Floyd on Parn

This blog had lost its way. It took the charismatic inclusiveness of the wonderful Keith Floyd to reanimate the somnolent Old Parn. The result: a new beginning of sorts…

I haven’t written here for ages. Come on, pretend you noticed. I think my silence has been a result of increasing discomfort maintaining an authoritative tone on booze. That’s a shame (or perhaps a blessing, depending on your perspective), as I continue to think that the legitimisation of ‘normal’ (ie. untrained) voices talking about wine is an important thing.

In many ways, more important than democracy, scientific progress or the rule of law. Continue reading “Floyd on Parn”

What happens when you Drink at Eat?

In which our hero links to his latest guest post — narrating the woeful tale of his attempts to buy wine at Eat restaurant on the South Bank.

A pie and potato from Eat (in disposable pie box) and a mini bottle of Stowells white wineWhen a place calls itself Eat, perhaps that’s, y’know, a kind of subtle hint that the emphasis isn’t on the wine list.

Be that as it may. Defying corporate nomenclature, I decided to put Eat’s wine selection to the test — with characteristic ruthlessness.

Be warned: there are scenes in the following post that readers of a sensitive disposition may find upsetting.

You can read the story of the whole desperate, sorry experience in my guest post across at eVines. Here’s the link.

How to talk about wine…

How to talk about wine? What kind of a title is that? A ridiculous one, that’s what. But let’s indulge ourselves, shall we, and talk about talking about wine?

Note: this post was originally a link to read an article I wrote for the now-defunct website eVines. So rather than leave a broken link on the website, I’m republishing the article in its entirety, below. How nice of me.

Okay. I’ll admit it. The title’s a lie: I’m not going to give you instructions on how to talk about wine. In fact, please tear me apart with large metal hooks and display my eviscerated corpse upon a mighty stone obelisk if ever I do such a thing. Because, here’s what I think. I think it’s totally ridiculous that I can write an article called ‘how to talk about wine’ and nobody bats an eyelid.

Imagine you saw an article called ‘How to talk about food’. Or ‘How to talk about tea’. Or ‘How to talk about massages’.

That’d be a bit odd, wouldn’t it? Yet ‘How to talk about wine’ seems fine. “Oh, yes. I wish I could talk about wine.” Why is this? It’s because the world of wine (or huge parts of it) are stuck in the 18th century.

In the 18th century — for the first time in British history — a significant number of people who were not aristocratic started to become wealthy. This didn’t please the aristocrats: godforsaken nouveaux riches laying their mercantile hands upon the preserve of the gentry. Abhorrent!

How were these beleaguered aristos to protect their class from infiltration? The solution that emerged was devastatingly effective: invent a new language.

Starting in the 18th century, a plethora of new words suddenly started to enter educated, upper class discourse. They were almost always long (polysyllabic, one might say) and derived from words in French or Latin or Ancient Greek. Words that people who hadn’t learnt French or Latin and Ancient Greek, therefore, wouldn’t understand. And all those ‘new money’ characters? They were shut out from this linguistic new world. They might be able to spend like an aristocrat, but they sure as hell couldn’t talk like one.

As a collective defence, it has the savage brilliance of the upper class about it, n’est pas? Because language is an unrivaled means by which to make someone feel like an outsider. It’s powerfully tribal.

Right. So that’s enough linguistic history. (Fun, though, wasn’t it?) You can probably already see how this relates to wine. There’s a whole language out there that is powerfully exclusive; that intimidates and stupefies; that promotes a world in which some people can talk about wine and others can’t. And it’s bullshit.

Here’s a common example. On its own, it’s not too offensive, and plenty of winos whom I like and respect use it. But I find it irritating:

‘On the nose, there are hints of gooseberry, elderflower and cut grass.’

On the nose. Why in Christ’s name do we need to say ‘on the nose’ when what we actually mean is ‘this wine smells like…’? Nothing is gained. All that is added is an unnecessary layer of complexity and abstraction. On the nose, I’m getting hints of fresh, grassy bullshit. Nobody speaks like this in the real world. So when a normal person hears or reads an expression like this, a barrier is formed. In this case it’s not an insurmountable one (it’s not hard to work out what ‘on the nose’ means, I realise), but one that artificially enforces the distinction between ‘person who knows how to talk about wine’ and ‘ignorant serf’.

Another example? ‘The ’99 is drinking well right now.’ This kind of thing makes me want to sink my teeth deep into my own pelvis in rage. It’s not even elegant; it’s a linguistic fart in the face that makes you sound like a smug prat. (Again, um, no offence to people who say this. Honest.)

Now, I don’t mean to imply that people who talk about wine in ‘wino’ terminology are deliberately being exclusive (though sometimes I think they are). I don’t want to come across all underpants-on-head conspiracy-theorist about this. And I am not against technical terminology, in its place: just as a scientific journal is written for scientists and employs an appropriate vocabulary, so a piece of wine writing targeted at Masters of Wine may quite legitimately employ complex terminology. I work in eCommerce, and the language I’d use in a report to my peers is totally different to the language I use if talking to a stranger about what I do. Obv.

What I’m against is the unnecessary use of florid or obscure language when it adds nothing. It’s not beautiful (poetry can be hard to understand — but one hopes that the music of the words makes up for the difficulty); it’s not conveying extra information (‘on the nose’ = ‘smells like’); it’s not original (inventing new ways to get around old linguistic cliches can be a noble thing — but wino-wank is utterly cliche-ridden; just cliches that only fellow winos employ).

See, I believe pretty goddamn strongly: there’s no such thing as a right way to talk about anything. Talking is about communicating, being understood; not about being correct. One person’s understandable is another’s gobbledegook.

I talk about wine quite a lot. Because it’s a pretty good conversation-point. Sharing a sensual experience with someone else — and comparing one another’s perception of it — is interesting and enriching. (“How was it for you?”) Because I love finding out how other people react to things. ALL people. In fact, I’m way more interested to know what my friend thinks of the wine we’re sharing than I am to know what Robert Parker thinks of it.

(ZING. Take that, Parker.)

But, you know what? Getting people to talk about wine is hard. People clam up. Because they feel like they might say something stupid. They might use the wrong words. And the clever wine people might laugh. I know this feeling, because I’ve felt it myself.

‘Oh, I’m no expert,’ people will say. At which point, bloodshot and spit-flecking, I scream in their face like a maniac, ‘YES YOU ARE. YOU ARE AN EXPERT. IN FACT, YOU ARE THE ONLY SODDING EXPERT — IN THE WORLD, EVER — ON WHAT YOU THINK OF THIS WINE.’

There is no right way to talk about wine (have I said this enough, yet?). Because when you’re talking about wine, you’re just talking about yourself. What does a wine remind you of? What does it make you feel like? What colour does it taste like? If it were a person, what kind of person would it be?

These are all way more interesting questions in a social context than ‘Can you analyse this wine technically?’ And they’re questions anyone can answer, in any words. In fact, the more one gets to know about wine (all the technical stuff, I mean), the harder it gets to answer those interesting questions — because your head gets stuffed up with jargon and facts (which are boring) crowding out imagination and intuition (which are interesting).

