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  • TERRY'S TALES Part Two: The Lady Killers

    Welcome to Part Two of Terry's Tales. If you missed Part One, you can catch up here.

    TERRY'S TALES

    Part Two: The Lady Killers

    If he was honest with himself, Terry knew that there was a bigger reason, lurking below the surface, for his outburst. It was the profound anxiety suffered by every male in the colony, that none of them could talk about (in fairness, Terry thought, they can’t talk): that to copulate was to die. Copulation Means Extermination, as his dear old Ma used to chirp.

    Making the tea back in his tunnel the next morning, the rain beat down outside and he put an old record on and stood, inert, as the steam billowed from the kettle.

    “Oh to be an ant!” He thought, pitifully. What other creatures must choose between having sex and dying, and never Doing the Deed? Birds do it. Bees do it. Even bloody humans do it. A cruel joke, that one.

    It had never bothered him before – he’d taken it as life’s lot, as he had done with being a Talker – but it seemed to bother him rather a lot now. Why? “May the Queen have Mercy, I like her.” Admitting it was a relief. “I like her, but I don’t want to die… I like her but I don’t want to die,” he glumly mused. Settling into his chair and stretching out, he thought of his Ma again.  She’d never regretted sex, even though the old man had quickly snuffed it.

    “It’s part of life, son,” she had soothingly told him, never one to make a fuss unduly. Terry had always admired her stoicism and twinkle of naughty humour, however bad things were  – she wore life lightly and he tried to do the same. But thinking of her now, of how her short time in the colony was ended so brutally and mercilessly, he could not muster the same lightness and he could not escape the stifling sense of guilt.

    It had happened on Terry’s first week birthday, when he was officially presented to the colony at the weekly Initiation Ceremony for new arrivals, attended by the Queen. Wearing her best attire, antennae bristling with pride, Terry’s Ma took her young son along to the Inner Sanctum, adjacent to the Queen’s chambers. But, on the lap of honour with the other arrivals, Terry, still lacking in co-ordination, tripped up and plunged face-first into the neatly-raked soil. Having been sternly warned by his Ma that morning not to speak in front of anyone, least of all the Queen, Terry held back the cry of mild expletives running through his head, but it was his Ma who made the fatal mistake. “Terry!” she’d cried as he fell. The march stopped, a thousand ant heads swivelled in unison in her direction. She made no move and no further sounds but, as the Queen shrieked instructions for her to be taken off to the gallows, she looked at Terry and winked. Though now blinded by tears, he winked back, and smiled. And then she was gone.

    And it was then that Terry realised that it was the Queen and the Generals, and they alone, who were supposed to talk. His Ma had always warned him that they hated speaking, though she didn’t know why, and now the depressing consequences were crystal clear to this young orphan.

    Shell-shocked and trembling, Terry saw that the room’s attention had now turned to him and, before he could think, a severe-looking General was standing before him, watching him with scientific scrutiny. “What’s your name, ant?” Terry looked as blank as he could. “Your name!!” Summoning as much dullness in his eyes as he could, Terry looked blankly up and continued his silence. Cogs churning, the General, not quite as intelligent as he imagined himself, was satisfied that Terry was not a talker. So it was that he escaped death and began his lonely path in colony life.

    Presently, Terry noticed that the rain had stopped and the temperature had picked up a little. He put down his now cold tea and walked to the window. His Pa had sacrificed it all for love and neither he nor his Ma had thought twice about it. The romance of it softened Terry’s mood and he made up his mind in a flash. “They’re right. They are so right! Living just isn’t living without loving!” And, with that, he grabbed his coat, headed out into the rain and resolved on finding this mystery ant, wherever she was.

    Read Part Three by clicking here.

     

    Images artfully crafted by Cat Ardeleanu.

  • FUN SHOCKING NEWS

    After the despair of the last edition of Oddnews, the equilibrium has now been restored. Normal fun service will be resumed forthwith because we are proud to announce that Christmas is back on…
    After Father Christmas found himself on the sharp end of a reindeer antler, it looked like we would have to call time on all the merriment. But you can once again charge your glasses, because Mother Christmas has taken over the reins. And we have it on good authority (i.e. hers) that she was doing all the hard graft anyway and the fat man was just taking the credit. In fact, after we plied her with gin and tonic, she even divulged that her husband doesn’t like the red suit that Coca Cola gave him, he isn’t particularly jovial and he doesn’t even care that much for kids. So Mother Christmas has promised big changes for this festive period…

    …not only has she taken over our Twitter account and started giving away Champagne every day on it, but she has also released another two Tariq Knight magic videos. You can watch the second and third instalments by clicking here. These include how to remove a cork without a corkscrew and how to move a bottle using only your mind. To be honest, we think Mother Christmas might have a crush on that handsome young magician. But that’s not all, now she is publishing elf lit’ on our blog. Regular readers will have come to expect the unexpected, but this is extreme even for us!

