying to strip off the back of your throat and the hangovers come with headaches from hell).

If you don’t have the time or the liver capacity to do the research, my advice for finding a reliable, reasonably priced sparkling wine is simple. The answer is Prosecco.

To avoid the embarrassment of me not knowing anything about grape varieties or regions or acidity or any of the technical stuff that wine buffs dazzle us with, I will distract you with a metaphor. If all the fizzy wines were in a line up and you were choosing which one to go on a date with, Prosecco might be the quieter one. It would be handsome and well-dressed in an understated way. It would not be trying too hard to impress, because it wouldn’t need to. It would be self-assured and confident in its qualities. It would be a mistake to pass over it for the more flashy contenders.

Prosecco charmed my knickers off for the first time in an Italian bar and restaurant in Sheffield a few years ago. I will admit it. The first thing that attracted me to it was the price. Cheaper than champagne but tasting just as good – in many cases better – it has been a firm favourite ever since. The best deals are at supermarkets. Recently I found some San Leo prosecco at Waitrose for £6.95, reduced from £10.44. Four bottles later I can confirm it is a classic. I prefer brut, and this one is indeed very dry but the lovely thing about prosecco is after the first couple of bottles – I mean glasses – even the driest versions become smooth and creamy to drink.

Part of me wishes I’d bought the whole lot of reduced San Leo when it was on offer. But another, more sensible, and probably more romantic part doesn’t. Because if any type of wine can keep the experience of quaffing fizz special, it’s prosecco.

***

Thanks, Elly. I bought a mini-bottle of the San Leo myself. Purely for, um, research, you understand. And she’s right: it’s damn pleasant, accessible, celebratory stuff.

If you yourself have a wine that you’d like to talk about, do get in touch, won’t you?

Meanwhile, here’s a link to Elly’s blog, Quiet Riot Girl, and her Twitter feed.

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.

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.

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!

(NO, NOT LIKE THAT. I MEANT ON YOUR MANDOLIN, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE. GET OUT OF MY SIGHT.)

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.

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

Bonterra Chardonnay 2009 review

… is the kind of wine that probably wouldn’t mind holding onto your parcels for a day or two

(For the background to the following, read the previous post, ‘When Clemmie Misses Her Train’.)

Feeling unaccountably like the boy waiting outside the Headmaster’s office, I found myself standing at the door to my neighbour’s flat.

Pull yourself together, Parnell, I murmured — and administered a falsely assertive rap upon the door.

(When I say ‘rap’, I mean in the sense of ‘knock’ or ‘tap’. Not in the sense of performing a piece of urban spoken music. Though perhaps I should have explored this kind of rap as an alternative means by which to announce my presence. It might have allowed me to retain the initiative a little longer in the ensuing encounter.)

The door swung open. From behind it, a disembodied voice: ‘Do come in.’

Now, reader, let me tell you this: I was all prepared for a doorstep exchange, here. And this invitation to enter wrongfooted me straight away. But what’s a chap to do? I couldn’t very well reply, ‘Um, no, I’d rather conduct this conversation in public view’, now, could I?

So in I went.

‘Don’t you want your parcel?’

This struck me as a needlessly adversarial opening to our conversation.

‘Oh, um, yes please,’ I replied, somewhat meekly.

‘Well why didn’t you pick it up? It’s been here for two days!’

Oh yikes.

‘Gosh — I’m very sorry: it was quite late when I came in last night…’ (Yes, I have a tendency to use expressions such as ‘gosh’ in such situations. I fondly nurture the delusion that it makes me seem charming and socially assured.)

‘But what about the night before? Why didn’t you pick it up then?’

This, I began to suspect, is what intense police interrogation feels like. I began to be confused, to lose track of my cover story. ‘Um… I…’

‘If you’d prefer, I won’t take your parcels. Would you prefer that?’

At this point, I’m sort of stammering — so entirely disorientated am I by the fierce barrage of accusatory questions emanating from this small 98-year-old woman.

‘Um… I don’t know. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.’

‘Well, pick up your parcels! I don’t mind taking them in, but I don’t want the responsibility of keeping them for days.’

(Responsibility indeed.)

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Well. That’s all. You can go now.’

***

A bottle of Bonterra, label with minimalist floral illustrations and handwritten text. In the background a second bottle, out of focusAfter that, as you may well imagine, I needed some kind of alcoholic bracer. And that’s where Bonterra came in.

Bonterra’s is a fruity, a creamy, a taut Chardonnay. While it’s far from self-effacing, there’s none of that wenchy quality that New World Chardonnay can have. There’s some pepper in there, and it’s altogether rather nice — sprightly but full.

What’s more, relative to other chardonnays hailing from its part of the world, it has a pleasant lightness to it. A certain easygoing quality.

