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  • THE COMEBACK KIDS

    With the exception, perhaps, of Tom Jones, who has covered up the chest rug and put the medallion away in favour of a rootsy, silver fox vibe that we defy man, woman or beast not to find attractive, comebacks are rubbish. When Blue resurfaced, despite their best efforts to look boyish and carefree, their concerns about mortgage repayments were written all over their faces. However, when it comes to wine, it’s never too late for a comeback and, like Muhammad Ali bouncing back off the rope in the Rumble in the Jungle, Romania, Hungary and Austria are about to wipe the floor with the competition..

    Vine in Flames

    Now, whatever your views about baggy gold trousers, you have to admit that MC Hammer really made his mark. Plus, anyone who comes up with lines like ‘This is it, for a winner / dance to this and you’re gonna get thinner’ has our profound respect. Like Hammer – real name Stanley Kirk Burrell – Romanian wine was massive in the 1980s and its soft, juicy Pinots are remembered fondly by many. Also like SKB, who filed for bankruptcy after getting hugely into debt, Romania suffered financial woes that all but crippled its wine industry (unlike SKB this was not down to its frivolous ways). But wineries like Budureasca are putting it firmly back on the map. Its exquisite, quince-powered Vine in Flames honours the 2,000-year-old myth that the area’s vineyards were burned to deter invaders… talk about Phoenixes and ashes. We’d elaborate, but we can’t Stop – (it’s) Hungary time.

    Titi and Dry by Tokaj

    Hungarian wine's reputation has always been dominated by two characters; Bull’s Blood and Tokaj. Bull’s Blood is a red wine that veers between brilliant and terrible and is steeped in bloody myth, while Tokaj is mesmeric and golden and owes its sweetness to the mould that grows on the grapes. “Variable quality? Messy history? Inset rot? That must make them the Fleetwood Mac of the wine world!” you cry… And how right you are. Like The Mac, who have sorted their act out and are currently skipping bare-foot through their comeback tour, we have some fresh takes on these two wines. Titi is an enchanting expression of Bull's Blood, all black cherries and star anise and Dry by Tokaj is a dry version of the famous dessert wine (no points for guessing that). When made traditionally, sans mould, the grapes can create joyful, orchard-fruited, orange blossom-scented stars like this. Anyway, we don’t want to break The Chain, so here’s our last comeback kid…

    Nussdorfer

    Not to get sinister on y’all, but this is a shadowy, Third Man kind of comeback. A vinous scandal in the 1980s knocked Austria’s wine industry for six, but it has now resumed its place as the pint-sized powerhouse of wine. It is apt, then, that the Austrian-set film noir classic, The Third Man, has just been rereleased on DVD and Blu Ray, along with other vintage classics including Aces High and The Cruel Sea. If you want to recreate some of the mystique of The Third Man, you could wear a trilby, pulled down low, and hang around in a sewer. Alternatively, you could sip on Markus Huber’s Nussdorfer Riesling, from Traisental, Austria, which we are giving away here along with SW4 Gin to mark the release of these iconic British films. With its citrus overtones and cool charm, Nussdorfer is quite the Harry Lime – but the only crime here is not loving it, baby.

    ‘Til next time.

  • Join the Revolution

    A young man waits outside a Council depot at 6.00 a.m. on a Friday morning in January. He is selling copies of a newspaper to newly-paid Council staff. Politically, the young man is standing in the middle of an exciting moment. Personally, he is standing in the middle of the street. He is bloody freezing. Is there not a more elegant way to turn things upside down, he asks himself...

    Well, yes, he could come to Oddbins. We built our reputation by rising against the status quo of the wine trade and empowering the vinous sans culottes, the rarities, scarcities and curiosities. And we won! And now we're going to do it again, with a new range of remarkable wines from countries whose presence on the UK's shelves is unassuming, to say the least. We're giving them the opportunity to rise as one, to be counted and to shout "Freedom for Dealu Mare!"

    And Dealu Mare is where we go first, on the Southern foothills of the Carpathian curve in Romania. Budureasca's "Vine in Flames," a scrumptious white made from the Feteasca Regala grape, has a honeyed texture which very pleasingly threatens to turn sweet, but chooses instead to focus on delivering soft flavours of quince. The wine's name refers to a threat of invasion 2,000 years ago, when the region's vineyards were set ablaze to make the place look less appealing.

