The Wine List #5

Sampling the grapes of the world, in a glass.


Piemonte Barbera 2014, Italy, 12.5%, Marks & Spencer.

IMGP4994THIS is another grape I knew nothing about before this retirement project. Hugh Johnson, whose pocket wine book is the inspiration and guide for this venture, says Barbera is typically “high acidity, low tannin, cherry fruit.” My immediate thought is that that sounds a lot like other Italian varieties that I have drunk.

So what about this particular wine? It’s from the Monferrato hills of southern Asti, which must be a good start because HJ says this grape is at its best in Piedmont.

So let’s treat ourselves to the description on the label, where the copy-writer’s art is always entertaining: “A bright and juicy medium-bodied red;” nothing to get too excited about there, but wait for it: “Raspberry and plum aromas over tangy flavours of spiced sour cherries.” Spiced and sour; hmm. In my experience, cherries are, well, cherry-flavoured.

As we have noted before with exclusive M&S wines, there is information about the people behind the wine, in this case M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams (whom we have encountered before on this project) and local expert Claudio Manera.

The label recommends that we drink this wine slightly chilled, with chicken cacciatore (?) or pasta Bolognese. So I put it in the fridge door for an hour and opened it with The Current Mrs F’s renowned Spag Bol.

First reaction was mixed: I got the acidity, low tannin, and fruity tartness. Mrs F, meanwhile, who likes her reds rich, was forthright in her snap assessment: “Rough as hell. Is this a good one? Oh, I really don’t know my red wine, then.”

Second mouthful, with the Spag Bol: where’s the wine gone? It may be perfect with the tomato-heavy Bolognese sauces you get in Italy, but Mrs F’s version, with its generous amount of mince fortified by slugs of Worcestershire and Soy sauces, was too robust for it.

It certainly wasn’t unpleasant, but there was not a lot going on in my mouth. It was easy to drink, but not particularly memorable. It improved as the chill wore off, so perhaps it really is unfair to judge it paired with a rich meat dish like this.

One for the wine rack? Despite all of the above, I’d keep a bottle; but I’d only drink it on warm summer days. And then, not with Mrs F’s spaghetti Bolognese.

POSTSCRIPT: I finished off the wine tonight with the remains of the spaghetti Bolognese. I drank it un-chilled, and thoroughly enjoyed the wine and the food combination. Moral: every wine deserves a second chance; and don’t always follow the advice on the label.


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