The kind of wine, in other words, that probably wouldn’t mind holding onto your parcels for a day or two.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Grape Chardonnay
Region Mendocino Valley, California
ABV 13.5%
Price £10.44 from Waitrose, £10.99 from Majestic

Cave de Beblenheim, Grafenreben Riesling review

… will lower you into the most blissful vat of acid a secret agent could wish for

A bottle of Alsace Riesling from Cave de Beblenheim: simple label, two-colour print with crest

Sometimes you need acid. Perhaps it’s because you’ve just captured that irritatingly smooth secret agent who’s trying to foil your plan to TAKE OVER THE WORLD — and you’ve decided that the most risk-free and tax-efficient option is to lower him slowly into a seething vat of corrosive liquid. I mean, what could go wrong?

Or perhaps it’s because you’re a foreign chap called Beblenheim (in which case — could I just say? — you’re already well-equipped to be a fuck-on awesome supervillain) and you want to make a damn fine Riesling*.

Yes. Acid.

Because this wine is candied, fruited, plump. Both literally and metaphorically golden, it’s a shimmering fat jewel of flavour. Fruit and flowers. A heady brew that’s almost indecently aromatic.

And this is where the acid comes in. Not like Bond crashing vengefully through reinforced glass; no, like Bond deftly insinuating himself into the bed of a sultry maiden.

Its suave acidity is absolutely the key to this wine. A suave acidity that checks (without obscuring) those floral excesses with a razor cut of clean, bracing sharpness. Leave it lingering in your mouth for as long as you like, revelling in the luxuriant texture, the steadfast refusal to descend into banal sugar. And when you swallow, the flavours slip away without a belch, without a rasp, without a jolt.

Verdict

This, my chums, is what they mean when they say ‘balance’. A perfect alignment of classicist austerity and romantic ebullience. Reason and emotion.

A balanced wine (like a balanced person) doesn’t start off great yet gradually begin to irritate; no, it’s consistently good company for your gob. Meaning the last swig is just as beguiling as the first.

So, yeah. Old Parn has been beguiled by Beblenheim. Let’s just hope it’s not some kind of sophisticated honeytrap.

Rating ★★★★ (4 stars)
ABV 12%
Price £8.82 from Waitrose Wine
* Okay, okay, so there may not actually be a bloke called Beblenheim, as this seems to be a cooperative winery. But indulge me, won’t you?

Smoked trout and Saumur: wine pairing

In which a drool-inducingly acidic Saumur Chenin Blanc proves the perfect foil for a smokey old trout

A bottle of Saumur, fresh and frosted from the fridge, stands bathed in afternoon sunshine. Your gob is watering already.

A quick blast from the Parn. Less of a review; more of a passing observation I thought I’d share with y’all.

We just had a bottle of Saumur alongside some smoked trout from Inverawe Smokehouses. A damn fine lunch, mark ye. But also a reminder that the right wine/food match can be fucking sublime.

On its own, Les Andides Saumur is certainly on the bracing side — like a dip in ice-cold riverwater for your tastebuds. It’s pretty dashed acidic stuff, and you’d be salivating like a rabid dog if you drank more than a glass of it without food.

Sharp, fresh, clean stuff.

With the smoked trout, it was perfect. That acidity was taken into hand by the salt’n’smoke, allowing the wine to sing in its modest, mineral-laced kind of way.

There was no awkward drooling.

A more peaceable, smooth’n’fruity number would’ve been left dead on the side of the road in the wake of that trout. Hoofing, strong, salty flavours don’t take no prisoners.

Les Andides Saumur costs £7.11 from Waitrose Wines. You might’ve expected it to be made from Sauvignon Blanc, given its Loirey home, but it’s actually 100% Chenin Blanc, that other (undersung) white hero of the Loire. 12% ABV.
Approbatory side-note, meanwhile, to Inverawe Smokehouses, who supplied my parents with extra smoked trout for easter (free) in recompense for delayed delivery back amidst those Christmas snows we had. Good chaps.

Prieler Pinot Blanc, Seeberg 2009, Burgenland

… will take you down a crispy duck boulevard. But quietly.

A bottle of Prieler Pinot Blanc from Waitrose

Let’s kick off with the good: this is a liltingly fresh pinot blanc, front-loaded with a walloping great bomb of soft fruit. And take it from me, dear reader: it you’re going to be walloped by a bomb, there’s no better bomb by which to be walloped than a soft fruit bomb.

Oh yeah. Heck yeah.

Meanwhile, shove your schnoz into the glass and you’ll delve your way into a magical fantasy land of lemon sherbet fountains and boulevards lined with streetlamp-sized crispy-duck pancakes (yes, really: the water-blood of just-sliced cucumber combined with hoy sin sweetness and sizzled duck).

Back to the gob and, post-bomb, you’ll find there’s a certain unexpected bitterness. Not unpleasantly so.