    Christmas is becoming a little confused. It isn’t just Barry Manilow who is a bit flummoxed by it. With all the parties, presents, preparations and poultry, things seem to be getting out of hand. What was wrong with just a turkey? Why do we have to have to soak a bird stuffed in a bird stuffed in a bird in a bucket overnight at the whim of a celebrity chef? Why do we have to risk getting drunk with our colleagues and photocopying our bottoms? Blazes, there was a time when a lump of coal and a Satsuma in a stocking filled us with joy. Amongst all that stress it is no wonder that people end up getting rubbish gifts like ugly jumpers (not the ironic hipster kind), boring socks or scented candles again. But Oddbins won’t stand for it any longer, that’s why we’ve unleashed our shiny new Christmas gift section, packed with perfect presents, hand selected, ready wrapped and complete with free delivery. Give yourself a break, pour a glass of wine and do the Christmas shopping from the warmth and comfort of your sofa. You haven’t even started planning for Hanukkah yet!
    You would have thought that Manolo Blahnik would be all too aware of the dangers of chocolate-induced cankles. But he is quite right, chocolate is awesome. However, just as his shoes are not for everybody, chocolate also sometimes has an exclusive side…

    Yorkie: it’s not for girls. Flake must be enjoyed in the bath. Terry won’t share his chocolate orange. Toblerone is only available at the airport. Galaxy is favoured by the beautiful but sadly departed. You’re only allowed Kit Kat on a break, eating it on the go would be tantamount to confectionary treason. But there is one chocolate that is for everybody, or at least the over 18s: Chocolate Block 2012 has arrived. The new vintage of this Oddbins-classic Saffer Shiraz-blend is richer and chocolatier than ever. In many ways, it is the adult equivalent of a Kinder Surprise. And if you want to turn the decadence up a notch, why not pick up a magnum of the Chocolate Block 2011? Best enjoyed in Manolo Blahniks darling. Cankles optional.

    That’s all from us, except to let all you craft beer fans know that we are brewing up something very special for you. Watch this space…

  • TERRY'S TALES Part One: Down The Rabbit Hole

    Prologue by Mother Christmas

    Hello there. I’m Mother Christmas, not sure if we’ve been formally introduced? Obviously I already know everything about you, especially vis-à-vis your levels of naughty/niceness, but that’s beside the point. Some of you may be aware that my husband was involved in an awful antler-based accident and has been rendered incapacitated for the festive period. Rather than calling the whole thing off, I have taken hold of the reins (I was doing the majority of the heavy lifting anyway) and have teamed up with Oddbins to deliver the best Christmas ever. I’ve also taken over their Twitter feed, which is far more fun than mucking out the reindeer. Anyway, where was I going with this? Oh yes, I remember…

    The other day the elves and I were chilling (sorry that was just a bit of North Pole-based humour). We’d just sweated out the troubles of the working day via the medium of Bikram Yoga, and the conversation was doing its usual progression from ways to economise on wrapping paper to ribbon curling techniques and on to bubble wrap versus those polystyrene things that we don’t really know the name of. Then we got on to what we would do if we weren’t in the festive fulfilment industry…

    Eerikki (head elf of the Wooden Toy Department) said he’d like to audition for Willow The Musical. Lyyti (Gift Tags Department), bored with children’s toys, coveted a career in the adult toy market. We moved swiftly on from that bombshell. Honestly, I almost choked on my sea buckthorn herbal infusion. Mikko (Dolls and Figurines) has been distilling his own moonshine during the quiet months and yearned to start exporting. Tarja (Elf and Safety) inspired by Tariq Knight aspired to become a magician. And finally, one of our Gift Coverage Analysts, who wished to remain anonymous, so let’s call her J.K. Wrapping, wanted to be a writer. A little elf with big dreams.

    Well, as I’m sure you’re aware, Mother Christmas loves to make dreams come true. So right here on the Oddbins Blog I am publishing J.K. Wrapping's work. So have a read for yourself, this is the first of an epic five parter…

     

    TERRY'S TALES

    Part One: Down the Rabbit Hole

    “Now there’s a thing,” thought Terry. “There is certainly a thing.” Terry was looking up at the blossomy, billowing clouds, way, way above the pine tops, way above the rich, sweetly earthy ant hill and certainly way above his rather perplexed head.

    Rather uncharacteristically, Terry was ambling. He’d always been a sturdy sort of ant – happy to throw himself into whatever work the colony threw at him, thriving on the community spirit and the wholesomeness of it all. The fact that he was different to the rest of the colony – and the fact that he knew there was no way he could or should share this with them – didn’t deter him. He was a stoic, sanguine, albeit occasionally weary, ant.

    But he had just been thrown a considerable curveball and was ambling, not marching, on his way back to the colony. He was deep in reverie and had only just enough sense of mind to hold onto the bark with which he’d laboured all day.

