Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Champalou Vouvray Brut NV

Les Caves de Pyrene, £11

There was ample reason to party, hats to analyse, dizzy BBC reporters to tolerate and patriotism to be restored. And I apparently, in the grand British tradition, was to make Pimms and cook a barbecue. In April.

Mixing HP Sauce and honey, stirring lemonade and chopped fruit. Cruel.

Luckily I had a companion for the journey in the form of some fizzy Vouvray, so whilst the rest of the party enjoyed (Hmm?) ready-made Buck's Fizz fresh from Sainsbury's I lost myself in the Loire.

A lush, rich Chenin-y nose; good apple fruit. It's properly zingy on the palate, and has a tang like citric acid. Sherbert lemons. I'd drink this over NV champagne any (or at this price every) day of the week.

It's wellmade, modern and uncomplicated, and as such entirely appropriate to toast the happy couple and the palace PR team. Alongside my well-honed ability in stealing commerotive flags it made a lovely Friday.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Denbies Flint Valley

House of Commons gift shop, £9.50

I've got mixed up in a lot of weird stuff over the past couple of years, and much of it will doubtless do lasting damage to my physical and mental wellbeing.

I have recently however managed to kick a nasty little politics habit, and to mark this triumph I had a bottle Denbies Flint Valley onto which someone had stuck a Portcullis logo and a £2.50 markup.

The bottle's label strikes a rare blow against the staid conformity of including information regarding the grapes or vintage of its contents.

"A blend of the premium grape varieties grown on the estate" it boasts. A lesser mind than mine might take this at face value, but I had my suspicions it might be a clever code for "A mixture of early-ripening and frost hardy German grapes that you probably couldn't pronounce, even if you had heard of them."

A quick consultation on the website reveals it to be a NV blend of Seyval Blanc and Reichensteiner, the two most widely planted grapes in the country no less. The former is a crossing of the fearsome sounding pair Seibal 5656 and Seibal 4986, whilst the latter is a weird 1939 crossing of Muller-Thurgau, Madeleine Angevine and Calabrese Froehlich, themselves each crossings of crossings of crossings in a horrifically complicated and near limitless regression*.

If I was the Germans I'd just be happy with Riesling.

Anyway somewhere mixed into the DNA of Seyval Blanc is a horrid little non-vinifera American grape which means that it can't be used to make quality wine in the EU, and this presumably explains the lack of vintage.

All this science had a.) given me a headache, and b.) made me feel a little nauseous. And the prospect of having to drink the product of it wasn't filling me with enthusiasm.

God this is unpleasant. The nose is weird and dank and animal-y. Grass and compost. In the mouth it's light and relatively inoffensive, but there's no length. The fruit scarpers early and leaves fox piss and dead mice.

As if to prove the utter necessity of using dodgy grapes to make still wine in England, I happened to be enduring this particular bottle in the kind of weather that you would always assume to be a physical impossibility. The sun was shining, it was a warm 25 degrees, and large chunks of ice were falling from the sky.

Happy St. George's day. Time to emigrate.

*(((Pinot Noir x Trollinger) x Précoce de Malingre) x Calabrese Froehlich) x (Riesling x (Pinot Noir x Trollinger))

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Trapiche Single Vineyard Vina Fausto Orellana de Escobar 2007


A bad man once gave me some Malbec. I had known he was a bad man beforehand so this didn't strike as particularly out of character, just a little disappointing.

Nevertheless, a gift is a gift, and it's the thought (however misguided) that counts. So I laid down my huge bottle of Trapiche Single Vineyard Vina Federico Villafane 2006, and returned to drinking proper wine.

At some point in the intervening year however the bottle vanished, the various occupants of my house each pleaded ignorance or infallibility, and so I was left, once again, Malbec-less.

It is great testament to the high esteem I hold the aforementioned man in that I then spent quite considerable time, effort and eventually money, in replacing it. And 'though not entirely successful, the 2007 Fausto Orellana de Escobar was close enough for me.

The inaugural World Malbec Day on Sunday 17th April (not quite as arbitrary as it sounds apparently) was as good an as excuse as ever to get involved.

The nose opens with considerable swagger. Dark fruits, liquorice, dried herbs, violets, oak and pencil lead (lots), focused and fascinating. A big mouthfeel, and thick savoury dark fruit. Neither over-ripe nor over-extracted, but with gorgeous sweet tannins. It could probably go on, but I'd be wary that further cellaring would gamble with its current joyous intensity.

In terms of pleasure provided, both sensual and intellectual, this is probably the best wine I've drunk this year.

I used to be surprised at just how often I was correct about things. Over time however this matured and developed into a sneaking suspicion that I may actually be some kind of minor deity.

Who'd have thought TOD and a bottle of Malbec would be the pairing to shatter the illusion of omniscience?

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Miquel Gelabert Torrent Negre 20 Aniversari 2005

Sa Bodeguita d'es Pi, €15 (€30)

Anyone following the annual Bordeaux en primeur pig-circus will have noticed something peculiar these last few weeks. The Bordelais no longer have good, bad and average vintages, they have different ones.

As if in some collaborative effort to prove the passing of time, growers, merchants and critics have universally hailed 2010 as neither better nor worse than 2009, merely "different".