I don’t mean we shouldn’t describe wines in weird and wonderful ways. Christ alive, no. I don’t even necessarily mean that writing and speech about wine should all be simple. But if it’s complex, let it be complex because of its imaginative richness, its poetry — not its impenetrable dry terminology.

So here’s my plea, and my manifesto: let’s all try and talk about wine with openness, with imagination. Let’s talk about wine — and encourage others to talk about wine — using whatever words we goddamn well please.

The Extravagant Complexity of Wine (inspired by white Rioja)

In which Old Parn recounts the tale of his first serious wine purchase — and muses on the notions of choice and experimentation with the aid of a very nice bottle of white Rioja

Closeup of the label of a bottle of white RiojaDo you want to know what I love most of all about wine? Wine is an extravagantly complex universe, with bewildering variety, innumerable secrets and surprises.

I have an embarrassing — borderline clinical — compulsion to try new things. To try ALL THE NEW THINGS IN THE WORLD EVER. When I was a student, I spent a ludicrous amount of my loan (Go Team Maximum Student Loan!) on spirits. ‘Typical bloody student,’ you’re probably muttering, as you rustle your Daily Mail disapprovingly. But, y’see, I spent my loan on every spirit/liqueur I could find. Frangelico? Check. Framboise? Check. Creme de Cacao? Check. Amaretto? Check. Mine was not the shopping list of the typical student, I like to think.

(Christ alive, Parn, eradicate that entirely unwarranted tone of pride from your writing right now.)

Yeah. I wanted ALL THE SPIRITS. Because I wanted to be able to make ALL THE COCKTAILS. As a result, my university bedroom resembled a well-stocked off-license in a wealthy London borough. Except with Radiohead posters and the unmistakable stench of adolescent pretension. People came round to my room for a drink; I gave them a sodding menu.

But then I discovered that — actually — spirits were boring*. The apparent variety of the supermarket spirits section was nothing compared to the variety in my first case of wine. From Majestic.

Let me tell you about that first case of wine. I’d just moved into my first non-student abode. My first shared house. I’d landed my first BIG JOB (putting books back on shelves). I was almost like a Real Grown Up. And as such I decided to do what Grown Ups do: order a case of wine.

(Make your own deductions about my warped conception of adulthood. I don’t care.)

For someone who’d previously chosen his wine from the shelves of Sainsbury’s local, this was a revelation. So much choice! So many unfamiliar names!

I still have that same excitement whenever I browse wines in a good shop (online or off): that vertiginous thrill of bewildering, tantalising choice. The terror of knowing that even if I never drink the same wine twice, I still have no hope of trying them all. And I sincerely cannot imagine being faced with all these tantalising, exotic, unfamiliar names — and then putting a big-brand Australian Chardonnay into my basket. For me, that’d be like going to Thailand and having dinner in Burger King. I don’t mean that to sound snobbish. Because I think that the ‘safe’ ubiquity of big-brand wine is in no goddamn way the fault of customers who are intimidated by incomprehensible choice. Not everyone is a weirdass novelty-seeker like me — and if normal people don’t feel they can explore the unknowns of the wine world, that’s a failure on the part of the industry. But that’s another subject, eh?

So I filled my Majestic basket with unfamiliar fruits. Sure, lots of ’em would be well-known to me now — but then, everything was glimmering and new.

I still remember the first bottle I drank from that case, along with some friends: a white Rioja. And I thought: ‘Whoa. This is interesting. This wine kind of smells a bit like sheep’s cheese or something. How the hell does that work?’

(Nobody else knew what the hell I was burbling about when I said the bit about sheep’s cheese, by the way. They probably thought I was having a stroke.)

If you want to check out the sheep’s cheese thing yourself, I suggest you snap up a bottle of Navajas White Rioja from The Wine Society (****) It’s got that slightly sharp sheepy tang (boy, how appetising I make it sound) that took me right back to that first Majestic bottle. But when you get it into your gob, you’re cavorting with apricots and peaches. It’s dry, mind — and brilliantly, grippingly acidic, holding that jubilant fruit entirely in check.

And it costs £7.25 a bottle.

To me, £7.25 is a miserly amount to spend on a sensory experience that’s so goddamn unusual (so goddamn nice). That £7.25 wouldn’t even buy you a bottle of big-brand plonk in a Bethnal Green off-license (quoth the voice of bitter experience). But here it buys you apricots and sheep’s cheese and nostalgia.

Isn’t that, really, when we get down to it, pretty fucking exciting?

* Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

What I like (wine and metaphor)

In which Old Parn meditates upon the human face of wine, and the wonders of the metaphor

I’ll tell you what I like.

I like it when I take my first dilated, vibrating sniff — no, actually, not sniff — which sounds altogether too truncated and furtive — not sniff — what, then? — when I gasp in my first savage breath of a dark, red wine. And it just smells proper. It smells like someone made it.

Once you get past the fact that wine — so long as it’s good stuff, not some grim, loveless shite — is generally pretty nice to drink, what pushes a particular wine into the realm beyond? I think this is it. The fact that there’s a kind of human thing to it. An asymmetric, imperfect, loveable quality. It’s like it has a face.

‘[N]ow that I am about to leave this world, I realize there is nothing more astonishing than a human face … Any human face is a claim on you, because you can’t help but understand the singularity of it, the courage and the loneliness of it.’

That’s Marilynne Robinson in the (pretty beautiful) novel Gilead. And it’s true. We’re all so powerfully primed to be fascinated by humanity. And what’s more human than a face?

Not a wine, that’s for sure.

Which lands us — dunnit? — at a problem. Why am I writing a wine blog, not a people blog?

Actually, when I put it like that, I should definitely write a people blog. Old Parn’s People Reviews. Fuck yes. I can’t foresee any problems with that. Though we’d have to work out exactly how the free samples worked.

Whoa. I’m digressin’ like a mo-fo, I realise.

Digressing by digression from digression.

So. Yeah. Bear with me, chaps.

You see, I think wine might just be a little bit like metaphor.

You know what the idea of a metaphor is? To enrich your mental image of something by describing it as if it were something else. Which sounds pretty useless and illogical, really, doesn’t it? WELL LOGIC CAN JUST FUCK OFF, ALRIGHT?

An example? Okay. If I talk about ‘a blaze of flavour’, the concept of taste is overlaid with the concept of fire. And somehow I imagine the flavour in a way that is far more vivid. Precisely because it’s not like a fire in so many ways, the sense in which it is like a fire is magnified and sharpened. And an inexact description has managed to be far more exact than a clinical, literal one. Take that, clinical literalism.

So when two things are very different from one another (as a bottle of wine is from a person) there is massive satisfaction in the sensation when those two things are brought together by metaphor. When the one concept is infused with the other.

And when a wine makes me think of it as if it were a person — that’s when I reach for my superlatives.

