There is a school of thought that there is no such thing as coincidence. I am quite happy for this to be so, as if there's no such thing as coincidence then the invitation to a wine and food pairing evening at Veeno which arrived a couple of days after a friend and I had been talking about going anyway was nothing less than a sign from above, telling us it was OK to go out and drink wine on a school night.
Thus sanctioned by higher powers, we take our places with around 20 other bloggers for the "Vino & Spuntini" Classic Winetasting experience: six wines from the family vineyard in Sicily, each paired with a different appetizer, including a sweet wine and dessert to finish. This is, of course, a marvellous idea - wine makes me hungry (well, even hungrier than I normally am anyway), and I'm a big fan of the Italian way of eating, where little plates of tempting snacks are considered de rigueur when consuming any form of alcohol. The Veeno way turns out to test one's will power to a quite extraordinary degree though - the snack platters you see here (each one shared between four of us) arrive at the start of the evening and it is UP TO US to control ourselves and resist each item until its wine-matched partner turns up. We do well at this, but it takes some effort, and we note that elsewhere on the table others have not paced themselves with such care (and have indeed wolfed the platter as soon as it arrives).
The first pairing is the house white with bread and olive oil. The olive oil is exceptional, amongst the best I've tasted in this country, and I note with some interest that it can be purchased in the Veeno shop. The wine, a light number made from the Catarratto grape, is nothing special though - the waitress cheerily suggests that it's so light it's a bit like water, and whilst this may be a fine quality in the balminess of an Italian summer, it's perhaps not the first thing one would look for in a wine on a brisk March evening in Manchester.
The next wine is billed as "our fruitiest" and is much nicer than the first - a fresh, peachy number from the Inzolia grape that copes well with the olives and tapenade that accompany it. Then we're on to the reds, and "our smoothest", a blend of Frappato and Nerello which is a good match for a feisty Salame Milano. I enjoy the classic Sicilian Nero d'Avola and its partnering with Parma ham, and likewise the final red, a classy Cabernet Sauvignon served with Parmigiano Reggiano. This is billed as an elegant pairing and indeed it is, although the way in which we fall upon the pieces of (excellent) Parmigiano after we have been looking at it for the best part of an hour is perhaps less so.
To close, we have a small shot of Marsala Superiore Riserva, a sweet dessert wine served with homemade Tiramisu. I ask to forgo this course as a confirmed coffee hater; instead they kindly bring me some very good lemon sorbet, a nice touch on a set pairing menu. The Marsala goes down a treat, and I am pleased to recall that I have a bottle of this in my booze cabinet at home which has been waiting for some time for me to find a use for it (a use which, I now realise, is simply to be poured into a glass and consumed).
Overall we have a very enjoyable night. Veeno is a friendly little place with a great atmosphere, and whilst I wouldn't order all of these wines on their own, most of them stand up well to their food pairings, which are well-chosen and of good quality. The Classic Winetasting that we try is priced at £19.90, which seems good value for the amount you get - I would certainly go again. Veeno Manchester is part of a small chain of wine cafes founded by Nino and Andrea, who opened the Manchester branch in 2013 in order to spread their love of Italian food and wine - a noble cause that I, for one, am happy to throw my weight behind (as long as it involves perching on a bar stool eating breadsticks).
- Veeno Manchester is at 2, Albert Square M2 6LW. This was a press evening where we were not asked to pay for our food or drink, but at under £20 I would have happily forked out anyway.