But the rub. Ay, the rub. You knew there was one coming.

… This wine isn’t as good as it should be for the price. It’s not bad, and, as I’ve already implied, it has some kind-of-funky, kind-of-interesting things going on. But not in sufficient abundance. I’ve focused in on them because I was tasting the blighter. Squirting it to all corners of my trap, snuffling at it like a trufflehunter.

In other words, I should probably have held back on the crispy-duck boulevard stuff above, which makes it all sound quite psychedelic and in-your-face, I realise. But can you blame a man? It’s not every day you get an oriental delicacy wafting up out of your white wine at you.

Y’see, the problem is that you have to work relatively hard to get much out of this wine aside from its initial fruit bomb. Which, though nice, is scarcely £13-worth of bomb (sorry to disappoint you, wine terrorists).

Verdict

So, to be honest, I expected the wine to be a good bit more interesting than it is. What post-bomb complexity it has, it conceals beneath a veil of chardonnayish anonymity. Which is a shame.

Tasting it, I felt bleary-tongued: as if my senses somehow weren’t quite awake enough to experience it properly. Because everything except la bombe is too distant, too muted.

It’s not a bad wine, but at this price it should be better. Dial it up, Prieler, dial it up. Except the bomb. That’s loud enough already.

Rating ★★☆☆☆
ABV 13%
Price £12.99 from Waitrose (£12.34 with online discount)

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado Sherry

… is more rough-hewn oak than IKEA pine veneer

Waitrose Solera Jerezana Dry Amontillado

What better to write about on Christmas day than sherry? Yes, sherry. Allow Old Parn to add his voice to the loud (yet probably still largely ineffectual) chorus of those who castigate the British public for their indifference to sherry.

Sherry is fucking brilliant.

It’s also pretty much hands-down the best value wine you can buy. Really good sherry is ludicrously cheap. Put a random £6 bottle of sherry up against a random £6 bottle of wine if you don’t believe me.

Anyhow, this here is Waitrose’s Dry Amontillado. With Amontillado, you give up some of that saltwater bite of Fino (and especially Manzanilla) sherries, some of that tastebud-awakening zap of bracing dryness.

But you’re repaid. Oh yes, you’re repaid.

Because the wonderful thing about Amontillado is the nutty, toasty, creamy exhale. The smooth, supple woodiness that lasts and lasts. With a hint of fruited sharpness up there in the eaves.

Waitrose’s offering is on the heftier side of the Amontillado spectrum: it sits on a deep, dark foundation like that of a big Old World red, and in the mouth it bristles with an invigorating spiky coarseness. It’s woody like a rough-hewn oak table, not a veneered pine worktop from IKEA.

There’s a sugary, chocolatey smoothness, though, to the smell. And when you first chuck some into your mouth, you’re greeted by a marzipan sweetness.

Verdict

Very nice indeed. Like I say, this is a relatively gutsy Amontillado, so if you’re more into smooth, creamy goings on, you may prefer others. But I like gutsy.

To get top marks, they’d need to eliminate that slight catchiness at the back of the throat, the barely perceptible roughness that intrudes on the finish. But that degree of pickiness is hardly justified by the price.

If you don’t already, drink sherry. If you like sturdy red wines, this would make a very good introduction.

Oh, yeah — happy Christmas, too.

Rating ★★★☆☆
ABV 19%
Price £7.78 from Waitrose

Oyster Bay Merlot Review

…will alternately patronise and assail your tastebuds

I was about to give Oyster Bay Merlot a bit of a break. But then I looked it up to find that a bottle (admittedly of the 2009 as opposed to my 2008) goes for £9.99 at Majestic. So no break for you, Oyster Bay.

But let’s start at the beginning.

The only reason I have this bottle is that I was given it. By an organisation, I hasten to add, not an individual. A ‘thank you for your business’ kind of thing.

But, yes. I don’t buy wines that look like Oyster Bay Merlot. Nail me into a broomcupboard and call me Satan if you wish (and what else would you do with Satan but nail him in a broomcupboard, I ask you?) — but that’s the unvarnished truth. It’s prejudiced, I realise, but my experience of mass-market wines that look like this and are called things like ‘Oyster Bay’ fills me with a dark, viscous dread.

But the misery of it all is that I was going to tell you it wasn’t as bad as I’d expected. Yeah! I was going to tell you that. Up until I realised that bottle — had I bought it myself — would’ve cost me a sodding tenner, rather than the £6-7ish I was expecting, given the name/label design combo.

Hell, I was never going to recommend it, you understand. But I was ready to concede that simply not being revolted was a kind of triumph.

Well, at £9.99, excuse me if I’m a little less forgiving.

So. The first thing that hits us? Ribena. Or Kia Ora. Or (Christ save us) Snapple. The kind of thing they’d market as ‘Very Berry’ flavour.