Old Parn’s Wine Awards 2011

In which Old Parn presents the first tranche of wine awards for the year that has been

Shallow depth-of-field shot of the necks of wine bottles protruding from a wine rack

So. 2011. I think it’s time you and I had a sit down and reassessed our relationship. We’ve both done some things we shouldn’t have. Mainly you.

Now, I’ll grant you, you’re being pretty damn lovely. But, as years go, I’m not going to pretend you’ve been consistent. In fact, if we’re talking consistency, you were about at the level of a schizophrenic pitbull terrier on amphetamines, wearing a knitted pink bonnet.

But — consistency? You and I, my dear, sweet, syruppy reader (if I may move to include you in this hitherto somewhat self-indulgently exclusive conversation), you and I aren’t here for consistency, are we? We’re here for life. And, um, probably wine, too. Which is (if I may remind you) a subset of life.

Not the other way round, you pathetic, hyperventilating alcoholic.

Anyhow. Here’s the deal. Over the course of the next two posts, I hope you’ll permit me to extend the self-indulgence and to present — with desultory trumpet fanfares and some misguided bugger strumming a mandolin — OLD PARN’S WINE AWARDS, 2011. Yes, there is something a little troubling about looking back over a year exclusively through the prismic glass of empty wine bottles. But no matter. Onward. Acrossward.

Like I said, the awards will come in two parts. In the first, today’s, I’ll canter through my most notable wines of the year. In the second, to follow, I’ll add a few more general awards (luxuriating in the delusion that anyone’ll give a toss) and — with a halfhearted nod towards democracy — present your favourite posts of 2011.

But that’s all to come. Excitingly. Meanwhile, though —

Old Parn’s Individual Wine Awards

Most evocative wine

Arabella Reserve Shiraz Viognier — Bulgarian woodsmoke, adolescent ennui and being a bit shit with orphans.

Most wanker-demolishing wine

Potel Aviron Moulin a Vent — Reminding us that the word ‘fruity’ belongs to us, to the hedgerows, to the soil — not to some bunch of oily FMCG bell-ends.

Most redemptive wine

D’Aquino Reserve Merlot — One Merlot that can grab onto my ankles any day of the week.

Most androgynous wine

Act Five Shiraz Viognier — Strapping, crocodile-wrestling shiraz with florally fecund viognier. Yes please.

Most heinous and detestable wine

Le Froglet — Foul piss of Satan. Foul piss of Satan, what’s more, served like a goddamn yoghurt.

Most sado-masochistic wine

Domaine de Mourchon — 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.

Most ungluggable wine (this is a good thing, damn it)

El Seque Alicante — A wine that doesn’t apologise, doesn’t smarm, doesn’t pussyfoot.

… and the sought-after Best In Show:

Nicest wine of 2011

Vina Arana Reserva Rioja — Soft but strong. Firm but gentle. Confident but seductive. It yields and it withstands. Balance.

So that’s it for today. Stay tuned — won’t you? — for part two. And do feel free to share your own vinous awards in the comments, should you be so moved.

Old Parn’s Christmas Wine Recommendation

In which Old Parn comes out with it and gives his own (much sought-after) opinion as to which wine you should be drinking this Christmas

Two out-of-focus bottles of wine in the background; in the foreground, rolls of wrapping paper on a festive red tableclothSometimes I get utterly sick of the idea of wine writing. Literally. A bit of sick comes up. (Medium-bodied, with notes of bile, acid and gastric juice; lacking in balance, but with a very long finish.)

First up, this idea that we’re all (we wine writers) on some kind of crusade to educate the common palate. Bullshit. I couldn’t give a lawnmowed turd about educating your palate. And I hope that’s a sentiment you find reassuring. Unless you’re mowing the lawn. Because I reckon your palate is just fine the way it is, whatever you like to drink.

If we imagine two people, both really enjoying a bottle of wine, and one of them has a £5 wine and the other a £50er, I don’t think the latter has accessed some kind of higher level on the game of life (by defeating the end-of-level-1 boss of cheap New World Chardonnay). Enjoyment is enjoyment is enjoyment. Sensual pleasure doesn’t have a hierarchy, and sensations are not absolutes.

I’m not claiming, by the way, that I don’t adore expensive wine — that I don’t often prefer the £50 bottle to the £5. No. And, sure, I have opinions — pretty strong ones, at times — about which wines are good and which are bad. But let Christ tear me apart with his saintly teeth before I imagine my own opinion on this shit is any better or more worthwhile than anyone else’s.

What I’m saying is this: I do not remotely think of it as my job to convert any £5er to a £50er. I’m not a goddamn missionary.

(I’d be an awfully shit missionary, really, wouldn’t I?)

So I don’t care what people drink. I don’t care about ‘teaching’ you to drink ‘better’ wine. Hell, I don’t even, when it comes down to it, care all that much about wine.

What the hell do I care about, in this nihilistic world of mine?

Well, I care about making you laugh. I care about diverting your attention for a while. I care about stories. I care about putting unique, irrepeatable experiences into words, and trying to preserve them in tiny crystalline gems. If I were writing about sunsets, I wouldn’t want to educate you to seek out better sunsets. I’d just want to try and use these weird little clumps and clods of letters to make something like that same sunset hang shimmering in your mind.

And I’d probably want to throw in a few sunset-themed swearwords in there, too. But that’s by the by.

So Old Parn’s Christmas Wine recommendation is as follows:

This Christmas, drink whatever the hell you really love drinking.

Not what looks impressive, or what the critics say you should drink, or what your farty old uncle of yours will approve of, or what that otiose prat Old Parn likes. No. Drink Whatever The Hell You Love Drinking.

Because that really is all that matters.

Happy Christmas, y’all.

Wine’s image problem is about far more than supermarket pricing

In which Old Parn outlines his own opinion as to why a love of wine is so often associated with snobbery

The question that’s flapping around the wine world like a startled goose is, ‘Why won’t the British treat wine seriously?’ — and, in parallel to that, why does wine have such a problem with allegations of snobbery?

Well, that flapping goose has woken me up, too. So here are my thoughts.

First up, I think it’s a little too easy to blame supermarkets for the situation in which wine-lovers are stereotyped as snobs.

Guy Woodward (in the Guardian piece I linked to, above) writes:

‘It’s a situation that several supermarkets have helped to create. By directing consumers to the “3 for £10” promotions, stores are hardly encouraging us to discover new wines. The wine industry’s own trade body, the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, has even criticised such “deals”, arguing that they stymie consumer education.’

But I’m not sure that supermarkets’ pressure to hit the lowest price points is really responsible in a fundamental way for perceptions of wine snobbery. After all, supermarkets have surely also remorselessly driven down the price of meat and beer (Guy’s two examples of segments not afflicted by perceptions of snobbery).

So why is wine a target, while meat and beer are not (or are much less so)? It can’t be as simple as supermarket pricing, the issue on which Guy’s article focuses pretty much exclusively.

Incidentally, I absolutely agree with everything Guy says about wine pricing in supermarkets. I just don’t think this is the root of wine’s problems with snobbery.

