I spent a rather miserable day or two in bed the other week, struck down with some nasty bug that rendered me incapable of doing anything — not even reading.
Consequently, I spent an inordinate amount of time catching up on missed airings of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs.
Having answered the key questions about which book, luxury item and so forth I began to invent new questions… What, for instance, would be my desert island grape?
It’s a tough one. I started off by thinking it would be Riesling; after all I could make everything from bone dry to sweet or even sparkling wine with it and, as I imagine the desert island to be hot (albeit with an area set aside with the optimal climate for my chosen grape), it seems much more sensible to make a white wine. Then I mulled over some of the other big guns.
I couldn’t take Chardonnay — not because I don’t love it but because it seems oddly unimaginative. Sauvignon Blanc offers some magnificent drinking but I think I’d get bored after a week or two.
Cabernet Sauvignon is undeniably majestic but my all time favourite Cabernet wines are invariably blended with a dash of something else.
Syrah beguiles me but I find it oddly tiring if I drink too much of it and Pinot Noir is just too wretched a grape to grow (and I am lazy!).
So, I had to think a little harder and you know the grape I kept coming back to was Barbera, most prolific in Piedmont in north-east Italy. It’s a red grape that’s nearly always in the shadows of Barolo’s Nebbiolo and so not always on the wine-drinker’s radar.
I think Barbera is funky and characterful and good examples are always interesting, expressive and have plenty to say for themselves. Young Barbera wines can be invigoratingly fruity whilst those with a little bit of oak ageing and bottle maturity can be altogether more sumptuous and broad in flavour.
I simply cannot imagine myself getting bored of Barbera and it has the added advantage of being one of those reds that can work well with fish. That’ll be another tick for my desert island grape then.
Since I’ve already broken the rules about what I can take to my desert island, I don’t see a problem with pushing the boundaries a little further and asking to take a couple of bottles with me.
My first choice would be the South African Charles Back Barbera 2009 (£9.99 marksandspencer.com) that would serve as an excellent reminder that just because I’m not in Italy doesn’t mean I can’t make great Barbera. This is a rich, black-fruited example with plenty of smoky notes that tell the story of its 12 months in French oak.
My other choice would be any of the Barbera wines from Aldo Vajra who makes sublime wines in Piedmont. His wines have undeniable intensity but with fragrance too. Try the 2008 Barbera (£16.80 slurp.co.uk). I’d take it as a wine to aspire to!