    Q3a_home_banner_revolution_wine_SMALL

    1981. Two Liverpudlian teenagers have hitch-hiked to Leeds to march to a concert which will unseat the Government, and they are now listening to a cultish post-punk band playing drunkenly on the back of a wobbly flatbed truck. Anarchy! In less than a decade, the Prime Minister will have resigned.

    Even more exotic than Leeds, Greece's Gaia Estate winery sits on hills around Nemea in the Peloponnese, and for twenty years it has diligently spread the word about Greece's native grape varieties. Notios Red, a blend of Agiorgitiko and Syrah, tastes of red berries and velvet and would be an ideal partner to lamb kleftiko.

    1968. The Beatles' White Album contains an eight-minute sound collage called "Revolution Nine." Millions of people listen to the most widely-circulated example of avant garde extremism ever, while they perfect the skill of skipping tracks on a vinyl album.

    And last, but by no means least, we go to Hungary, the most underlying underdog of all, known mainly over here for the sweet wines of Tokaj. Titi Egri Bikaver is a bold red with cherry aromas and flavours of paprika and eastern spices, and a weighty palate luscious beyond imagination. "Egri Bikaver" translates as "Bull's Blood of Eger," which may bring readers of a certain age out in a rash, but rest assured that this is one classy bull!

    Take this, brother, may it serve you well...

  • THE PALATE HEROES

    Steve Saunders

    Oddbins customers have been swirling, staring at, sniffing, slurping, spitting, swallowing and smiling at wines in the name of The Palate for four years, in a bid to be crowned the nation’s finest amateur wine taster. But who are the people who have made it all the way to the top – to wine tasting glory? Where do they come from and what makes them tick? Well, as we approach Round Two this weekend (July 25/26), we thought now would be a good time to look at these wine tasting demi gods and the wines they chose for Oddbins upon being crowned ‘The Palate’.

    Fran Evans

    The woman, nay, the legend, who first fought her way to Palate glory is Fran Evans. So, what do you need to know about Fran? Well, Fran is lovely to a fault, unassuming and – hitherto – highly doubtful of her ability to taste wine. The sustainability officer from north London had no wine education and thought, therefore, that she wouldn’t be much cop in The Palate. However, as judge Peter Richards, of Saturday Kitchen fame, said on Fran’s win, “It was important that it wasn't about having an encyclopaedic knowledge, but about raw talent. That's why Fran was such a worthy winner." Hear hear! A curious and marvellous twist in Fran’s tale is that, as part of the spoils of her win, she was asked to choose a wine (blind) for us to stock on our shelves. The wine that she chose was a La Closerie des Lys Chardonnay – a grape variety that Fran professed to not really liking before the competition – which is testament to the power of The Palate over preconceptions…

    Chloe Dickson

    Our next winner, Chloe Dickson, could not be more different to Fran. Where Fran is diffident, Chloe is assured. Where Fran is untrained, Chloe has attended courses. But Chloe’s win was by no means a fait accompli. She was up against stiff competition and it was the creativity that she brought to her descriptions that really set her apart from the other Finalists. In her food and wine matching presentation, Chloe’s said that the wine’s ‘acidic qualities really cut through the oiliness of the fish – it was just like they were holding hands walking down the street. My mouth was like ‘yeah, bring it on’.” Woop woop! Down with starched collars and orthodox wine blathering! Up with flavours holding hands and walking down the street! We like. The former music executive said The Palate has changed her life – and indeed she has gone on to become a retail sommelier. Go Chloe! The wine she chose was, to our eternal delight, Portuguese, and a belter at that. Discover Manz Platónico, an unctuous red from Cheleiros, here.

    Steve Saunders

    So far, so female. That was until 2014, when Bristolian Steve Saunders sauntered into the equation. Peter Richards was just beginning to get worried that a man would never win the title of The Palate, but Steve changed all that. If ever there was a more smiley man, we’ve yet to meet him. Steve loves wine and, like Chloe, had some experience but was looking to ‘go professional’ and make a living out of it. Given that the number of entrants rose from 5,000 in 2012 to a staggering 21,000 in 2014, Steve’s achievement is seriously impressive. For the judges – Peter and his wife Suzie, Sarah Ahmed and Oddbins Buyer Ana Sapungiu – their reason for choosing Steve was his clear as a bell communication. Steve is to wine speak what Brian Cox is to physics. He just makes it sound so easy! And Steve’s wine? As with Chloe’s Platónico, Steve’s choice comes from a country that we are increasingly excited about; Romania. Get to know Prince Stirbey Negru de Dragasani here.