A long overdue and begrudging acceptance of the wonderful plurality and variation available to the wine consumer? Whaddayathink?

It all sits rather uneasily in a system based around scores, Vintages of the Century, and the idea that there's some kind of objective and quantifiable definition of what is 'good' Bordeaux. Quite frankly I'm surprised the entire system hasn't imploded under the weight of its own contradictions.

Which is a pity, becuase although I quite like the stuff, it makes me disinclined to drink it. And with celebrations due I wanted some Cabernet-Merlot seriousness.

There was only one thing for it: a bottle Torrent Negre 20th Aniversari 2005 I had purchased in a restaurant the previous week. The owner had not only let me buy a bottle 'off', she had also rung the producer Miquel Gelabert on her mobile to find out what grapes were in it, and then (I discovered later) charged me precisely half what it was worth.

40% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Syrah, a curious triptych, but the Mallorquins are a funny lot so we shan't hold it against them.

The nose opens with a little brett sweatiness, though this is gone after ten minutes in the glass, leaving ripe raisins, stewed plums and a hint of savouriness.

The palate continues this, it's massive in every way, porty with big thick syrupy red and dark fruit, but little herbaceous touch on the finish. A healthy tannic structure, a seemingly well-integrated blend and no heat from the 14.5% alcohol.

Big, brash, heavy, expansive stuff, and remarkably, not the same as (for example) something else.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Sa Bodegueta de's Pi

4 Calle Sipells, Cala Millor, €30 pp inc wine

Thursday had come up with an alacrity that was frankly astonishing. Most of the middle of the week seemed to have collapsed in on itself like a disappointing soufflé. I vaguely remember drinking a fair amount of good wine, catching, killing and eating a helluva lot of sea urchins, and hosting a party for a man that was (allegedly) going to prison the next day.

What I had not done was much dining. I measure out my life in sauce ladles; meals are the anchor points, a Maxwell's Demon against the encroaching entropy.

So it was off to Sa Bodegueta d'es Pi, an improbable corner of Paradise very well hidden inside the Dantean awfulness of Cala Millor.

The place is run by the eponymous Pi, her mother in the kitchen and her father, an old family friend of mine who may or may not be called 'Mel'.

A nod to convention sees customers furnished with a menu on entry. More experienced diners, however, are easily distinguished by the combination of nonchalance and contempt with which this is flicked away before requesting simply 'Tapas'.

This gives mama free rein in the kitchen which experience suggests is a very good thing indeed.

What happened this time was possibly even better than I have ever had here before, a tour de force of inventive Mallorquin cooking.

Sobrassada fried in honey was good enough for me to suggest that our meal had peaked too soon. Pa Amb Boli was proper, yet posh and zingily fresh. The spinach croquettes are almost a signature dish here, but this time paled in comparison to courgette stuffed with salt cod (good god!) and the subsequent steak; black and blue on a barbecue, thickly sliced, and blood(il)y brilliant.

There are no words.

AN/2, the femme fatale of serious Mallorquin wines, was a perfect match to all this. Sexy acid-cherry Callet, with a smoky, noir twist of Syrah.

The pricing here is low and slightly arbitrary, the wine list wonderful, the service perfect, food brilliant, and setting lovely. If you ever have the calamitous misfortune to find yourself in Cala Millor: go.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Tactical Nuclear Penguin


There exist in my life an increasing number of events that prove impossible to classify. Ostensibly they appear as mistakes, or bad decisions, but circumstance conspires to make their consequences difficult to appraise.

TOD forgetting to pay the rent on a flat we once lived in so that we got thrown out by a crazy landlord from County Kerry looks like an error. But the flat was small, had no electric lights, an immovable freezer full of rotting meat in the sitting room, and my bedroom had no windows. A month of homelessness may have been a small price to pay for eventually finding somewhere habitable.

The Russian taking on my immeasurable financial expertise in June 2009 and betting that CPI inflation wouldn't rise above 4 % within the next 2 years was definitely foolish (even though he is in an industry which loves the smell of Novocain in the morning). But my decision to spend almost all of the winnings on two small bottles of beer could have gone either way.

Brew Dog clearly enjoy winding up the anti-alcohol brigade by brewing increasingly strong beers and launching them with much fanfare. But even they recommend drinking Tactical Nuclear Penguin in moderation.

To be honest though I'm not sure it's their prerogative. So I made up to enjoy these as irresponsibly as possible, and for that I'd need a sidekick.

Sister has always had a fantastic appetite for waywardness, and once confessed that she "would give anything to be a penguin" so her return to the family abode a night before our week-long sojourn in Mallorca seemed as good an excuse as any to get stuck into it...

There's alcohol on the nose, but porter too, and savouriness. Not too bad, but nothing to prepare you for what's to come. Soy sauce, salt, burnt barley and burning heat, but what sticks, overwhelmingly is Marmite. Lots and lots and lots of it.

This one went catastrophically wrong; it is nasty in a malicious and visceral way. Like Bovril made with poitin but a billion times worse. Impossible to enjoy in moderation- total abstinence is the only way.

Unless you're my Spanish penguin. He quite liked it.