    The catalyst for Terry’s abstracted state? He’d met someone like himself. Another… another Talker. In a flash, his muddlement changed to delight, an enormous grin spread across his face and he developed a decided spring in his step. For the first time in years he was actually happy! He was thrilled! All of a sudden the world took on a keener, more tangible quality and the events of the day began to race through his brain.

    She had walked past him just after lunch, given him a wink and said, cheekily, under her breath, “Afternoon”. It took Terry a while to realise what had happened and he busily carried on gnawing on the bark that was proving tough.

    Then, mid-bite, the thought hit him like a dumbbell: she had spoken. She had bloody well said “Afternoon”! How sweet, how tantalising it sounded, after not having heard words uttered since his dear old Ma had passed over (Ant on High, rest her soul). But his joy was interrupted by panic as he wondered if any other ants had noticed? He knew they couldn’t understand Words, but they sure hated it when they thought they were being used. Breaking rank with the dozy column of workers, Terry went to have a sit down.

    He wiped the cold sweat from his brow and was beginning to calm down when he spotted her walking sassily towards him.For Pete’s sake,” Terry murmured nervously.

    This time she sidled up beside Terry, stretched her front tibia out seductively and said “Words: they’re sexy aren’t they?” They really are, thought Terry, now in quite a state.

    But the thing about Terry was that he had lived in quiet isolation, thinking he was the only ant in the colony who could talk, for the best part of his adult life. His excitement began to drain away and he began to feel terribly discombobulated. Who was this ant – this woman? What right did she have to interrupt his day talking about the sexiness of words? He found himself, much to his surprise, angrily shouting these questions at her.

    To Terry’s dismay, however, his enquiries were not met with answers, but with an ant almost catatonic with laughter. She was heaving and weeping with amusement that was exacerbated every time she saw Terry’s agitated face. She eventually staggered off, leaving Terry to swim in a soup of consternation and disbelief.

    It was late evening by the time Terry re-joined the homeward-bound column. Earnestly but unsuccessfully trying to make sense of the surreal chain of events, he distinctly felt like he wasn’t heading back to the ant hill but down the rabbit hole…

    Read Part Two by clicking here.

     

    Images artfully crafted by Cat Ardeleanu.

  • SHOCK NEWS

    We’re sorry to start this edition of Oddnews on a downer, especially as we had promised you fun in our last correspondence, but we’ve got some really bad news…
    We’ve had our heads down busily planning Christmas and missed the breaking news earlier in the week that Santa Claus had been involved in an accident, resulting in the cancellation of all festivities this year. Our sources inform us that in a dry run for Christmas Eve, he lost control of his sledge at high speed and in the ensuing melee became impaled on Blitzen’s antler.But try not to panic. Rumours abound that Oddbins may have found a replacement for everyone’s favourite annual chimney botherer. We cannot divulge too much at this stage, except that she has commissioned the very talented Tariq Knight to make a series of videos for us, which are sure to put the magic back into Christmas… You can watch the first one by clicking here.

    We’re in love. And we’re not sure that this madness will be so temporary…Captain Correlli’s Mandolin was set on Kephalonia and featured a character called Father Arsenios, who - how can we put this diplomatically? - liked a glass of wine. One wine that he particularly enjoyed was Robola. Jessica Shinner, an Oddbins customer from London, also enjoyed this wine when holidaying on the Greek island, which is thankfully a lot less war torn than in the days described in the bestselling novel. But when she got home she couldn’t find the wine anywhere. That was until she heard about The Listing, our initiative to source those wines that you fall in love with on your summer sojourns or winter wanderings. Jessica filled in our online form and Antonio’s your Captain... Gentilini’s Robola is our first import for The Listing. Jessica has received a cheque in the post for her efforts and it is well deserved because this crisp, but full-bodied, Greek white, with its blossom and citrus flavours, is one to fall very permanently in love with.

    If you feel inspired to drop us a line with your holiday wines, you can find out more about The Listing by clicking here.

    Misery? We don’t want misery. We want fun, more fun and a side portion of fun. So what is the spirit of this age? Is it the rich and rewarding Junmai Akashi Tai Daiginjo Sake? The French grape-based Ciroc Coconut Vodka perhaps? The rare and discontinued Fettercairn 1824 12 Year Old Single Malt perchance? Possibly the overwhelmingly awesome anCnoc 22 Year Old Single Malt? A Jessica Ennis-Hill-esque Cask Strength Glengoyne maybe? Or the only way to finish a Mexican meal: Patron XO Cafe? It's a tough call. But one thing’s for sure, having just added almost 60 new spirits, you are bound to find the spirit of this age and maybe even some festive spirit on Oddbins.com.That’s all from us, but keep your mince pies peeled for our special guest coming soon to Twitter and bringing with her the chance to win some Champagne...

