RETAIL analysts often comment on the slowness of Morrisons to embrace e-commerce but, to be fair, their flagship products – fresh foods – do not fit easily into that format.
Thus, www.morrisonscellar.com is effectively its first toe in the e-water.
The selection it provides enlarges its range (doubling it from the original 500) and helps people get more enjoyment from wine by incorporating a taste test. Such assistance was inspired by the discovery by Morrisons that while many love the mystery and heritage behind wine, the often confusing detail can make even quite frequent drinkers feel wrong-footed. Now three basic multiple choice questions simplify things. Your responses place you in one of 12 taste groups. A complex algorithm within the system has already done the same for everything the website sells.
Although customers can still choose wines they know, they can also use the taste test to guide them. The more adventurous can even choose to receive a parcel of six or 12 wines assembled to resonate with their specific taste profile. This selection usually combines reassuring old favourites or brands with an encouraging number of individualistic wines.
When first compiling a list from the the taste test, the Morrisons team discovered a greater thirst for off-dryness than wines to slake it. Frustratingly, this hits the image problems of sweet wines – a description the test is unafraid to use. But solutions have been found, often involving wines that are not obviously, or excessively, sweet. Gently honeyed vouvray or an Anjou white are hugely impressive off-dry wines. So are some grüner veltliner and St Valentin.
To check out some wines allocated to my own profile, I took the test and duly received my bottles. The first one I opened, Three Houses GSM Spanish Red (£4.49), was an immediate hit. This is a Spanish take on a classic Rhöne blend with soft, warm and juicy fruits somewhere between damsons and black cherries. Those flavours are wrapped in balanced mint and vanilla spices that turn the whole thing into a delightful, easy-drinking, everyday red.
My next red, 2009 Savigny-les-Beaune Les Marconnets (£15.99), is several rungs up the price ladder – as befits almost any Burgundy. This one opens with flowery and slightly herbal touches that quickly lead into smooth but vibrant raspberry fruit. Limited tannin but well-integrated vanilla complete the picture of what is a good-value version from – and here is the clue – a village that seldom steals the headlines.
After two successful reds, doubts set in with the third – the leftfield 2011 Valsan Bobal 1831 (£6.99). Wine from the hard-skinned bobal grape – a native of Spain’s Utiel Requena region, near Valencia – can often contain tough tannins. Early on, these were intrusive but this is food wine. Add meat or even cheese and the tannin quickly fades to leave full, structured raspberry and red plum fruit that is very attractive.
The star of the selection was white. I have previously enjoyed 2010 Ken Forrester The FMC (Forrester Meinert Chenin) (£23.99), but a relaxed meal let the full glory of its quality strike home. There is just a hint of chenin blanc’s trademark banana flavours but they are nicely integrated into a complex cocktail of apricot, orange and honey. Barrel fermentation provides a leading edge of vanilla-centred oak but also plays a part in the wine’s smoothness, softness and terrific acidity balance.
Morrisons Cellar, then, achieves several objectives. It provides access to more wines, makes customers more comfortable with the subject and gives them confidence to experiment.
2012 Finest Tapiwey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc Casablanca, Chile, 12.5 per cent
Here is an excellent, crisp 2012 sauvignon from Chile that reflects the textured, orange-centred roundness and lemon or grapefruit acidity the region does well. There are also sherbet and white raspberry touches to add an appealing complexity. • £6 (down from £8.99 until 26 March), Tesco
2009 Portal da Aguia Vinho Tinto Tejo, Portugal, 13.5 per cent This is a typical Portuguese red. Its robust but rounded bramble flavours add gravitas to a leafy nose that all works through into a spicy finish, gentle minerality, neatly balanced acidity and soft savoury tannins.
• £8, Oddbins
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