To be fair, this initial bouquet is hands down the worst feature of this wine (aside from its price: did I mention its price?). Because once (if) you get through it, you’ll actually be surprised at the amount of bitterness. There’s a touch of vanilla, but most of the finish is dominated by the woody depths of the tannin.

A schizophrenic wine, then. All kiddy sweetness to begin with, then cagey gruffness to finish. And there’s no transition to speak of: the flavours shift abruptly, without ceremony. Quite bizarre.

Verdict

So, as I may already have implied, a price tag of £9.99 on a wine like this is an absolute joke. At £6, I’d have expected the Kia Ora — but been grudgingly surprised at the unexpected tannic depth. It would certainly not have succeeded in making me commend the wine — but it would have succeeded in being better than most of its ilk.

BUT IT IS NOT £6.

Paying ten quid for this is like paying ten quid to have an unattractive gigolo spend an evening patronising you with syrupy platitudes and discussing Nietzsche. In alternate sentences.

Whatever turns you on, I guess.

Me, I chucked the rest of that gigolo straight into a casserole. Yum.

Rating ☆ (0 stars)
ABV 13%
Price (for the 2009) £9.01 from Waitrose online, £9.99 from Majestic. But don’t, alright?

Domaine Font de Michelle 2004, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

…thrusts an unapologetic gallicism in your direction

The label of a bottle of Chateauneuf du PapeThis wine is French. It’s very French.

That’s a good thing, by the way.

I couldn’t tell you exactly what I mean by that, except that everything about its smell and taste thrusts an unapologetic Gallicism in your direction.

Much like General de Gaulle did, I’d imagine.

Its relatively rare — and very welcome — for a wine both to evoke an overflowing of fruit (here, ripe, fat cherries and crushed raspberries particularly, as well as dark, rich prune) and to maintain an almost austere, savoury complexity, bound in by a fruit-kernel-bitter structure.

Verdict

This is a massive wine, a fireball blooming in the mouth. Suck and chew on it for several seconds and you’ll see what I mean. Its intensity and depth is port- or brandy-like. But despite its massiveness, it doesn’t overreach. It keeps its structure and integrity right through its development: no telling belch of alcohol or flab of fruity decay.

I’m not sure if you can still readily buy the 2004 Domaine Font de Michelle: I got it a while ago from the Wine Society, but it’s no longer available there. Other vintages, though, seem to be available at Waitrose and Lay & Wheeler. On the strength of this one, I’d recommend trying others.

Rating ★★★★
ABV 14.5%
Price £20.99 from the Wine Society (no longer available)

Waitrose Sancerre, Joseph Mellot 2009

… will light up your palate with a triumphant blaze of verdant Spring

If I had to walk into an unfamiliar (or familiarly unreliable) pub and order a glass of white wine, I’d go for Sauvignon Blanc.

It’s a forgiving grape: a bad Sauvignon Blanc (hereafter ‘SB’) tends still to be drinkable, because it’s such a fruity wine. The hoofingly powerful gooseberry-type flavours that almost inevitably dominate SBs can throw a veil over many sins.

But there are two sides, of course, to this. Safety and reliability can all too easily become predictability. And SBs can be a bit like Walkers’ Cheese & Onion crisps: appealingly, tastebud-bombingly gratifying in the short-term, but leaving an acrid artificiality lingering in their wake.

Thank Christ, then, for wines like this damn, damn nice Sancerre (100% Sauvignon Blanc, y’know).

It’s fruity, sure. But it gambols over the pit into which so, so many of its fellow SBs tumble: that of being too fruity — overwhelming, concentrated, one-dimensional.

It slides silkily onto your tongue, before lighting up your palate with a triumphant blaze of pure, verdant Spring — dancing, tingling, mouthfilling — and yet manages to follow this extroverted exposition with a demure, elegant development. Just at the point when a lesser SB would be beginning to strain, to reveal its limitations, this chap eases into a lovely, smooth 5th gear. And goes on.

And on.

It has an excellent finish, in other words: the youthful greenness (gooseberry, yes — but also the crisp spurt of biting into raw green pepper) blossoms into late-summer roundedness. Peach, firm-fleshed young plums — where the golden flesh is turning vermillion, close to the stone. It is mouthwatering, seductive, addictive. So impressive is the lack of any bump in the transition between the initial excitement and the subsequent warm expansiveness that one’s almost mesmerised. I find myself taking mouthful after mouthful (yeah, any excuse), continually marvelling at the finesse with which this transition is accomplished.

Verdict

I know it’s not a cheap wine, but for this level of complexity — this excellent balance — I’d happily pay a lot more than £12. Deservedly award-winning, this is a very fine wine indeed. Serve it to somebody you want to impress — or somebody you’d like to intoxicate in the most beguiling way imaginable.

Rating *****
ABV 13%
Price £11.39 from Waitrose