  • ODDBINS VS JAMES BROWN

    It’s Friday and we feel good, da na na na na na na, we knew that we would now, da na na na na na na. And as you might have guessed, just for fun, this edition of Oddnews is inspired by the hardest-working man in show business, Mr James Brown. A man who was knocked down, but came back stronger. A man who wasn’t scared to speak his mind or do his own funky thing. A man who inspired millions. And most importantly a man who said “The one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing.” Wise words we think you’ll agree. So, with no further ado, we’re ready to get up and do our thing! We want to get into it, man, you know? Like a wine merchant machine…

    It is often said that this is a man’s world, despite Soul Brother No 1 pointing out that “it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” Well Oddbins disagrees. The Palate, our search for UK’s finest amateur wine taster, has proven that when it comes to taste buds, it is very much a woman’s world. For the second year running our competition has been won by a woman (watch the video here). This year’s winner, Chloe Dickson, has chosen a devastatingly delicious wine for our shelves and we are proud to announce that it has finally arrived. The Manz Platónico is an elegant red blend from Alentejo in Portugal, and according to Chloe it is “perfect for the wintry festive period”. So as the cold now seems to have set in, in the words of JB himself, “please, please, please” make sure you don’t miss out on what we predict will soon become an Oddbins’ classic.

    We love Champagne, but why does it all have to look so plain? Mr Dynamite wouldn’t have stood for such boring labels; he’d have wanted sequins, a cape and a horn section fanfare for his fizz. And that is practically what Heidsieck have done with their Monopole Blue Top Champagne. Look at it: blue, yellow and proud. But there is more to his cheeky Pinot Noir-dominated sparkler than just spangly packaging, it is toasty, buttery, spicy and unbelievably good value at just £21 for the next few weeks. A decadent treat without the extravagant price tag. Feel free to take it to the bridge, but we’d recommend enjoying it in the comfort of your own home.

    Just like the Godfather of Soul, Balblair’s Distillery Manager, John MacDonald, demands discipline, perfection and precision from those around him. But the rewards for this level of dedication are awesome. Balblair’s 2002 Single Malt bursts out of the tumbler spraying oranges, lemons, pears, custard creams, vanilla and toffee apples every which way. But it’s the freshness of it that will have your reaching to refill that glass. And the rewards don’t stop there, not only have we knocked £3 off it, but we will also automatically enter anyone who buys a bottle into a competition to win a 16GB mini tablet, perfect for browsing Oddbins.com, searching for images of polydactyl cats or watching videos of James Brown strutting his funky stuff.
    That’s all from us, except to say that if you want to get hold of any of the bottles featured in this email, you can either pop into one of our shops or buy them at Oddbins.com and have them delivered in three working days or even quicker, if you are in a hurry, with our next day service. Toodle pip.
  • FIFTY SHADES, ED MILIBAND AND SOMETHING FIZZY

    We’ve taken our inspiration for this edition of Oddnews from the world of current affairs. So make yourself comfortable as we're about to go all Sarah Montague and John Humphrys on you...
    Before you start worrying, the Fifty Shades of Grey wines are categorically not available at Oddbins. We prefer to source our spankingly good wines from honest to goodness winemakers and keep the marketing guys suitably shackled and restrained. Take for example the brand new and bone dry Bergrettung Riesling made by Jan Klein and a group of likeminded winemakers, who are rescuing and breathing life into abandoned vineyards (hence the name which means "mountain rescue" in German and has absolutely nothing at all to do with popular "Whip Lit"). It bursts with lime, mango and peach and then slaps you with a firm hand of refreshing acidity. You can get to know more of our lovely winemakers in the inspiring and intriguing new Oddbins Winemakers section of our website located here.
    Following the Labour Party Conference the news has been full of reports of Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell’s little spat over whether Ed Miliband is red or not. We’ve always thought that bickering in the world of politics isn’t really news though, it is kind of like saying: “Breaking News: monkeys seen monkeying around.” Sorry, we digress. No such arguments about red credentials can be made about the following two heavyweight candidates from South Africa. In the red corner we have Boekenhoutskloof's Chocolate Block 2011: Oddbins’ iconic keeper that holds more chocolatey goodness and weight than Augustus Gloop. And in the other red corner we have the new kid on our block, Radford Dale’s Gravity (made by Oddbins BFF Alex Dale): a robust bruiser that dances around the palate with an uncanny elegance, maybe a result of having a few years under its belt. Not only are both indisputably red to the very core, but they are also both quite capable of keeping you warm during the winter months, if for some reason the energy companies might claim not to be able to. But we're not taking sides on that frosty debate...
    A roving BBC News journalist put her virtue on the line by accosting wannabe lotharios in a Milanese gelateria. According to her report she was able to ascertain that the economic downturn has hit Italian Casanovas hard. Shockingly, they are unable to “woo women with the care and attention – and lavish expenditure – their predecessors were one renowned for.” As we dry our eyes for all those failing philanderers, we hope you’ll join us in raising a glass of our fabulous, and very reasonably priced, Prosecco Ca’Rosa. This peach, pear and apricot infused Italian fizz is the one, a lifetime partner if you will. Salute to a more monogamous future!

