After the excitement of an in-person wine tasting subsided, Peter Ranscombe found interesting Marks & Spencer alternatives.
A PRESS tasting. An actual, real life press tasting. With wines and people and everything.
Novelty aside, yesterday’s press preview of spring wines from Marks & Spencer was a great chance to catch-up with the ongoing refresh of the company’s stock.
Yesterday’s tasting focused on the wider portfolio, with highlights ranging from the arrival of pink Prosecco through to a strong line-up of entry-level Italian whites.
I came away feeling more positive about Markies’ selection than I have done for many years.
One of the strengths of Marks & Spencer is the depth of its range of classic wines.
Just as I go back to buy the same shirts again and again when they eventually wear through, I know familiar bottles will be on the shelves too.
For a few years, those classics didn’t always hit the mark for me.
But many of those perennials are now offering exciting alternatives to some of our more recent wine trends.
So, if you’re bored with your pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc or Prosecco, read on for my reviews…
If you like… Pinot Grigio
Then try… Soave 2020 (£5)
Soave – along with Gavi and Orvieto – is among the forgotten whites of Italy. All conquering during the 80s, it’s been washed away in the flood of pinot grigio. It’s time for that to change and, at £5, this pinot grigio beater from M&S should lead the charge. Classic intense lemon aromas follow through onto the palate, where they’re joined by green apple and crisp acidity. The Classics Soave Classico 2020 (£7.50) does the business on the palate too, although its lemons are centred around the more savoury rind. In fact, Markies’ Italians whites are looking very strong indeed at the moment so – if you can’t tear yourself away from pinot grigio just yet – then check out the Auretta Pinot Grigio delle Venezie 2020 (£6) with its concentrated red apple and spun sugar flavours or the bright Garganega Pinot Grigio 2020 (£7) blend’s apple compote intensity.
If you like… Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc
Then try… Tierra Y Hombre Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (£7)
Made for Marks & Spencer by the ever-reliable Vina Indomita in Chile – a favourite at the Co-op too – this South American stunner comes with pronounced textbook gooseberry and asparagus on the nose, which leads into a hit of high acidity that’s balanced by more gooseberry, plus tropical guava and passionfruit.
If you like… Prosecco
Then try… Prosecco Rosé Brut 2020 (£10)
Perhaps not the most original segue, I’ll admit, but last year’s introduction of pink Prosecco was almost drowned out by the small matter of a global pandemic. Although the Prosecco area has made pink bubbles for years, last year was the first vintage during which they were allowed to use the “Prosecco Rosé” label, thanks to new rules on how much pinot nero – or pinot noir – should be included alongside the glera grape. M&S’s entry level pink Prosecco is impressive, with bright strawberry and sweet strawberry jam on the nose and then a dose of sweetness to balance its crisp acidity. There are plenty of options to explore too, with the Conte Priuli Prosecco Rosé Extra Dry 2020 (£12) offering a step-up in sweetness, while the Conte Priuli Rosé Oro Prosecco 2020 (£15) offered a bit more refinement, with floral notes on the nose and heavier lemon flavours on the palate.
If you like… Claret
Then try… Classics Rioja Reserva 2015 (£9)
Again, it’s no stretch to recommend Rioja to claret fans – Bordeaux’s winemaking techniques migrated to Rioja in the late 1800s after France’s vineyards were devastated by the phylloxera louse. Here, the same focus on sweet oak flavours produces gorgeous, pronounced aromas of cedar, pencil lead, and dark and milk chocolates. On the palate, the blackberry and blueberry flavours coming marching through to join the milk chocolate and cedar notes. While the tannins ideally need food, that’s no stretch either for Rioja’s lamb-matching prowess.
If you like… BBQ bargains
The try… Villiera Shiraz Merlot 2020 (£8)
The hailstorm that thundered down around Markies’ tasting room in London might not have been conducive to outdoor dining, but my mind definitely wandered towards a barbecue when I smelt the wood smoke and burnt meat aromas in this blend of 81% shiraz and 19% merlot from South Africa. Those meaty notes become a more nuanced roasted rather than burnt flavour on the palate and are joined by blackberry, raspberry, and tomato sauce. Ideal for sloshing along with burgers and bangers but – if your alfresco dining is taking place in Milngavie or Morningside – then grab a posher drop of the Houdamond Pinotage 2017 (£13.50). Pinotage the way it’s meant to be; forget any memories of cheap burnt rubber aromas – this is full of enticing wood smoke, dark chocolate, and pencil lead. A posh pinotage, with roast meat, dark chocolate, blackcurrant, and red plum on the palate, with those tannins nicely integrated after time ageing in barrels then bottles.
If you like… The classics
Then try… Fitou 2019 (£7)
I’d gone off Markies’ Fitou in recent years, which was a shame because it had been one of the benchmarks in the company’s range. This new example from Castel Frères is firing on all cylinders, with bright and attractive blackberry, blackcurrant, and raspberry on the nose from its blend of 60% carignan, 20% grenache, and 20% syrah. While it lacks the finesse of examples from Katie Jones or Calmel & Joseph, it ticks all the boxes for an introduction to the Southern French style, with lovely, concentrated blackcurrant, blackberry, and raspberry flavours, plus a touch of milk chocolate. Those tannins need food, but that’s what you want from Fitou – and it’s a great package for £7.
Read more of Peter’s wine, beer and spirits reviews on his blog, The Grape & The Grain