  • NATURAL BORN SPIRITS

    Nature, eh, not in any hurry, is it? Worth the wait, though, especially if there's a beautifully-crafted spirit at the end of it, and we have four of them on free tasting in all of our stores this weekend (July11/12). They've all waited patiently for Mother Nature (and the odd distilling genius) to tell them when they're just right, and meanwhile they've breathed deeply of the character of their surroundings, be that the salt and iodine of Scotland's northern coast or the sweetly embracing tropical warmth of Guyana.

    The spirits are described below and, so you don't just have to take our word for it, we've included some rave press reviews from around Oddbins' geographical spread, which are in no way fictional.

    Mike - Whisky Blog June 2015 - Glengoyne

    Glengoyne 10 Year Old, £34

    This enjoys the slowest distillation of all Scotch whiskies, with malt dried by air alone rather than peat fire. It prompted no less a response than this, from Merseyside drink doyenne Keith Haslet of the Greasby Flagpole: ‘Soft, with a peat-free subtlety and a spicy, green fruit quality that would push it into apple curry territory, if there were such a thing.’ Er, cheers, Keith.

    Old Pulteney 10 Year Old, £33

    From the village of Wick, right up at the top of mainland Scotland, comes this neatly priced single malt, intense yet approachable, with a delicious salty tang on the finish. Typing feverishly in the online organ The Twickenham Hipster, Peregrine Tashwax advises us: "You can just see it, a perfectly singed gourmet stoat burger, served on a seasoned malting shovel drizzled with Pashley chain lube. There'd be smoothness and there'd be saltiness, and they'd both be well matched by an eggcup of this bourbon-tinged, coastal-crafted beauty." Which is high praise indeed! Apparently.

    Mike - Whisky Blog June 2015 - El Dorado

    El Dorado 12 Year Old, £38

    Aged in ex-bourbon casks and made in three different stills, this Demerara Rum from Guyana is a classic example of El Dorado's smooth, mellow, sweet and utterly delicious style. It’s no surprise it is festooned with medals, then. Dave ‘Ebeneezer’ Claypole was quite beside himself in the Ladbroke Mango, to wit: "A dash of this feller, a spot of Bacardi, a couple of glugs of lime and pineapple, sling on a sprig of mint and a couple of the old Chuck Berries and trust me, my boy, you are in Zombie Heaven!" And we couldn't have put it better than that. Or even similar to it.

    Balblair 2003, £43

    Whisky-making has gone on at Balblair, on the Dornoch Firth, since 1790. Instead of ageing for a pre-defined length of time, Distillery Manager John MacDonald bottles the whiskies when he considers them to be ready, so they are labelled with the year in which they were laid down to age. Murdo McHammer, Head of Applied Dissolution in Edinburgh's Poleaxe University, wrote in the Bruntsfield Gallant: "Delicious! A lovely mixture of orange and apricot, offset with a little creamy toffee," adding "my idea of a good, rounded dinner!"

  • PUT YOUR PALATE TO THE TEST

    Like a pretentiousness-seeking missile that annihilates wine snobbery whenever it is deployed, The Palate has shown thousands of people over the past four years that wine tasting is easy and it is for everybody.

    The Palate 2015

    Like wine but are sure that your friend with the Master of Wine qualification/impressive wine cellar/bragging arrogance is much better qualified to talk about it? Yeah, that’s not true. Come to The Palate at any of our shops this weekend (27/28) and we’ll show you that anyone with a tongue in their mouth can use it to taste wine – and to talk about it, too.

    Did we mention that, as well as the chance to win the title of The Palate 2015, you can win: a wine holiday to South Africa; a long weekend in Italy; a day course at the Raymond Blanc Cookery School; wine prizes totalling £3,000; much free wine; and the chance to pick a wine for us to list nationwide? Now that’s something to brag about.