To which I think there are at least three major contributing factors he doesn’t mention.

Wine’s history

Historically, wine has been associated with privilege in a way that beer and decent meat have not (to anything like the same degree). I’m not saying this association is fair. I’m saying it exists. Powerfully. Not especially because wine was historically expensive, but more because it is associated with Oxbridge cellars, arcane drinking societies, aristocratic dinner parties — in a way that beer and decent meat are not.

That gives wine a hill to climb that others don’t have to contend with.

The lack of a ‘story’ for wine

People have been told a story that allows them to understand and relate to the benefits of spending more on better meat (and allows them unequivocally to feel good about doing so).

The story is that animals get to lead a better life. The customer is supporting a small farmer, not a big corporation. There’s a human touch. Local meat feels more connected to the customer. And so on.

Yeah, sure, the more expensive meat also tastes better. But that’s not actually the main thrust of the story. The emotional story of animal welfare, conservation and support of farmers is the more emotionally compelling factor. Even if it’s not always true or accurate.

Wine is not yet successfully and consistently broadcasting an emotional story that’s as good as this. It could. But it’s not. Notice that Naked Wines is making progress on this — getting customers to relate to wine stories, to see what being a small wine producer (and supporting those producers) actually means.

The relative weakness of wine advocacy

This links with the story argument, above — but goes further.

Neither the decent-meat lobby nor the beer industry persistently shoot themselves in the foot in the way that the wine industry does. I’ve written before about my belief that wine writing is too often insular and exclusive. If wine wants to shake off its snobbish stereotype, the industry needs to make a concerted effort to stop blathering on with terminology nobody understands and implying that there is a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, the upper echelons of which are reserved for the cognoscenti.

I’m not saying there’s not a hierarchy of enjoyment of wine, incidentally. You may think there is. But implying this is powerfully alienating to people who feel like they’re far from cognoscenti.

Anyhow. Lots of the success of the decent-meat lobby is down to its use of charismatic, passionate advocates to put across its story in an immediate and accessible way: Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and all. People who are selling the lifestyle and the benefits, not just the product; who talk to their audience in language that is free of jargon, who seem like ‘one of us’. And, yes, people who have a very high profile.

Now, I realise it’s all very well for me to say ‘the wine world needs advocates like Jamie Oliver’ — when it’s not exactly easy to propel oneself into a position of that kind of influence. I’m not pretending the wine world can just create charismatic, popular advocates — like that. Nor am I saying, incidentally, that every single advocate that currently exists for wine is rubbish. Obviously that’s not the case.

Not one of the above three factors has a quick’n’easy solution.

What I am saying is that, combined, they are (in my view) hugely implicated in the allegations of snobbery with which wine is beset. And that whilst supermarket pricing may play its part, I’d say that the wine industry deludes itself enormously if it lets itself believe that this is the only — or even the principle — cause of its snobbery woes.

The Shit Written On Wine Labels

In which Old Parn takes issue with the arse-woundingly banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels

A macro shot of the text written on the back of a bottle of red wine from Marks & Spencer

There are plenty of things in this life that give me a wounding great pain in the arse. If you want to hear more about them, I suggest you follow me and my wounded arse on Twitter.

But, today, my arse is in ribbons thanks to the banal, turgid bunch of old silage that gets written on wine labels. Here are four arse-wounding things that wine producers should stop doing. Right now.

1. Giving ludicrously specific/esoteric food matching suggestions

Excellent. So your wine goes well with lava-cooked unicorn steaks marinated in dolphins’ milk and irony. That’s helpful. Your head goes well with your arse. May I suggest you match the two?

2. Giving ludicrously vague/fallacious food matching suggestions

Oh really? Goes well with fish, chicken and meats, you say? Now. You realise that chicken is meat, right? Yes, so Shakespeare could get away with doing stuff like that. ‘Angels and ministers of grace’ — that kind of thing. But you can’t.

Moreover, if your wine actually does go well with everything from pan-fried plaice to seared chilli tuna steaks to coq au vin to frigging beef and ale stew, congratulations. You have succeeded in distilling the mythical liquid of ambrosia. And all the other winemakers might as well just give up now and start constructing dubiously phallic monuments in your honour.

Or else, you’re a lying charlatan.

Now, which’ll it be?

3. Spewing out interminable, drivelling blather

I don’t give a halfhearted wipe of a frog’s arse about the view from your winery. Nor do I trust your declarations of ‘passion’ any further than I could throw the metaphysical concept of passion. Which is no distance. Because it’s a metaphysical concept, and TRY AS I MIGHT I CAN’T SEEM TO PICK IT UP.

I’ll be the judge of your goddamn capacity for passion. So let’s get a hotel room and we can work out a mark out of 100.

4. Including any kind of pun in the wine’s name. Whatsoever. No exceptions.

I’m not going to elaborate. I’m tired now.

What wounds your arse, dear reader?

What else do those label-crafting buggers do that causes you to double up in agonised rage and frustration? Tell us — share the pain — and, in so doing, administer the internet’s very own soothing arse-balm, by leaving a comment.

UPDATE: Inspired by Graeme’s comment, below, I’m upping the stakes. Provide a particularly lamentable example of wine label wank (in the comments, below) and I’ll send you some kind of prize. To be decided. So search those wine racks/liquor store shelves for the purplest prose you can find. Enter as many times as you like. Make us laugh/cry. Wound our delicate arses. You’ve got until the end of the week.

UPDATE 2: Okay, so the prize will be a bottle of this rather lovely wine, Verd Albera, I just reviewed. The best comment(s) will get one (unless you’re overseas, in which case you might have to settle for something else).

Wine Wide Web 2: Wine stories from around the web

In which Old Parn once again sets before you an array of winey, webby goodies from the past week or two. This time, the (loose) theme is wine stories

Are we all sitting comfortably? Because it’s time for another roundup of the wine wide web. The (loose) theme for this roundup? Wine stories. Because I like stories. You like stories too. Don’t pretend you don’t.

A bottle enclosed in a circleLet’s kick off with an entertaining Swabian wine ramble, which compares and reviews three German red wines — Trollingers — but not before incorporating a tale of odyssean travels and serendipitous bursts of Dire Straits.

Three wine bottles stacked horizontallyI also enjoyed Spittoon’s account of a desultory evening spent in the company of crap TV, Chinese takeaway and Freixenet Cava — because aren’t so many wine encounters like this? Unplanned, unspectacular, but pretty damn satisfying.

A portrait photo of Simon J Woolf, aka The Morning ClaretBack to Germany, now, for a spot of vinous time travel via The Morning Claret’s brace of Rieslings — taking us from 2008 to 1991.

Very interesting stuff. And not remotely envy-inducing.

Photo of Eamon FitzGerald, aka The Grape EscapeOf course, stories are powerful things — as any marketing bore will tell you. I talked about this in my last Vinho Verde diary chapter. Then proof comes along that people relate to stories and humans more than to products: I give you The Grape Escape’s rather touching account of how Naked Wines customers raised £100k in one day to fund a South African winemaker’s dream.

