A recent survey, conducted (weirdly) by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, hailed Brighton and Hove as the UK’s wine capital. Apparently, it was the only city in the UK that voted wine as its top “guilty pleasure”. Everywhere else chose chocolate, in case you’re wondering.
This makes sense, given Brighton’s reputation as a boho-flavoured party hub. And so it’s no shock to see Veeno opening a branch of its successful Italian wine bar chain here. The one surprising factor is its location, on West Street — Brighton’s epicentre of shouting, puking and staggering about on a Saturday night.
Yes, its location has raised a few eyebrows, and I dare say a few titters, among the Brighton bloggerati. But when you think about it, this is exactly what West Street needs — a subtle caress of Italian sophistication. I mean, the West Street regeneration has to start somewhere, right?
The Veeno Concept
Veeno already has 18 branches, mostly up north in locations including Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool. But its influence has been spreading south, to Cardiff, Bristol and now the East Sussex coast.
From what I’ve seen, it’s a spin on the Italian concept of the enoteca, a wine bar/shop that offers antipasti with your wine and the opportunity to take a bottle (or six) home with you. I love enotecas. There’s one on pretty much every corner in Florence — and we need more of them in the UK. The closest thing we have to one in central Brighton is Ten Green Bottles, opposite the Jubilee Library.
All of Veeno’s wines come from the family vineyard in Sicily, and while the waiting staff are not Italian (not in the Brighton branch anyway), they’re really keen to give you an authentically Italian experience.
The Wine Tasting
I went for the Selezione tasting, the more expensive, premium offering at £26.90 per person. For this you get five smallish, 70cl glasses of wine (two whites, two reds and a rosé) plus a cute wee dessert wine alongside a tiramisù at the end. I calculate it works out to just over half a bottle per person, but it felt like more. Oh… and you also get a spuntini platter big enough to satisfy a stoned hippopotamus.
“We don’t compromise on our Italianity,” it says, in a most Italian manner, on Veeno’s website. And Italians don’t mess about when it comes to antipasti. You won’t be going home hungry.
(The above photo is a generic publicity shot. The top image more accurately represents what came with my wine tasting)
You get Pecorino, Prosciutto, speck, crostini, mozzarella di bufala, olives, sun-dried tomatoes… if you’ve been to Italy you know what I’m talking about. And as the staff bring out each wine, they’ll recommend which part of the platter to slurp it with. My waitress tells me she’s just finished a three-week intensive training course to get up to speed with the backgrounds and pairings.
“Yes, but how are the wines?” I hear you holler with swelling impatience. They’re actually very good. Here’s a rundown of the ones I tried.
Grenacio: this one wasn’t on the tasting, but it was one of my favourites. A white variety (I’m not sure whether it’s related to Grenache) with interesting flavours of orange blossom, wild flowers and pear
Timpune Grillo: a once unfashionable grape, Grillo has been resurrected by Veeno in their Sicilian vineyard. Pear flavours with a hint of vanilla oak. It reminded me of Pinot Gris, with dry, refreshing lemon citrus on the tongue.
Corte Ferro Zibibbo: “This was Cleopatra’s favourite grape. We call it the Wine of Love,” says the waitress. And I can see why. Surprisingly reminiscent of Gewürztraminer, this white gives aromas of rose, cucumber and spice. Complex and alluring, it goes rather well with the Pecorino. Highly recommended.
Tasari Syrach Rosato: this house rosé, made from Syrah grapes, can’t compete with the best of Provence, but it sure tries hard. “The name Tasari means ‘to stand up’; it’s a statement of pride,” I’m told. Dry, with strawberry, raspberry and cherry notes, it pairs nicely with the smoky spek ham.
Sachia Perricone: my pick of the reds, this one’s apparently typical of the terroir, with lovely cherry menthol and liquorice flavours.
Cutaja Nero d’Avola: the co-owner tells me this 2015 Riserva is his favourite, but while its flavours are elegant, it’s too oaky for me. The rich cherry and liquorice flavours are again present, but the oak outstrips the fruit somewhat. The name, I’m told, means “well rounded stones”, because these grapes are grown on an old river bed.
Clearly Veeno’s location will affect some Brightonian wine imbibers. To generalise crudely, North Lainers might balk at the need for a bouncer, while West Streeters may be perplexed by the lack of beer and pasta. The quality of its wine, however, is unambiguous, and its sharing plates make it an ace spot for large groups — although they will need to install some longer tables to fit that purpose (see picture above).
The music snob in me would have preferred a more traditional soundtrack (or maybe 80s pop IS traditional these days, and I’m just old). But then again, Veeno is pop culture for wine. And my anti-elitist side is all for that.
Crowd-pleasing wine, authentic food and friendly service mean Veeno Brighton deserves to continue its success story.
For full info see www.theveenocompany.com