  • GINDUSTRIAL TASTING THIS WEEKEND

    In the same way that dogs don’t arrive in the world being able to skip backwards around an assault course at Krufts, grain, peat and botanicals don’t just turn into delicious libations all by themselves: they need time, skill and love invested in them. They need nurturing by people who know what they’re doing. It’s abundantly clear when a drink has been made by a ham-fisted eejit and when it has been made with skill and passion. Be it ageing in soleras in the highlands of Guatemala (Ron Zacapa Rum), or infusing with bog myrtle and dandelion (Caorunn Gin), the ‘nurturing’ process involves is a mind-boggling array of decisions and the results are infinitely diverse and fascinating. So, this weekend we will be putting two curiously crafted gins on free tasting , so you can take notes on the effect their ‘upbringing’ has had on them…

    G'Vine Floraison

    First up is G’Vine Nouaison (£39.50). G’Vine is the only gin in the world to use the vine flower as a botanical and these ‘ginspired’ gins beautifully harness the different stages of the vine’s life. Whilst G’Vine Floraison is made with the fleeting magic of the budding flower, G’Vine Nouaison is heady, spicy and aromatic, as it is made with the mature flower as it transitions into a berry. Basically, if you are really undecided between buying a wine and a gin, this is your man.

    Aviation.jpg

    Let’s say you’re less of a vine-loving Francophile, and more of an Aviator-wearing All-America. Well, there’s a gin for you, too. The botanicals chosen for Aviation Gin aim to conjure up the ‘lushness, spice, creativity, and freshness of the Pacific Northwest’. They do this using the rich, floral and savoury notes of lavender, cardamom, and sarsaparilla and the result is a leather-clad, sexy beast of a gin that will make you think you’re top gun.

    If scientists want a decisive answer on the nature vs nurture debate, they should really come along. White coats not necessary.

  • BEER TASTINGS AHOY

    When it comes to beer, as with many things in life, it’s nice to explore different styles in detail, but then it can also be fascinating to gather up different styles and see how they all compare. So, that is what we have served up in our shops this weekend (May 16/17) – a buffet of beery goodness, featuring: two different styles of lager from a bigger producer; two similar styles in a Pale Ale and IPA (both local to your local shop); and a cider for good measure.

    Celia Lager

    Celia Lager (4.5%, £2.65) – T‘int right, t’int fair, t‘int fit, t’int proper that people who love beer should have to suffer from fatigue and other unpleasant complaints after enjoying a brew. Enter stage left Celia, a tasty, crisp, gently malty (and organic) lager that delivers flavour without the bother – a timely tipple for Coeliac Awareness week. Brewed with local Saaz hops and Moldavian Malt, it is the only pilsner in the world made with the benefit of being gluten-free with all natural carbonation.

    Celia Dark Lager (5.7%, £2.65) – ‘Tis a bit of a rare thing, dark lager, and its colour comes from the dark malts used in the brewing process. This one (which is also gluten-free and organic) is a beguiling mahogany colour and combines the rich, mellow flavours of the malt with the crisp, refreshing Žatec hops to produce a balanced end result.

    Local beer

    Two ‘mystery’ local brews – your local Oddbins will also be putting on a Pale Ale and an IPA of their choice. Although Pale Ales tend to be gentler and lighter in style and IPAs err on the hoppier, higher alcohol side, the possibilities, as someone once said, are endless. It’s time to see how local brews fare against the big boys.

    Angry Orchard Cider (5%, £2.25) – but you might be more of a straw-chewing, cider-lover, so we’ve included this new, friendly chappy of a cider (despite the name, it is not a red-faced Phil Mitchell-type). No, this young American is crisply refreshing, with a slightly sweet, ripe apple flavour that is hard to resist. As we say, nothing like Phil Mitchell.

    But don’t take our word for it – come on down, get familiar with them and make your own minds up.

  • THE PALATE 2014: THE AUSTRALIAN ADVENTURE

    For this edition of Odd Blog, we hand over the reins to Steve Saunders, the affable Bristolian and new Dad who blew us all away at The Palate 2014 and sipped, slurped and gargled his way to wine tasting victory. Over to you, Steve...

    So here we were, just over five months after the whirlwind of vinous pleasure that was The Palate 2014, and I was off to Australia - the headline-grabbing prize that I was amazed to have won last September, courtesy of Longview Wines and Berton Vineyards. I was even allowed to take the other half with me. Lovely.