Aw.

A hand-drawn, cartoon-style logo of the PenmonkeyFinally, something from outside the wine blogosphere. I love Chuck Wendig’s blog, via which the man spews out hilarious yet wise advice for novelists and other breeds of writer. Here’s a friggin’ brilliant article of his (a few months old, admittedly) that I chanced upon, this week: Why Writers Drink.

Funny man. And, of course, I agree with him about profanity.

Portuguese wine diary — Chapter 4

In which Old Parn continues his Portuguese Vinho Verde expedition. He encounters a thrilling factory (sarcasm) and a thrilling hound (not sarcasm), and meditates on wine labels, cooperatives and the like.

So. Final day. Best day? Best day. And this wasn’t only down to the fact that I met Goony. But we’ll get to Goony in a while. First of all, let’s talk about Provam and Adega Ponte de Lima, shall we?

Perspective shot of many wine bottles stacked in a Portuguese wine warehouse

Provam and Adega Ponte de Lima

Now, remember how I said about all the family-run wineries, back in yesterday’s Vinho Verde blog? Well, here’s where you forget it all. Because these guys ain’t that. These are big ol’ cooperatives, pooling the resources of something like (in the case of Adega Ponte de Lima, the larger of the two) 2,000 small winemakers.

When I say ‘small winemakers’, incidentally, I don’t mean they’re dwarves. I guess they might be. It’s not impossible: this kind of thing worked for Willy Wonka. But nothing I heard or saw during the visit gave me reason to believe that they are. So I suspect the distribution of their heights roughly mimicks that of the Portuguese population at large. But someone should do a study on this.

Perhaps, though, there is some residual insecurity about size here. Because the people at Adega Ponte de Lima were extremely keen to show us their big tanks. And their big pallets of wine. And their big warehouse. All these things were indeed big. And (to your thrill-seeking, hedonistic correspondent) pretty boring. I mean, heck, I know what a factory looks like.

(Point of fact: I don’t really know what a factory looks like. What I mean is, I don’t fucking care what a factory looks like. Call me glib if you like. I am. Proudly.)

Finally, though, we got out of the factory (some of those tanks, though. Boy. You’d’ve loved them) — and into the tasting. This entailed yet more precarious shenanigans with glass in one hand, papers in one hand, pen in one hand. SPOT THE DELIBERATE ANATOMICAL MISTAKE.

(Note to Adega Ponte de Lima: this stuff is easier if you can sit down. Surely you must have a big table somewhere?)

Four bottles of Vinho Verde white wine on a white tablecloth, condensation-misted

The wines themselves are simple, straight down the line. Nothing to scintillate the Parn palate, but I don’t suppose that’s their goal. This kind of stuff is probably priced keenly enough (for export) that it could make its way onto UK shelves at a relatively good price. If anyone would buy them…

Overall, I preferred Provam‘s wines, which seemed to have a fair dab more elegance to them (they also had a table for us to sit at). But they’re also priced higher than Adega Ponte de Lima’s. So no surprise, really. It was especially interesting to taste, side by side, the 2010 and 2009 vintages of their Portal do Fidalgo, made with the Alvarinho grape, one of the region’s stalwarts.

Over the course of my visit to Vinho Verde, I’ve acquired a fair old fondness for Alvarinho — which makes some damn nice, refreshing wines that are accessible without being patronising or simplistic. This won’t surprise those of you who’ve noted already that I’m a fan of Spanish Albarino (which is the same grape). Once I’m safely ensconced back in the UK, I’ll hunt down some examples for you.

But the interesting thing here was that the vintage that’d had that extra year in the bottle had undergone rather a lovely transformation. The freshness, the citrus bite, the stony minerality remained, but were softened, rendered very elegant, smooth. The resulting wine was very good indeed, to my mind. But, apparently, nobody wants to buy a 2009 Alvarinho — because it’s seen as a wine to be drunk as young as possible. On the evidence of this tasting, this is a big old shame.

Quinta Edmun do Val

Then lunch — at Quinta Edmun do Val. This was where I met Goony. But Goony’s time will come.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about the winey stuff. Quinta Edmun do Val is another family affair. This time, the family is actually Spanish — from just across the border — and (Pablo, who showed us round, told me) most of their wine is sold in Spain, not Portugal, in defiance of nationalistic disdain. Selling wine, said Pablo, is all about contacts. And his contacts are Spanish.

I talked to Pablo a good bit. Mainly, I talked to him about websites and online activity (an area in which he had already benefited from the sage advice of Ryan Opaz) and about the label on his wine.

A bottle of Quinta Edmun do Val, with an elegant, minimal, typographic label, executed in black and white

It’s a pretty good label, isn’t it? Why’s it good? Because it doesn’t look like most of the other white Vinho Verde labels. Which, as Pablo said, are ‘bright and colourful with pictures of a flower or an animal or a landscape’. This one is minimal and typographic; confident in monochrome. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying it’s the best label I’ve ever seen. But for a small winery, I was impressed at the boldness of Pablo’s decision to separate his wine from the herd of cliched labels. That’s what good branding is about (as I’m sure Quaffable would agree…)

Right. This post has been going on for bloody ages now. So what I’m going to do is split chapter 4 into two parts. Because it’s my blog, and I can do what I want. Alright? We’ll finish the final day tomorrow.

But before I go, allow me to present Goony.

A jowly bulldog gazes wearily into the camera

Pablo introduced me to Goony — the laziest dog in the world, and ‘the only English thing we have here’. Goony is a lovely, brilliant creature. He rumbles and wheezes like an old accordion. I could easily have spent an hour or so just murmuring my nonsense dog-talk to Goony.

Isn’t he a delight?

Portuguese wine diary — chapter 3

In which Old Parn’s vinous travels continue, and he reflects upon the physically demanding business of wine tasting, as well as the peculiar lack of rampant commercialism in the world of Vinho Verde wine

Discarded wine bottles left on three tables, receding out of focus

Tasting wine can be pretty brutal. You might go so far as to call it an extreme sport, in fact. Because if you want to taste wines, you’ve got to be a frigging athlete, my friend. At the peak of physical condition.

Like me.

You’ve got to be supple. Because you’ll be wandering around with a glass in one hand, an increasingly voluminous and unwieldy sheaf of papers in the other and (if you’re a ponce like me) a DSLR camera slung over your shoulder.

So every time you bend your knees to spit out the wine you just tasted (yup), the camera swings round, scythe-like, in a vengeful arc. Hell, this is DEMANDING STUFF.

Day 3 kicked off with a tasting, see — a bunch of producers; us walking round ’em all, swishing and spitting their lovingly vinified creations. It was only thanks to my olympic levels of coordination that I didn’t send glasses and bottles flying all over the shop, thanks to my pendulous camera.

Then there’s the teeth. My chompers, by now, are fucking killing me. Because I am weak. Each time I suck in a breath of cool air, I have a small shudder. And eating a blinkin’ cream cracker is like torture.