    That’s all from us, time to get our weekend on, ta ra.

  • A MUCH FRIENDLIER ODDNEWS

    Please accept our humble apologies for the last edition of Oddnews. Introducing cannibals, drug addicts and shifty characters from the world of politics into your inbox was quite frankly a violation. There will be no more of that, especially being Friday 13th and all. So this week our inspiration comes solely from the world of wine…
    Pierre-Emmanuel may be on to something here. Oddbins believes that the most important thing about your wine shouldn’t be the price, but rather the experience you take away from drinking it. However, from time to time you can have your cake, eat a big chunk of that cake, lick the plate and then go back for seconds. And this is one of those times. For a limited period the Taittinger Brut NV Champagne is down to just £30 a bottle, saving £9. From its ancient cellars carved out of the chalk, this thoroughbred family-owned Champagne House produces what can only be described as a classic. It is the stuff of legendary celebrations or even a memorable Friday night in if you feel so inclined. Pierre-Emmanuel may not appreciate us saying this, but if you feel inspired to have a very memorable Friday night, grab a bottle of Taittinger and a couple of portions of fish and chips for what will prove to be the epitome of decadence and a veritable gastronomic entente cordiale, all for less than most meals out. Check out our other sparkling offers here.
    On Saturday 7 September we held the grand final of The Palate 2013, our search for the UK’s finest amateur wine taster. Our eleven finalists took a crash course in wine tasting with Saturday Kitchen regulars and power couple of wine, Susie Barrie and Peter Richards. They then faced two gruelling challenges to determine who would be crowned The Palate 2013. You can see exactly what happened by watching this video. On behalf of everyone at Oddbins we would like to say a massive thank you to every one of the almost 10,000 people who took part in this year’s competition. We knew you were good, but the talent for wine tasting you guys displayed still stunned us.

    If you are feeling inspired to get involved, The Palate will return during the summer next year. We’ve been privy to some of the plans for 2014, and without putting too fine a point on it, it’s going to be awesome. This year’s competition has inspired one of our finalists to pursue a career in the wine trade, so we’re sure she’ll appreciate the following quote...

    Friday I’m in love! The Cure loving winemaker Germán Lyon learned his trade in France, but makes his herby Gallic-inspired wines in Chile. He loves his job, he pours that love into bottles, corks them and sends them to us. We then pass them on to you and we love doing it. Although, we can’t guarantee that drinking Pérez Cruz’s wines will make you love your job as much as Germán Lyon does, their hearty reds can certainly warm the cockles of one’s heart. And with our Indian summer seemingly having been downgraded to more of an Icelandic one within a matter of days, they are going to be in fierce demand. So get yourself down to an Oddbins to pick up their Limited Edition Carménère, Limited Edition Syrah, Limited Edition Cot (Malbec, available in our stores) or the stupendously good value Waiki Cabernet. But be warned, although cockles may be warmed by these wines, one sip and you may be tempted to down tools, stop working forever and move to Chile. Wonder if Germán needs any help?

    That’s all from us, except to let you know that Dave Groves, the manager of our Crouch End shop, has written a guest blog post for us about his run in with a dead snake and a living praying mantis in Rioja. There’s probably some wine in there somewhere too...

  • ASTER LA VISTA, BABY

    Guest Blogger Dave Groves (Manager of Oddbins Crouch End) visits Rioja in July 2013

    The first of our guest bloggers, Dave Groves, the Manager of Oddbins Crouch End, re-lives the thrills and spills of a trip to Rioja, where he tried some unforgettable wines and met some unforgettable creatures…

     

    At home, in north London, around midday, a report on the radio of delays to flights across southern England, due to a computer failure at Air Traffic Control, cast an ominous shadow over proceedings. Ours was supposed to be a short, sharp, slurp, sip and spit (maybe), in-and-out type of trip. Any major delays in getting there just wouldn’t work with our schedule...

    At 4pm, I headed off to Heathrow to meet the rest of the gang as planned, hoping that the ATC issues would be resolved. They were – excellent news. However, one member of the gang was at the wrong airport, Gatwick – not so excellent news. One high speed, inter-airport dash in a taxi later and the five of us: Thom from Oddbins Crouch End, Lucy, Lewis from Oddbins West Hampstead and me, were ready for action. We were joined by our guide, Andrew, who was to accompany us around La Rioja Alta, whose wineries make our Aster Ribera del Duero (£11.75), Lat 42 Rioja (£11.75), La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva 904 (£35), Viña Alberdi Reserva Rioja (£15.75) Viña Ardanza Rioja and One Ribera del Duera.