    Having chatted via email with Longview’s winemaker and all-round great bloke Peter Saturno, I had my tickets ready and a pretty sensational itinerary. The relaxed sage of the Eden Valley, Bob Berton (of Berton Vineyards fame), then dropped me a line with the plan for the first couple of days at his place. He gave me an interesting choice of either food and wine matching with some old friends of his, or shark diving. As I have not yet had my arm bitten off by a glass of Shiraz I chose the former. Maybe next time Jaws.

    Sydney

    As Australia is quite a trek, Peter and those excellent folks at Oddbins moved my flights about so I could stay in Oz for the best part of two weeks. I spent the first week with my cousin Andrew and his girlfriend Pen in Sydney and, between reptile parks, 360 degree dining and a few beers in ‘Crowy’ (a suburb in Sydney) we also found time to hit some wineries, before commencing the rest of the trip. I was so excited I could crush a grape – which I did, but more of that later….

    After a quick flight to Adelaide we were met by Peter Saturno and, after somehow managing to keep pace with him in our Hyndai i20 hire car, we arrived at the beautiful Longview Vineyards. We were housed in one of the new eco lodges at the vineyard, which was fantastic and housed an array of great wines. Not only that but it was also overlooking a block of Pinot Noir vines… appetite suitably whetted we met Peter and his brother and partner in crime, Mark, in the dining room for dinner. We chatted like old friends around a roaring fire and enjoyed an array of delicious dishes including rare beef, salads and roasted vegetables.

    Longview

    We kicked things off with a tour of the Longview winery, which involved some grape picking, squashing and tasting, checking out the various blocks of vines and watching two Grey Kangaroos hop away after a free sip of the Nebbiolo. Throughout our stay, we got our laughing gear around the other Longview wines, including the Red Bucket Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, which took this classic white Bordeaux blend to new heights with its fresh citrus flavours and zippy acidity. The Whippet Sauvignon Blanc , which had fresh lemon with elderflower and herby notes, with a lovely restraint and elegance but that burst of up-front deliciousness the Aussies do so well. The smooth berry flavours of Red Bucket Shiraz-Cabernet/Sauvignon followed by the minted blackcurrant and spice of Devil’s Elbow Cabernet Sauvignon and then the decadent raspberry and pepper of Yakka Shiraz. Yum. Our final day in the Adelaide Hills had come too soon, so it was with regret that we bade goodbye to our wonderful hosts (although we cheered up when we were given a bottle of the juicy megalith that is The Piece Shiraz [available in selected Oddbins] to take with us (yesssss)!

    Steve

    Our trip to Eden Valley saw us acquainted with the laid back and wonderfully affable Bob and Cherie Berton of Berton Vineyards. After a quick beer and a chat we made our way over to the restaurant at Peter Seppelt Wines. We had a pretty racy and citrusy Riesling to kick things off then shared a wonderful array of wood-fired pizzas, washed down with a drop or two of Shiraz before we headed back to Berton.

    After a critically important lie in Bob, Cherie, my wife Steph and I drove to the Murray River where we enjoyed a rather lovely Berton Vermentino with fish and chips before going back for a wonderful slow roast lamb dinner with more excellent Shiraz and Cherie helped Steph dispose of a white tail spider which had joined us via our suitcase.. We then repaired to the lounge where Bob attempted to tutor me in the ways of Australian Rules football. To no avail. A great day though and a nice relaxing final day before we had to prepare for our flight back home.

    As Bob had to get back across Australia to take a flight to the UK, Steph and I used the time to make sure no more errant spiders had made their way into our cases. We then hit the road and had an excellent lunch at Lou Miranda Estate of light, crispy calamari and some excellent Pinot Grigio. Sadly it was then time to head back to the UK but with a head and heart full of wonderful memories of great food and wine and incredible people. And about half a stone to lose.

    Thanks to everyone for such a fabulous trip but especially to Peter and Mark Saturno and Bob and Cherie Berton – and of course Oddbins – for making this dream journey a reality.

    Cheers!