(Ever been to a wine tasting? Crackers feature pretty heavily.)

So, yeah, like I said: only the truly resilient need apply.

A tan-coloured cow peers through metal barsQuinta das Arcas

After the collective tasting, we were bundled off to Quinta das Arcas. There were some cows there, which was fabulous (there’s nothing like seeing a dumb beast of a different species to lift my mood. And if you think I’m joking, you’re an idiot.) We had lunch at Quinta das Arcas, which involved sitting at a long, long table and getting more MASSIVE CHUNKS OF MEAT.

Indeed, as a number of my companions remarked, there is something of a disconnect between the recurring spiel of the winemakers we’ve met — that Vinho Verde whites are brilliant, light, fresh wines ideally suited to seafood, salads, simple, clean, light dishes — and the food that we actually get given. Which is, let me say, goddamn delicious. But not exactly what one would call light.

So be it.

Wine-wise — let’s talk about Vinho Verde red wines, shall we? Because these bad boys are not what most people are used to. (And, yes, they are in their element with aforesaid MASSIVE CHUNKS OF MEAT).

A shocking vermillion hue of wine swirled around a glass — inky stains

Typically, they are deepest vermillion in colour — dark, intense. Quinta das Arcas’s Herdade Penedo Gordo was one such example. It’s a fucking massive bundle of spice and chocolate and cherry and coffee — and it clonks you round the palate like a blunderbuss. Like almost all the reds we’ve tasted, it’s served somewhat chilled.

Unlike white Vinho Verde wines, the reds from the region are not typically exported; they’re made to sell to the local market only. It’s not all that hard to see why. Not because they’re terrible — but because, well, who outside the region is going to buy them? They are scary, scary beasts. Stick them alongside some local food and they make sense. But out of context? Pretty damn pant-soiling, to the (mildly incontinent) man on the street, I’d say.

A woman dressed in white gesticulates, describing her vineyard (shown in the background)Quinta da Raza

Waving farewell to the cows (well, I was, anyway. In my head), we then wound our way to the rather beautiful Quinta da Raza. Like many of the wineries we’ve visited, it’s very much a familial kind of deal — we’re greeted and served by the winemakers, who are often members (across several generations, potentially) of the same family.

And although the tasting may have a few trappings of formality (printed tasting notes, that kind of shebang), everything is conducted in the least commercial manner imaginable. In general, it’s rather lovely. But I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t also bizarrely naive: I struggle to imagine many industries that — faced with a roomful of relatively influential German/Swiss buyers (plus one aberrant weirdo from England) — would make so little effort to sculpt, to mould, to influence. Again, I’m not saying this is anything other than lovely. But surely these guys need to be trying to get a consistent message/brand out, rather than leaving it totally to chance? It seems odd to me. Cynical, commercial bastard that I clearly am.

Anyhow, yes. Once again, we tasted an array of zingy, citrusy, fresh white wines. Plenty of which I could gleefully drink a fine old torrent of. Plus an extremely accessible rose (big, fruity hoof to your nose, and a similar whoosh in your mouth) and another scary red.

Quinta de Carapecos

Then our final visit of the day — to cast our eyes across vineyards bathed in beautiful evening sunlight, and snaffle ourselves another tasting and dinner, courtesy of the fine folk of Quinta de Carapecos.

A group of people bathed in warm evening sunlight — backlit with lens flare

Again, some delicious wines, including a lovely, almost indecently accessible rose (jailbait stuff) and — a curio — a sweet wine made from the Espadeiro grape. Which was as honeyed as you like, though its ebullient sweetness did seem to disintegrate somewhat into an unfocused candyfloss at the end.

But, then again, so did my brain, when we finally stumbled our way back to the minibus. Because, boy, was I tired.

I guess that’s pretty much how Roger Bannister must’ve felt on the evening of 6 May 1954.

The Wine Wide Web (pick’n’mix delights)

In which Old Parn presents a dainty assortment of candied (wine-flavoured) treats, lovingly gathered from the vast sweetshop of the world wide web

Numerous tubes of multicoloured sweets, arranged in a rainbow.

Right. First up, what you should do is get off your swollen arse and enter @wine90’s competition to win some doubtless gobcaressingly good Barolo.

(NB this may in fact prove easier if you stay on your swollen arse.)

You’re back. Good.

So, what’s the deal with this post?

Well, I’m tearing my sorrowful (yet somehow disturbingly lustful) eyes away from my own navel and directing them instead at the assorted goodies scattered elsewhere around this big ol’ internet. Think of it as me presenting you with a dainty assortment of candied (wine-flavoured) treats, lovingly gathered for you by my calloused old hands.

So, grab a hold of one of the aforementioned hands (I promise it’s hardly sweaty at all) and I’ll lead you on a brief tour of some good bits of the world wine web from the past week or so…

Avatar of Cambridge Wine BloggerNow, some of you may have observed that we’ve officially passed into the season of summer (even if, like me, you are permafrosted in a barren winter of the soul). Some reckless and bile-inducingly happy humans seem to like to mark this season with the consumption of outdoor food, which they may extravagantly pair with outdoor wine. For these sickening folk, I recommend the Cambridge Wine Blogger’s selection of Six Summer Picnic Wines from Naked (especially as he shares not only my christian name, but also my affection for Naked Wines’ Picpoul de Pinet).

The Sediment Blog avatarSickening in quite another way, meanwhile, is wine writers’ widespread employment of impoverished, slackjawed synonyms for the simple verb ‘to drink’ — resulting in the kind of overuse of the word ‘quaff’ one would only otherwise encounter in a shit fantasy role-playing game. So say our friends over at the Sediment Blog, in any case, as they energetically skewer this demented quaffing and glugging.

(While you’re there, you should also read their fine review of M&S’s £5 house red.)

Quaffable avatarComing at you from the other side of the great quaff divide, though, is the nicely designed, impeccably tasteful, not remotely RPGish Quaffable — a blog with a focus on wine label and packaging design. Since I’m a designer and a wino, this is a subject close to my heart. Plus, you get to witness a random marsupial being given a deserved kicking.

(FOOKIN’ MARSUPIAL HAD IT COMIN’.)

Grape Escape avatarFinally, with even fewer words to strain your weary mind, there’s @grape_escape’s brilliantly-styled video of Beaujolais hijinks.

Which would make me yearn for a holiday, were I not, as I said, ensconsed like a (way less sexy) version of the White Witch in my own perpetual winter.

(Oh, where’s my Edmund? I’ve got fuckloads of Turkish Delight, believe me. Or fuckloads of Gewurtztraminer, which is pretty much the same thing.)

Photo by Josh Liba (Creative Commons)

Wine writing, irreverence and rebellion

In which Old Parn takes issue with the idea that wine is due any kind of reverence — and defends an anti-establishment stance on the subject of wine writing

The author stares directly into the camera, thumbing his nose and sticking out his tongue -- but with a thoroughly unamused expression

Okey dokey.