    After a short flight, we emerged from baggage reclaim to find ourselves snuggled up close in a nice air-conditioned Mercedes – albeit without the requested Sat Nav.  Thom, the tallest of our gang, was in the hot seat up-front and, thenceforth, assumed the title Tom-Tom. Aiming us south of Bilbao at near warp speed, our very own Tom-Tom soon set us on our way. In Andrews’s hands, our Merc gave the Millennium Falcon a run for its money down the Kessel Run [that’s Star Wars speak for a really fast spaceship – Ed].

    Approaching Rioja, we stopped in a layby to get some directions. Lewis had wondered off to stretch his legs when he suddenly shouted ‘snake!!’ He’d very nearly trodden on a (possibly) deadly serpent. We all rapidly fumbled for our cameras and other gadgets, whilst in pursuit of this (probably) deadly snake, trying to get a snap…

    The (possibly) deadly snake

    After we’d had some smelling salts and fanned ourselves a little, Francisco, our wonderful, gracious host, came out to meet us in front of the La Rioja Alta winery. He then took us in to what would be our digs for the next two nights, at the magnificent Torre de Oña estate, the home of the Lat 42 Rioja, which is exclusive to Oddbins. There was a sumptuous spread laid out on our arrival of jamon (ham), tortilla, smoked peppers, white asparagus (my favourite). There was also quite a lot of cerveza (beer – Heineken, strangely), Champagne and of course lots of Torre de Oña and the delicious Lagar de Cerveramade Albariño by the company over in Rías Baixas. That is to say nothing of the fantastically refreshing Orujo, an Eau de Vie distilled with herbs and aged in oak. Served chilled, this slips down dangerously easily.

    Having survived our first close shave with nature (the (almost certainly) deadly serpent), we were to have another terrifying encounter – and nothing could have prepared us for this next beast. It was an alien-esque praying mantis no less, as big as your hand, basking in the moonlight and feasting on flies. This was Lucy’s quarry and again we were all queuing up to be snapped with this ferocious predator.

    Preying Mantis photo shoot

    The next morning, I rose promptly at 9.47am for a 9.30am start. Oops. This was not a huge problem, though, as our first appointment of the day was a tour around Torre de Oña, where we were staying, so, to steal a phrase from The Beatles, I “woke up, fell out of bed and dragged a comb across my head” and went to find the tour. At either 57 hectares (my notes) or 65 hectares (the information provided by the winery), this is a small but perfectly formed estate.

    The gang

    Not for the last time over the next couple of days, I was about to be blown away by the level of care and attention that La Rioja Alta pay to every stage of production. Spotlessly clean from top-to-bottom with barely a machine in sight, this is handcrafted wine in the truest sense.

    Here we tried the Lat 42 Rioja. To say it’s good value is an understatement.  It is a blinding wine; complex, with highly concentrated aromas, an intense nose of ripe forest fruits, blackberries and wild strawberries. It has plenty of depth, great balance and structure, fine gentle tannins and a lovely smooth finish with lingering red fruit and creamy oak notes. It has had 21 months in oak barrels, mainly French with some American and Caucasian too. Caucasian you say? Indeed – 20% of their barrels are made of Russian oak! I had not come across this but was edified to discover that it allows winemakers to obtain more fresh and mineral qualities in their wine.

    With that startling revelation out of the way, it was onwards to the star attraction – the main winery at La Rioja Alta. This is where the incredible Viña Ardanza Gran Reserva 904 and the legendary Gran Reserva 890 are fashioned, along with the slightly more modest Viña Alberdi. Down the years, I have visited many wineries throughout the world, but have never seen anything to compare with this magnificent facility. The scale was phenomenal, with 30,000 barrels, all made on site by their own coopers (barrel-makers). The wines slowly mature in the peaceful serenity of the cellar, with barely a machine in sight. Oxymoronic I know, but I can only describe this place as a boutique winery on an epic scale.

    The La Rioja Alta barrel room

    There followed a tasting of eight wines: Lat 42, Alberdi, Arana, Ardanza (904 and 890), Finca son Martin and Torre de Oña. The quality ranged from very good, through to great and excellent, with a splash of sublime thrown in for good measure. The flagship wine, Viña Ardanza 904, seemed to be at the top of its game: a powerful yet gentle, classic Tempranillo with a touch of uplifting Grenache. Lunch comprised of super tender lamb chops, barbequed over wood cuttings.

    This was not ‘fine-dining’, but rather the finest, freshest ingredients, cooked simply and allowed to shine. In combination with the wine, we were in gastronomic heaven.

    The view at Labastida

    Anyway, we headed back to the base for a post-prandial snooze – I believe it’s called a siesta over there – before heading off into the night. On the first stop on our nocturnal adventure we took in an amazing view of the region from the picturesque walled town Labastida.

