As I’m sure no-one will need reminding - we Brits increasingly like a glass of wine or two to ease our post-Brexit/pre-apocalypse concerns.
The UK wine market is now the sixth largest in the world and a recent poll revealed it is now the favoured alcoholic drink for 60 per cent of adults in this green and, occasionally, pleasant land. But there remains a hefty gulf between the price of quality wine in supermarkets, compared to pubs, bars and restaurants.
Veeno, the Italian Wine Cafe, is going some way to address that problem and provides a less formal environment for fans of reasonably-priced good wine, who are partial to some superb Italian meats, cheeses and bread to nibble on.
They also offer tasting sessions which, like their staff, are informative and passionate about wine but not stuffy or pretentious.
Most of the wines come from the founders’ family vineyards in Caruso & Minini, in the west of Sicily, accompanied by a few select others from other parts of Italy.
Another inspiration for Veeno is the culture of Italian Aperitivo -a social drink and light meal before dinner.
We stuck to the script and arrived after a hard day’s labour ready to sample a few of their wines and to luxuriate in all things Aperitivo.
Early-evening proceedings began in the way they have done for countless generations of booze-loving Brits, in the reassuring shape of a tumbler of gin and tonic.
The Malfy Con Limone was an excellent zesty number from Torino and a lot more fun than most London Gins.
My tasting partner plumped for a glass of the all-conquering titan of sparkling wines in the UK, Prosecco. The Rosalia Prosecco was characteristically extra dry and will go down will with the legions of fizz fans
Our first table wine was the Sicani Grillo, a dry white which was the perfect partner to the milky mozzarella. The grillo grapes fermented in oak and acacia barrels create a dry and crisp quality white with a delicate oaky flavour.
The house rosé we sampled Tasari Syrah, was an alluring cherry colour and bursting with summer fruit flavours. It’s perfectly balanced tannins made for a harmonious marriage of flavours. It was served with Italy’s most popular salami, Salame Mlano, and Speck, a gorgeous smoked and cured ham with juniper and pepper which cut through the fruitiness of the rose.
Perhaps the most impressive of the wines we tasted was the Le Selezoni Cutaja. This powerhouse red was made from Nero d’Avola Riserva grapes which produces huge robust flavours of currants, prunes, herbs and cocoa. What to eat with such a monster of flavours and taste? It was clearly time to bring out the heavy-hitters and slabs of creamy Gorgonzola did a admirable job in accompanying the booming red.
Last up was a rather lush dessert wine Tagos. It uses Grillo grapes which are grown on the highest hills to become dehydrated and super-sweet. A dessert wine with pudding is a simple but reliable pleasure in life and the rich sumptuous homemade Tiramisu combined well with the honeyed elixir in my glass
After tasting Veeno’s vinos and grazing on authentic Italian appetisers it’s easy to conclude that it’s a very well-executed concept and ideal for our fledgling wine-loving culture. And although we’re not entirely up-to-speed on light preludes to dinner, I’m sure we’ll eventually catch up.
Veeno itself is in a part of the town that’s not exactly synonymous with light preludes to any evening. But Brighton’s West Street isn’t quite the brawling Bacchanalian beast it once was and in the past few years smart new businesses like the Brighton Harbour Hotel, NuPosto Pizza, and Be-Fries, have made it a nicer place to spend some time.
Veeno is another one of those nicer places and is a civilised way to while away a few hours, pre, or post-dinner or for those contemplating another glass and some more nibbles, instead of dinner...
Veeno - The Italian Wine Cafe
75 West Street