A Csárdás in a glass — Hilltop Hungarian White

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

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

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

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

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

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

Almost as much fun as the dance.

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

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

Time to get dancing.

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

Mischievous Italian flirtation, with a hint of gruffness

… will flirt fruitily with your nose, before getting gruff with your gob

The label of this bottle of Falerio shows crest and vineyard

Fill your snout with a decent sniff of Saladini Pilastri Falerio and you’ll think that you’re in for a flighty, flirty, fruity kind of wine. Mischievous, light-footed, scarpersome. There’s that beguiling waft of pear drops, for one thing, that always puts me in mind of smalltime juvenile delinquency.

But swish a bit of the stuff round your mouth and you might be surprised at the amount of fullness and depth. There’s a nice hint of bitterness; a gruff quality that contradicts (or enhances, I guess, if gruffness is your thing) the flirtatious, fruity, sweet-shoppy goings on.

It’s not a blindingly extraordinary wine, but neither is it a typical one. And for the rather goddamn lovely price of £6.25 — I’d contend — this is the kind of bottle you could well be cracking open in the middle of the week and still tasting something new, something interesting.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Falerio dei Colli Ascolani (South Italy)
Grapes Passerina and Pecorino
ABV 13%
Price £6.25 from The Wine Society

A fresh, thunderstorm-clearing Alsace Riesling

… is a wine for rooftop terraces and golden sunshine

A half bottle of Trimbach Riesling, with distinctive bright yellow label, sits on a tabletop

Fresh!

This is like walking outside into air just cleared by a spring thunderstorm (pavements still wet) after a day in a stodgy, stuffy office. It is delicious. Sharp (grapefruit sharp; stiletto sharp), with a flavour that rings out like a clean-struck bell.

A wine for rooftop terraces; a wine for golden sunshine.

Delicious.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Grape Riesling
Region Alsace
ABV 13%
Price £6.25 for a half-bottle from The Wine Society; £10.95 for a full bottle.

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 buy viagra las vegas 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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup.

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

Pedro Ximenez Don Marcelo Jerez review

… is delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy. Even if it *does* taste of raisins. Because wrinkles can be sexy, too.

A dark brown bottle of Pedro Ximenez sherry, with out of focus daffodils behindOkay. It’s Valentine’s Day. And in celebration thereof, what better alcoholic beverage than one that tastes MIND-BLOWINGLY STRONGLY of raisins? — thereby reminding you that whilst you may be taut-skinned young grapes right now, one day, you’ll both be shrunken and wrinkly.

BUT YOU’LL STILL TASTE LOVELY.

(Realism beats Romance every time, eh? Just ask TS Eliot if you’re unsure.)

Anyway, I maintain that this is a Romantic wine. It’s big and swingeing and unashamed. It scatters your bed with petals and serenades you with sentiment-sodden ballads. And tenderly crams handful after handful of raisins into your gob.

It is sweet. Really, really, really sweet. Even as you’re pouring it, you’re thinking of molasses and treacle and whatever other viscous liquids you might find appealing. And it’s almost impossibly rich and dark when you get it into your mouth.

It’s hard to believe, in fact, that something can be as sweet as this and still seem, y’know, even vaguely grown-up. Especially when drinking it puts you in mind of cramming your stubby fingers into those little boxes of Sunmaid to extricate the pieces of fruit that’d wedged themselves right into the bottom corners. But it is grown up. Possibly because it’s so outrageously goddamn decadent-tasting. And also because it’s not sickly.

Or, at least — and here, once again, the raisin likeness holds — it’s not sickly unless one consumes it to excess.

In summary: delicious, extraordinary and quite goddamn sexy.

A small terracotta dish with ice cream, scattered with dried rose petals

Oh. And may I leave you with a ludicrously specific serving suggestion? Put a glass of this alongside a bowl of rosewater and cardamom ice-cream. Buy the dried rose petals from a nice man in the Iranian deli on High Street Kensington. He may even give you a free biscuit. Then simultaneously boast and congratulate yourself for doing all of the above by photographing it and posting it on your silly little blog.

You pathetic specimen.

Rating ★★★★ 4 stars (very good)
Region Jerez
Grape Pedro Ximenez
ABV 16%
Price I got mine from The Wine Society some time ago for about £9 (half bottle). But it ain’t there no more, I’m afraid. Sozamonia.