    A swift libation in a subterranean bar followed, where we were joined by a Catalan acquaintance of our host who, unsurprisingly proud of his heritage and language, admonished us for waving ‘Adios’, as in Catalan, goodbye is ‘Agur’. Goddit?

    Partaking of the libations

    Our next port of call was Logroña and, in particular, a street called Calle Laurel, which is tapas central. We were treated to a whistle-stop-tour of some of the best tapas joints and had a glass of wine and a dish at each. This was enjoyed either in the street, or standing at the bar. We had various exotic dishes, including pig’s cheek and ink (with some squid in it). If we were in gastronomic heaven at lunchtime we had ascended further now, to some kind of Catalan foodie Nirvana.

    Reveille was 8.30am the next morning, to leave time for the 3 ½ hour journey down to Aster, where we arrived in good time for lunch. Stepping out of the air-conditioned luxury of the Merc into the searing 38 ̊C heat was something of a shock to say the least. I grumble, but if it weren’t for the furnace-hot summer days, the thick-skinned Tempranillo grape wouldn’t reveal  the deep flavours and richness that make Rioja wine what it is.

    A quick tour of Aster’s smaller, but nevertheless state-of-the-art winery, and a butchers at the vineyard later and we were back inside. Aster Crianza is one of my all-time favourite wines and I’d been looking forward to this part of the trip with zealotical fervour.

    It was served with slow-roasted lamb, cooked simply in water, lemon juice, salt and pepper for about four hours at 140 ̊C and some super-crisp salad, drizzled with beautiful olive oil and salt. ‘Delicious’ does not do this dish justice. For the wine, we had the Aster Finca el Otero, for which they use Tinta del Pais rather than Tempranillo, and use it to great effect. Elegant and well-structured, with superb dense, dark, ripe fruits, this was truly wonderful. Our incredibly generous host Francisco sent us away with a bottle of the Finca el Otero to enjoy at home. I have since recreated the lamb dish at home and can tell you, if you are having lamb, have Aster! It’s total perfection.

    We made the onward journey to the airport and home without further ado, in a fantastically sated and soporific state. I would like to thank our hosts La Rioja Alta for a truly magnificent introduction to their region and estate, and especially to Francisco for his time and efforts. Gràcies i agur.

     

    If you’d like to try the wines Dave enjoyed on the trip, without having to encounter (probably harmless) snakes, or (rather cute) praying mantes, click on any of the above links or peruse our Spanish wines in-store or on our website.

  • SHERLOCK HOLMES, HANNIBAL LECTER AND MALCOLM TUCKER

    For today’s edition of Oddnews, we’ve rather strangely found ourselves inspired by three fictional characters, each of whom were prone to genius but could also be described as ever so slightly unhinged. We’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions with regards to what that says about us…

    We’ll pass on the liver parfait thanks Doctor. On hearing the name Hannibal Lecter, the majority of people will suddenly lose their appetite. However, on that front, the fortunes of everybody’s favourite Chianti-quaffing man-eater might be about to change. To celebrate the release of Hannibal The Complete Season One on DVD and Blu-ray on 2 September 2013, we are giving you the opportunity to win a two Michelin Star meal for two at The Square Restaurant and a night in a London hotel. To be in with a chance of winning this prize all you have to do is click on this here link and answer one unfeasibly easy multiple choice question. Six lucky runners up will receive copies of the box set. And just to reassure you, we’ve given the menu at The Square a once over and the meat options all appear to be legit. Now who’s hungry?

    It is so difficult to find a quote from Malcolm Tucker that is suitable for a family-friendly publication such as Oddnews. For those not familiar with the show, Malcolm Tucker was the director of communications for the government and undisputed king of profanity in the BBC’s political satire The Thick of It. However, more importantly he was artfully played by the future Doctor Who: Peter Capaldi. Now if Peter Capaldi were a whisky, he would be the Ardbeg Ardbog. Now we admit that was a tenuous segue, but if you have a click on this link and have a read of 'The Oddbins Take' all will become crystal clear. Released on 1 June to celebrate Ardbeg Day, the extremely limited edition Ardbog is a heavily peated 10 year old single malt aged in ex-Bourbon and Manzanilla casks. Most retailers sold out of this whisky long ago, but we found a small batch perfectly preserved in a peat bog, dug them out and have made them available for your drinking pleasure. Grab them before they something-beginning-with-F off.

