Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dinavolo '06 and Dinavolino '10

£19.32 & 13.32, Les Caves de Pyrene

Very few of my close friends have any notcieable physical defects. I should point out that this is not out of any kind of bigotry, or eugenic companion selection on my part, it just so happens that amongst them they count not so much as a single cleft palate, club leg, or webbed toe.

I do however have a friend, Rollo, who has ginger hair.

I applaud the fact that in these enlightened times it is no longer acceptable to whisper, point, or throw faeces at those with ginger hair, and that the vast majority of the population do all they can to make these people feel accepted and comfortable amongst the rest of us. Small children may still cry in the street, but that's only natural.

With this in mind I decided to emphasise my own free-thinking liberalism by bringing a(nother) bottle of orange wine to a recent, 'though long-overdue, eating and drinking session with her: 2006 Denavolo "Dinavolo".

Made by Giulio Armani, winemaker at the well-known La Stoppa winery, but this from grapes on his own vinyard. 25% Some kind of Malvasia, 25% Ortrugo, 25% Marsanne, 25% God-knows-what. Straddling the line between 'minimum intervention' and 'just can't be fooked, mate.' The LCdP wine list reckons that '06 Dinavolo spent a year on its skins. Whoever told them this either a liar or certifiable, or most likely, both.

Dinavolo is wine that is savage in the best possible way (as holy as enchanted). Deep, dark orange, and opening with funk and cheese, rich oranges, herbs and spice come through, half sherbert, half dark British marmalade. The palate's huge, with brutal tannins, and fine acid, changing in the bottle by the hour, sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury. This one's pretty lairy even in comparison with other XM whites. Rollo loved it with cheese, and hated it on it's own. Which is a pretty liberal and open-minded approach to something quite so leftfield.

In comparison then: You wouldn't call Dinavolino a 'Baby Cuvee' to its face. It's got cheese and flowers on the nose, and is only a shade lighter than the Dinavolo. All the aggression's here too with a big mouth-puckering structure backing citrus fruit, by turns lush and sour. It's losing a little in terms of coplexity and layering of flavour, but at the price this one's a winner.

Drinking for the rebel and the rake. Outcast winemaking at its best.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Testalonga El Bandito 2009

probably around £20, Green and Blue

A total lack of sleep in the previous 2 1/2 days had lead seamlessly into five or six hours spent with some confused looking doctors at the Royal Surrey Hospital who were experimenting with a myraid of hedonistic delights, taking in everything from pupil-expanding drops, to a mixture of steroids injected straight into my eyeball.

The comedown was killer.

As much fun as being medicated at had been, I was pretty sure that some self medication was probably due... The weird turned pro some time ago, and the going needed to catch up, so I chucked a bottle of extended maceration* white wine in the fridge and settled in for the evening.

Skin maceration is the vinifiication technique used in all red wine in which the pressed juice is left on the skins (and sometimes stalks), in order to extract tannin, colour and flavour from them in the the final wine. A lot of rose wine involves limited maceration to just extract a little colour. White wine alomst never has an intentional maceration, and if it does usually only for a few hours, to extract flavour from some of the more neutral-tasting varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Girs and Semillon.

There are though, on the controversial fringes of the wine-making world, a disparate group who'll leave white grapes on their skins for days, extracting colour, wild, heady aromas, and grippy tannic structure, to create the Marmite of the wine world: Orange Wine.

I love it like like I do yeast spread.

I had pretty high hopes for Testalonga's El Bandito; 100% Chenin Blanc, and probably the only X-M white being made in South Africa at the present time. It's also pretty damn rare, not available yet in the UK, and only from Natural Wine specialist Green and Blue in Dulwich when it is.

Colour is not at all orange, but a deep clear gold. The nose is dominated intitially by yeast and lees, giving way to spice and little lemon twist, tannin is light to non-existent on the palate, on recognisable by a faint bitterness at the tail. Mouthfeel is unbelieveably rich, with all the honeyed Chenin texture you could hope for, and a load of exotic spiciness.

It's nothing like the biting, agressive X-M whites coming out of Italy and the flavours seem more driven by the lees than by the skins, which is concurrent with the non X-M version, El Bandito 'Cortez', which I personally also find just a tad more comlex.

It's good, unctuous stuff, and great with food I imagine, but I left it just slightly struggling to see the point.

If you're going to do something weird, best to push it all the way. This one's like ending the party at home with a mug of cocoa in bed, rather than at a hospital with a hypodermic needle in your eye.

*which I have decided to abbreviate to "X-M"

Thursday, 14 July 2011


£2.28 pp, 57 Cornmarket street, Oxford.

A minor calamity meant that I had to abandon plans for "brunch" in West London and go to Oxford for a picnic and punting.

Our punting technique left much to be desired, but our onboard picnicking was textbook, as was the subsequent drinking session, taking in all manner of ales, cocktails, wines and a meal split between two different restaurants.

Starters and cocktails at the Oxford branch of Jamie Oliver's superlative Italian eaterie, segued seamlessly into a plan to execute a longstanding ambition of mine...

It may seem unlikely, but up until pretty much exactly a year ago I had been plagued by a lifelong vegetarianism. In the intervening time I have endeavoured to eat my way around as much of the Animal Kingdom as possible, but had specifically held back on the big one, the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to clog your arteries yet invented- the burger.

And I was going to start with the one that started it all; the granddaddy of obesity epidemics, the butterfly wing at the beginning of a billion bouts of heart disease, the McDonalds Hamburger.

As a dining venue McDonalds is found wanting pretty well across the board, the atmosphere, seating, lighting and service all seem designed to maximise turnover, getting people in and out as quickly as possible. But perhaps the greatest impediment to a good time is the lack of alcohol. Impediment, that is, to the unambitious, because whilst I placed our order at the till I dispatched my Sister to the pub next door to fetch us some beer.

The burger itself is almost inedible, which is funny because in a physical sense it requires almost no effort to actually eat. It has the texture of something that has been masticated, digested and reconstitued. You certainly wouldn't need teeth to for it, 'though that's just as well as it's only people without teeth who are likely to be insensible enough to want to. By far the best thing here is a lone slice of gherkin, providing the sole bastion of crunch in the whole soggy affair. There are very large number of more pleasurable and less dangerous things to do with a pound coin in the world, all way up to having someone drop one from the top of a very tall building onto your head.

I found all of this rather a surprise, the place after all is very, very popular, and I was expecting it at least to be tasty in a full-of-fat-sugar-and-salt kind of way. But the disappointment, I was assured by my two companions, was no one's fault but my own. Far better, they assured me, to trade (ever-so, ever-so slightly) up and opt for the double cheeseburger at £1.29. So we did that.

It has two slices of gherkin, and consequently is exactly twice as good, 'though not, you will notice, twice as expensive. In a very twisted world I would commend the quality-price-ratio in comparison to its little brother.

But things aren't that bad yet, so I shan't- the whole thing's rubbish, it's all uphill from here.