Quinta da Espiga Branco 2010 (Casa Santos Lima) review

… may not be a bona fide speed potion mixed by a malicious child — but is certainly nice enough to warrant a shambling kind of jog as you go to fetch your wallet

A childhood photograph of Old Parn and his sister (who has a teddy bear)What was the first cocktail you ever made?

Mine was a speed potion.

In order that I may elaborate further, I’d like to introduce you to my sister — Young Parn, Koozle or Parnell’s Sister, as she is variously known — who, by virtue of being two years my junior, qualified for that most precious form of sibling love: merciless, vile-spirited deceit and manipulation.

Spare a thought, o reader, for Parnell’s Sister.

Spare a thought for her, specifically, as she sits, her eager gob agape, listening to me telling her that I am training to be a wizard.

YES, ROWLING, DID YOU GET THAT? A WIZARD. ROLL THAT UP IN YOUR FORTHCOMING PLAGIARISM COURT SUMMONS AND SMOKE IT. PARN GOT THERE FIRST.

‘What kind of magic can you do?’ asks Koozle, her eyes a-sparkle with gullible excitement.

‘Oh, well, I’m not very good yet,’ I nonchalantly reply, with the inspired modesty of the sociopathic liar. ‘But they did teach me how to make a speed potion.’

‘A speed potion?’

‘A speed potion.’

Next thing, we’re in the kitchen. Of course. And — inspired in equal parts by George’s Marvellous Medicine and innate pre-pubescent sadism — I am making my sister a speed potion.

God knows (and I hope the old chap will one day find it in his heart to forgive me for) what I put into that horrific concoction. I’m fairly sure (sorry, Katie, sorry) there was Fairy Liquid. There was definitely a spoonful of marmite, ketchup, every variety of fruit squash available, a generous measure of milk and an old fruit pastille.

And — of course — in order for the potion to have its full effect, it had to be drunk all in one go. Which, to her further great credit, Young Parn managed with aplomb. I hardly even think she tasted it, honestly, so consumed was she with manic anticipation.

HOW DO I KNOW IF IT WORKED?‘ she screamed, jiggling impatiently from one stumpy little leg to the other.

‘Um … Well, you know how I’m faster at running than you, normally? Well — I’ll race you to the bottom of the garden. If it’s worked, you’ll beat me.’

Reader, it is a testament to the inordinate power of the placebo effect that she might even have done so even if I hadn’t slowed my own running pace to a crawl. Because never again have I seen my sister run as she did that day — spurred like a adrenaline-pumped greyhound by the intensity of her misguided belief in her despicable sibling’s lies.

A shot of the (yellow) label of a bottle of this Portuguese white. In the background, a glass (out of focus), chopping board and cutlery

Quinta da Espiga doesn’t taste like my speed potion (or what I imagine my speed potion might’ve tasted like. I mean, Christ. You don’t imagine I was idiotic enough to try it, do you?) — but it does taste a tiny bit like the second cocktail I ever made: my own top secret recipe consisting of tropical fruit squash, orange squash and water. Mixologists, take note.

That’s not to say that this wine tastes like a mixture of cheap concentrates concocted by a malicious child. Oh dear. This is going all wrong, isn’t it? Because I actually rather like the stuff. In a yes-very-nice-move-right-along kind of way. It’s sharp and bracing and gob-parchingly dry, and, yeah, there’s a backdrop of citrus and tropical fruits that reminds me of my childhood squash-mixing — in case you hadn’t picked that bit up from the laboured anecdote which consumes far more of the length of this post than does the actual review-type bit.

AND WHAT, PRECISELY, IS WRONG WITH THAT, PRAY?

Considering it’s only 12.5% ABV, it’s punchy as you like. It’s got a kind of steeliness to it that I rather admire, and it’s a little forthright, a little dominant — in a polite, middle-class, fluffy-Anne-Summers-handcuffs kind of way.

So whilst I can’t pretend it’ll make you run across the garden at twice your normal speed, I’d contend that — at well under £7 — it’s nice enough to warrant a shambling kind of jog across to fetch your wallet and order a bottle to try for yourself.

Rating ★★★ 3 stars (good)
Region Lima, Portugal
Grapes Fernao Pires, Vital, Arinto and others, apparently
ABV 12.5%
Price £6.25 from The Wine Society

Brundlmayer Gruner Veltliner, Ried Kaferberg 2002 review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.