I wrote a post, a while back, saying that wine writing is broken. I guess I probably didn’t say everything quite right, because I made some blokes with beards quite tetchy. And if there’s one thing I definitely take no pleasure from, it’s making men with beards get tetchy.

It’s heart-rending.

But, honestly: I actually hate this kind of thing. Behind my swaggering bravado, you see, there’s a swaggering vulnerability. My swaggering bravado does something crazy — like shouting ‘WANKERS!’ at a group of drunken and rowdy men with beards — and then promptly vanishes. My swaggering vulnerability is left, tremblingly exposed to the bearded ire and violence that my swaggering bravado has unleashed.

So you have to imagine me here, vibrating with adrenaline and panic, every time I think another man with a beard* might be angry with me.

You think I’m joking, don’t you?

OR MAYBE YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT TO THINK ANY MORE.

Anyhow. I had another surge of adrenaline the other week (who needs illegal stimulants when you have a blog, eh?) when I found out that another man (who may or may not have a beard) had written an article mentioning me. But — not to worry, sweeties — I’m fine. This man — whose name is Stan — is polite and measured, and has written a piece that I’d actually like to engage with: thought has gone into it and it has no double exclamation-marks.

I would’ve written a comment on the post itself. But then I found out I’d have to create a bloody account just to do that. (Word to the owners of the site: this is probably not the best way to encourage reader participation.)

So instead of writing a ludicrously protracted comment that few people will care about, I decided I’d write a ludicrously protracted blog post that few people will care about.

Specifically, I’d like to respond to three points — or, perhaps, questions — raised by Stan — who seems, incidentally, like a pleasant and moderate chap. But a chap with whom I do disagree in certain respects. These three questions are, in order:

  1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?
  2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?
  3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

1. How do you prove that wine writing is broken?

Stan agrees with Tom Wark: if Old Parn thinks wine writing is broken, Old Parn needs to prove it. To name names, to give examples.

Now, there are two ways to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’. The first is to interpret it as meaning, ‘All wine writing is shit’.

If that’s what I meant, how would I prove it? By quoting three examples of bad wine writing?

Hmm. How hard would it be to find three examples of bad wine writing? About as hard as picking up three Saturday papers.

Because you can always find examples of bad anything. Examples actually prove nothing. How many examples of bad wine writing would prove that all wine writing was bad? Could I prove to you that red wine is bad by giving you ten glasses of shit red wine?

Yup, yup, yup, Parn. We get your point. Move on now, please.

The second way to approach a statement like ‘wine writing is broken’ is to interpret it as meaning, ‘Something is missing from the world of wine writing’.

Just as I could tell you (well, actually, on point of fact, I couldn’t, because I’m a clueless imbecile in such matters) that a car engine was broken because it was missing a certain key element, I reckon I could also claim that wine writing was broken for similar reasons.

If I showed you this car engine and it was missing (say) a spark plug (INDULGE ME: I KNOW NOTHING ABOUT CARS), and I said, ‘Look, sir! This engine is broken. It has no spark plug’, I suspect you wouldn’t ask me to give examples that proved the engine wasn’t working. Me pointing to the gap where the spark plug should be would (I hope) be enough.

The engine itself might have plenty of more than serviceable parts. But the fact that it was missing a key element would still mean it was broken.

That’s why I burbled on about Giles Coren and Jeremy Clarkson and all that pish. I was saying that the world of mainstream wine writing lacks verve, excitement, provocation.

And that’s an opinion even my swaggering bravado is prepared to stand behind. Without examples.

2. Do we need to rebel against the wine establishment?

Stan says there’s a nagging question: ‘Do we need to throw in a lot of expletives and rebel against the established critics and wine writers?’

I don’t think the expletives and the rebellion are necessarily linked, to start with. I’ve said this before, but I actually think that swearwords are just words. I happen to like them. Some people don’t like them. The people that like them are probably going to get on better with my blog than the other ones. It’s just style, innit?

But: ‘Do we need to rebel against the wine writing establishment?’ is an interesting question. And I thought about this — all the way to Marks & Spencer and back.

And I think the answer is yes.

Okay, so I happen to know that I can find lots of lively, entertaining winey chit-chat — with thoroughly unpretentious folk — on the internet.

But most people who like a glass of wine aren’t going to start reading wine blogs. And, yes, that certainly includes mine, I should add.

I suspect, in fact, that most people who like a glass of wine either think that wine writing is a crock of shit, or else think it’s somehow for people who ‘understand that stuff’.

I think (from things he’s written) that Stan agrees that this is a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be tackled (and is being tackled) on many fronts. And one of those fronts absolutely should be outright protest. Not the only front. But one of them.

Given what I perceive to be a widespread mistrust of the ‘snobbishness’ of the wine world (perhaps especially in the UK?), I’d say there’s at least an argument for going all-out to challenge those perceptions. And the first step in challenging perceptions is getting anyone’s attention in the first place.

Sometimes, you have to be extreme to do that, I think.

3. Why shouldn’t we be irreverent about wine?

Stan’s post is entitled ‘Is irreverence taking over the wine world?’ — and he closes with the hope ‘that the consumer does not need irreverence or a dictionary to peak [sic] their interest in wine.’

I’m absolutely with him on the dictionary part.

But here’s a thing. Reverence. Reverence is what I accord to a firefighter on 9/11 who went back into a smoke-filled hell without thought for his safety. Reverence is what I accord to the victim of gang-rape in the Congo who nevertheless proclaims forgiveness of her violators. Reverence is what I accord to Rosa Parks, to Galileo, to Martin Luther King.

And I’m sorry, but wine is due NO FUCKING REVERENCE AT ALL. I’m not denying that it’s (often) wonderful stuff. But it’s a luxury and a frippery. A damn nice frippery, for sure. But still incredibly, mind-bogglingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.

It’s all this reverence shaboddle, in my opinion, that alienates so many people. That alienates people who actually think, ‘Wait a minute, this is just liquid that I enjoy drinking some evenings because it tastes nice and makes me get a bit pissed.’

Of course, there are also lots of people who are hungry for knowledge and information about wine. These people are already massively well-served by available sources. They are also the converted. They don’t need some ill-informed words from a foul-mouthed twenty-something like me.

But just because we in the wine bubble may take something seriously, I think we need to be reminding ourselves constantly, remorselessly: not everybody does. Reminding ourselves that perhaps, for some people, it’s the seriousness — not the irreverence — that feels like it’s taken over.

My swaggering vulnerability would like to reassure you that I have no quarrel with the notion of the beard — which is often a fine facial adornment, and one that Old Parn himself has occasionally (if never exactly luxuriantly) sported. Many of my favourite men have beards. And a couple of my favourite women. Back to main article

Wine reviews vs restaurant reviews

In which Parn muses on the difference between restaurant reviewers and wine reviewers in the public eye

A question.

First, imagine you reviewed restaurants for a living. And when people asked about your job, you said to them, ‘I review restaurants.’

