Similarities between Italian wine names can create serious confusion. For instance, three reds from Piedmont all begin with the same three letters – Barbera, Barbaresco and Barolo.
Two are place names but barbera is a grape variety. While the rich, oak-aged, complex versions it can produce are a joy, barbera is probably best known for ripe young wine with vibrant acidity but modest tannin.
For an inexpensive example, try the light and fresh 2012 Truly Irresistible Barbera d’Asti (£6.99 at the Co-op) with its spicy raspberry and ripe cassis fruit and gentle undercurrents of herbs and lavender.
Barbaresco and Barolo, however, are home to top level nebbiolo – the region’s most celebrated grape variety. Compared with barbera, its wines have much more tannin but less acidity, while its fruit is cherry and damson centred – often with hints of roses.
Because its soil is richer and its vineyards slightly warmer, Barbaresco’s wines tend to be lighter than Barolo’s and are released earlier. None of that, however, compromises the smooth elegance of 2010 Barbaresco, Manuel Marinacci, San Rocco Seno d’Elvio (£26.95 at Berry Bros and Rudd). It has floral red cherry and gently acidic raspberry fruit with firm tannins and a backdrop of pepper, chocolate and nutmeg.
In Barolo the fruit deepens from red cherry to black with herby backdrops and tannin that is perhaps even sturdier. Riserva versions must have five years ageing – instead of three – which makes the wine smoother and better integrated but may slightly dim the fruit’s boldness.
See the effect in the full, complex and concentrated 2004 Terre da Vino Barolo Riserva (£22.99 at Waitrose) with clove, mocha and herbal influences that support its black cherry fruit and chewy tannins.
Younger versions such as in the ripe and juicy 2011 Taste the Difference Barolo (£16 at Sainsbury’s) can also impress but, there, cranberry and plum influences lighten the classic cherry fruit and liquorice finish.
2013 Blackburn & James Shiraz
Lodi, California, 14 per cent
Well priced Californian wine is elusive – even from less fashionable areas such as Lodi. However, I enjoyed this version’s excellent combination of plum and bramble centred acidity with chocolate influenced depth and richness. Because its tannin is surprisingly soft, black pepper and cinnamon touches shine through too.
£8.99, at Waitrose
2014 Roc Saint Vincent Sauvignon Blanc
Bordeaux, France, 11.5 per cent
It is easy to forget how good Bordeaux sauvignon can be, but this intense yet grassy example provides us with an excellent – and inexpensive – reminder. Enjoy its pithy grapefruit acidity and the tingling lemon flavours that eventually give way to a mellower, savoury finish.
£8 at Sainsbury’s
• For regular recommendations on good value wines go to www.midweekwines.co.uk