    ***You can find Oddbins’ range of Longview Wines in-store and here and our range of Berton Vineyards wines in-store or here***

  • THE ALTERNATIVE POLLS WINNERS - IT COULD BE YOOUU

    We may sometimes come across as (wine-loving) misanthropic nihilists but right now, in the words of our Glorious Leader Dave, we feel bloody lively. *Rolls sleeves up, strides on to the stage and grabs the mic*. Because, though the polling stations may be smelly sports halls, guarded by kind yet stern citizens who may actually kill you if you transgress electoral rules, the majority of this country will be heading out to vote today. Save a bit of light vote rigging, there is nothing more that politicians can do to sway the outcome of the election. However, before you go on your merry way, we at Oddbins would like to announce (da da daaaa) the winner of our recent Alternative Polls, in which we put five Rhône Valley reds on tasting and secretly assigned the wines to a political party. Using the lesser-known Single Tasty Vote (STV) system, we have crunched the numbers and the winner is…

    Arnesque CNDP

    … no-one! OK we should explain that. In true political style, we may have misled you last week, as not all five wines represented a political party (as Lucy Powell MP quite rightly says, just because we carved our pledges in stone, it doesn't mean we might not break them). Domaine de l’Arnesque Châteauneuf-du-Pape (£24) was our bluff card – and it is also our winner, with 35% of the vote. But if it doesn’t stand for a political party, what does it stand for? Well, it stands for everything that we think a political leader should be. It is a solid wine with charisma and substance that shines out like a beacon for the people – and wouldn’t be seen near a bacon sandwich. Like the cross-key emblem of this famous southern Rhône wine, our dream PM is identifiable and assertive and has all the bottle that you could hope for. YES.

    Parties

    That’s the dream. But what of the other four wines? Well, blow us down with a feather if we haven’t got a result that would seem to match pollsters' predictions (which is no surprise, as our methods were empirical and perfect). We have got four wines with a similar proportion of the vote, whose characters may not have the voting magnetism of Châteauneuf du Pape, but have legions of loyal fans nonetheless. Without further ado, the results for the UK (well, anywhere near an Oddbins) are:

    Labour – 19%
    Conservative – 17%
    Liberal Democrats – 14%
    SNP – 14%
    Spoilt ballots – 1% (some people struggle aiming in the spittoon)

    NB whilst they are serious contenders, we have not included UKIP in these results. This is because Oddbins does not have any shops in UKIP strongholds (quelle surprise… sorry Nigel, we mean ‘what a surprise’), so it would be unfair to include them with such a handicap.

    Rick Blaine

    The eagle-eyed among you will have noted that we haven’t yet told you which wines represent which parties – and that’s because we’re a bit like Bisto: we save the best ‘til last (yeah, we just said that). We are leaving it to you to link the following wines, with their cunningly subtle allusions to Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and the SNP, to these parties:

    Reserve de Fleur Côtes du Rhône (£8.50) – this wine Unites people in admiration of it – you could say it’s the rose of the Rhône.
    Domaine de l’Arnesque Côtes du Rhône (£9.50) – fruity and mellow, this wine can lend support to a surprising range of main dishes.
    Vidal-Fleury Ventoux (£9) – Ventoux may be an unassuming appellation - you could say it's the ‘quiet man’ of the Rhône - but it is supported by some rich, rich, rich flavours.
    Colombo Le Vent Rouge Côtes du Rhône (£10) – this is a slick wine with deep reserves of flavour. Although it doesn’t work with salmon…do try it with sturgeon.

    But we find that voting is such thirsty work, so the first five people to email alternative.polls@oddbins.com with each wine’s affiliated party will win a mixed case of Alternative Polls wines. Now that’s what we call a result.

  • Miss Whisky Tastings

    Whisky news ahoy!

    If you are a person who loves whisky and, more specifically, a person in Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Mitchell Street who loves whisky, train your periscope on this here news.

    Miss Whisky Blog

    The one and only Alwynne Gwilt – AKA Miss Whisky – is a prolific whisky blogger and writer and will be hosting tastings of Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead at the following shops, from 4.30-7pm:

    Aberdeen City – Wednesday 29th April
    Queensferry Street, Edinburgh – Thursday 30th April
    Mitchell Street, Glasgow – Friday 1st May

    Alwynne has been named one of the Top 10 Women in Whisky by The Drinks Business magazine and, quite simply, knows her stuff.

    Come with open ears and open mouths and prepared to be wowed.

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