How many of them do you think would reply — with apparent awe — ‘Oh my god. I could never do that. I don’t know anything about restaurants’?

Now imagine the same exchange, but with ‘wines’ in the place of ‘restaurants’.

Five reasons to swear — about wine or anything else

In which Old Parn sets out his Manifesto For A Blogosphere Of Unrestrained Profanity — enumerating the reasons for which swearing in a blog post is not only justified, but positively to be encouraged

A youngish man with scrunched eyes screams an obsenity

1. The Kiddies Are Safe, Thank God!

Let’s get this boring one out of the way first: the only reason I can see for not swearing is that of exposing young children to THE AWFUL, AWFUL, CORROSIVE BADNESS of it. And I don’t think many young children are going to be reading sites like this.

They have better things to do, and I’m jealous of them for it.

I mean, hell, I was a massive fucking loser when I was a child (plus ca change), but even Young Parn wasn’t so much of a loser that he was reading wine blogs.

2. Swear Words Are Indecorous

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

I don’t think the First World War poet Wilfred Owen was massively into decorum. Nor am I. The difference is, of course, that he was writing slightly (if understandably) iffy poetry about a vast human tragedy and I’m writing a slightly (and less understandably) iffy blog about alcoholic grape juice.

But I think we can agree, Wilf and I, nevertheless: decorum is a sham. Decorum is a wretched, weak-bladdered means by which to intimidate the uninitiated, to make the underling fall in line, to belittle the outsider. Decorum is a way to make you feel shame because you don’t know what the words are that the Proper People use. SO JUST SHUT UP, YOU IGNORANT SERF, AND GO STUFF MY CODPIECE.

The youngish Old Parn screams an obscenity once againIf I write that a wine is ‘fucking good’, I reckon that’s actually kind of inclusive. That’s what it’s meant to be, anyway. Because no way does anyone think that ‘fucking good’ is The Proper Way To Describe A Wine. To me, using language like this is like hanging up a big old sign saying, ‘In my book (and on my site) you don’t have to use the ‘correct’ words to express a valid opinion (just so long as you don’t use the word toothsome)’.

I mean, it’s obviously okay — really, truly, more than okay; it is the only thing that fucking matters in the slightest — to describe this wine stuff in any way you damn well please. And, yes, I must grudgingly admit that this even extends to use of the word ‘toothsome’. Even though, I reiterate, NOBODY KNOWS WHAT IT MEANS.

Anyone who relies on decorum is probably also quite stupid. Because decorum is a weapon of the stupid.

3. Swearwords Are Joyous

It feels fucking good to swear. I imagine you’ve tried it yourself. Isn’t it nice?

It’s a verbal ejaculation — yes, thank you, I can use that word — and as such it’s a thing of joy. It’s a trumpet-blast of feeling. It’s life-affirming, it’s defiant. It’s like all the best things about humanity in one deliciously blunt four-letter syllable. A buttery, crumpetty nugget of life.

Surely I can’t be the only one who finds verbal abandonment both fascinating and sexy? No, it turns out I’m not. It’s there — all over the fucking place — in Chaucer, in Shakespeare, in Joyce. Who’d’ve thought?

And if you should come across someone who mocks the revelry of your swearwords, pity them for the arid, joyless puritan they are.

Thus, the kind of fool who’d mockingly quote your swearword back at you (perhaps inserting, with a tin-eared editorial flourish, a double exclamation mark?) is probably also the kind of fool who’d try to insult you by paraphrasing a self-deprecating pun that you actually wrote yourself, as if that were somehow meant to achieve or prove something other than a chronic dearth of wit.

(My example is hypothetical.)

4. Swearwords Are Anglo-Saxon And Therefore They Are Awesome

Fuck. Cunt. Arse. Shit.

Don’t be afraid, I’m not about to start into that cringe-inducing ‘comedy’ scene from The King’s Speech. [Shudder.] No. But I am going to talk about Englishness.

Or Anglishness.

You see, all the best words in this sexy mongrel language of ours are Anglo-Saxon. Well, okay, maybe I should qualify ‘best’ — I guess I mean ‘most evocative’. Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English poet from back in the 1800s, is good on this: he pretty much refused to use anything but Anglo-Saxon-derived words in his poetry, because words derived from Latin (words like ‘derived’, in fact — or ‘evocative’ or ‘refused’ or ‘exclamation’ or ‘deprived’ or ‘misguided’) have a clinical, cold, precise, impersonal feel to them. They’re somehow more remote, more official, less affecting.

Profile of our hero halfway through exclaiming a word beginning 'sh—'They’re not where the music is, in other words; not where the gut-punch is.

No, the music is in the old, old words. In the fist-clouting, axe-bitten, mud-tramping Anglo-Saxon stuff.

And right up there at the top of the pile are the most defiantly Saxon of them all: the swearwords. Old as the soil and the blood and the rock and the shit of England before it was even England.

Show me an English swearword that’s not Anglo-Saxon and I’ll show you a shit swearword.

5. Swearwords Are Just Words

Yes. I know. I’m wheeking this one at you from left-field. But those words that we call swearwords are still, in fact, just words. The clue is in the ‘word’ part of the word ‘swearword’. If you look carefully, it’s there. At the end, after the ‘swear’ bit. Stop me if I’m going too fast (Jesus, stop me) or using the word ‘word’ in a way that you find confusing, ambiguous and/or offensive.

But — listen! It’s about to get good! — they really are just words. And anyone who’s an adult and relatively well-adjusted surely ought to realise that they’re no more or less legitimate (or indeed remarkable) than any other means of expression. And that pointing them out and making an issue of them causes you to look like a child squealing and giggling at his first potty shit.

What I mean to say, I suppose, is —

A high-contrast photo of a youngish man shouting a swearword at the camera

THEY’RE WORDS FOR PITY’S SAKE JUST WORDS MADE OUT OF LETTERS WHICH ARE JUST SHAPES MADE OUT OF LINES WHICH IMITATE SOUNDS THAT ARE MADE BY OUR MOUTHS JUST LIKE ANY OTHER SOUNDS FOR PITY’S SAKE SOUNDS MADE FROM NOISE WHICH IS MADE BY AIR AND MOVING PARTS OF OUR BODIES WHICH ARE MADE OF SKIN AND BEARDS AND TEETH AND OTHER THINGS AND YES I’LL GRANT YOU SKIN IS SOMETIMES A LITTLE BIT RUDE SOMETIMES BECAUSE SOMETIMES IT SOMETIMES MEANS SEX AND THINGS WHICH ARE EMBARRASSING AND REGRETTABLE AND GIVE ME NO PLEASURE AT ALL TO RAISE OR DISCUSS IN THIS FORUM OR INDEED ANY FORUM BUT STILL IT IS JUST SKIN FOR PITY’S SAKE WHICH IS MADE OF MOLECULES AND ATOMS AND HAIR AND ALSO FOOD AND HOW CAN ANYTHING MADE OUT OF FOOD BE BAD OR EVEN DEBATABLE?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.