    Sherlock Holmes wasn’t perfect; by his own admission he had no knowledge of literature, philosophy or astronomy and only a feeble grasp of politics, he had a drug addiction, a roommate at quite an advanced age, a tendency to brawl, a stormy love life and an ego that makes Simon Cowell look like Mother Theresa in high-waisted pants. But you still have to love anyone who can rock a deerstalker and has an actual nemesis. However, one of our favourite things about Sherlock Holmes is that the world famous quote above was never actually said by him. It is just like the fact that Humphrey Bogart never said “Play it again, Sam” in Casablanca. So while we're on it, let’s dispel some more myths... Not all American wine comes from the West Coast; the mesmerising McCall Merlot has a very European feel and hails from Long Island, New York State, and is as a perfect blend of ripeness and elegance. Not all Vinho Verde is simple; if it is made by a winemaking icon like our Muros Antigos Vinho Verde it can be seriously serious. Germany is all about Riesling, isn’t it? Nope, try the nutty, peachy and creamy Wittmann 100 Hills Pinot Blanc if you want proof. Cava isn’t a patch on Champagne. Guess again; made by the first Spanish winemakers to use Champagne’s 'traditional' production method, Anna de Codorniu was the first Cava to be made from Chardonnay and it gives Champagne a run for its money at about a third of the price. We could go on, but there simply isn't room. Wine may not be elementary, but learning its little foibles is certainly delicious my dear Watson.

    That’s all from us, now let’s go and find some more savoury characters to hang out with.

  • COME AND HAVE A GOVE IF YOU THINK A-LEVELS ARE HARD ENOUGH

    Predictions for the upcoming A-Level results…

    On Thursday 15 August hundreds of thousands of young adults will receive their A-Level exam results (sorry Scotland, we know you’ve already had yours, but keep reading as this still includes you). This is a stressful day for students across the land. Although we wish all these students the best of luck, for they are the future, it is the teachers that our thoughts go out to, because after the hard slog, anguish, nail-biting and hair-rending, there are only really three possible outcomes and all three seem to have an inevitably similar result…

    A-Level Result Day

    Outcome 1: the students do well. The beautiful ones with 4A*s, perfect shiny teeth, glossy hair and flawless complexions will be plastered across the front pages of our newspapers, leaping for joy, results in hand. Those who aren’t blonde and nubile will probably be ignored by the press, irrespective of their grades. Come to think of it, has anyone pointed out what impact this might have on teenage image anxiety?

    Sorry, we digress. Beneath the pictures of the perfect students will be articles saying that exams have never been so easy and berating teachers for, heaven forbid, teaching the students what they need to know to pass their exams. These articles not only belittle the efforts of the students, but also those of the teachers who have supported and inspired them. Reading on, the articles will continue to kick the education system and the high achieving students who chose to continue their studies, by saying that university teaching is woefully inadequate and that there are no prospects for graduates at the end of it all anyway. Who knows, maybe Ofqual will even tell us that the exams were “graded generously”. Happy days.

    Outcome 2: the students do OK. Ofsted will announce that OK isn’t good enough, schools “require improvement” and promptly move the goal posts again. It is still the teachers’ fault. Smiley face.

    Outcome 3: the students don’t do so well. Run for the trees dear teachers before the wrath of Michael Gove and the press comes showering down upon you in something akin to the start of Flash Gordon. And before we’re accused of being mean to Michael Gove, we aren’t, he just happens to be the incumbent and is therefore highly likely to continue in the same vain as his predecessors (Balls, Johnson, Kelly, Clarke, Morris, Blunkett…). #Yay

    A-Levels Guys Trimmed

    Oddbins thinks that it's rubbish that teachers always take the flak, whatever the outcome. To all those who say that exams are so much easier than they were in their day, we say: horses**t. If that rationale were true, it would mean that those who have been running this country for the past 15 years (please note this includes all the major political parties) took harder exams and therefore following this lopsided logic are better educated. So why have these “clever clogs” made such a mess of the Economy, NHS, Banking, International Relations, their expenses, etc.? Exams have changed because the world has changed.

    What hasn’t changed is that teachers are still inspiring students and those inspired students are going on to achieve things that we could never dream of. Teachers are a critical part of our society, they are the buttress that holds us up, even though they seem to have become more of a scapegoat-shaped piñata for politicians of every hue. We may not have liked all our teachers, but we haven’t forgotten how they inspired us and moulded our lives. So Oddbins would like to say THANK YOU TEACHERS…

    We have ten cases of wine to give away to ten inspirational teachers. If you are 18 or over and you’ve had or have an inspirational teacher, then pop their name, the name of the school or university they teach at, when you attended that school or university and a brief explanation of why you found them so inspirational in an email to us at inspire@oddbins.com. We will publish the best right here on our blog and send a case of wine directly to each of the teachers that we deem to be the most inspiring.

    So without further ado, it just leaves us to wish everybody involved with A-Level results day the very best of luck. We have our fingers crossed for you. And teachers: Oddbins is on your side. (TO)

    Quinta dos Roques

    This post was written while drinking: Quinta dos Roques. This hefty red was made by a former maths teacher. We wouldn’t like to speculate with regards to what inspired him to quit teaching, but if this is what a  disillusioned teacher can do with a handful of grapes, imagine what could be achieved if we all offer them our support. We give it an A*.

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