It’s not just wine, it’s Marks & Spencer’s wine...” That’s the slogan we expect to hear now that M&S has scooped the equivalent of the Supermarket Wine Oscars.
The chain won the coveted International Wine Challenge (IWC) Supermarket of the Year title once again for its wine range.
Judges at this year’s 30th IWC rated Marks & Spencer’s wines a cut above its rivals – and this is not the first time it has won. M&S won it three years in succession in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – but in 2011 it went to Waitrose and in 2012 to Tesco. This year, M&S has claimed it back.
Taking home the highest number of prizes with 180 awards, including four trophies, 13 gold medals, 20 silver medals and 54 bronze medals in a blind tasting, which includes thousands of wines judged by a panel of experts from the wine trade, is no mean feat. M&S was also praised for its wine-making initiatives, employing trained winemakers as wine buyers to work with producers across the world.
The IWC judges also congratulated M&S on pioneering initiatives with Fairtrade and for introducing iPads for shoppers in 300 stores, so that customers can make direct wine orders.
I have often thought of M&S as rather a traditional shop with a small wine range, but small is clearly beautiful. All its wines are own-label ones which might sound dull, but not if it is done well, with more concern for quality than getting a bargain price.
With just own label wines, effectively all its offerings are exclusive to the chain, but that of course does not necessarily guarantee a good wine. Its buyers know how to buy well – not an easy task in today’s competitive price market.
What M&S has also shown is that it is not afraid to push the boundaries. It has always done very reliable classics from France and Italy, but I was very impressed with its eastern Mediterranean special offers this year. I enjoyed its unusual new listings such as zingy Turkish Sevilen sauvignon blanc, floral Croatian pilato malvasia and citric Greek Santorini assyrtiko – all very good well-chosen examples of their type.
This year M&S won the IWC Great Value trophy for its £5.99 Italian Monterrato Chiaretto. It also carried off the chablis, white chateauneuf and the Montlouis trophies which is a very impressive haul. I tasted my way through some of its award winners – here is my taste test.
Burgundy, France: Sparkling Burgundy £9.99
Well-made creamy citric Crémant de Bourgogne, which I highly recommend as an alternative to Blanc de Blancs champagne. Caves Bally Lapierre make this from 100 per cent chardonnay fruit.
Burgundy, France: Organic Chablis 2010 Brocard £14.99
Chablis lovers take note. This is one of the best I have tasted. Get this in the fridge and you will not disappoint your guests. An expertly made organic effort from JM Brocard. STAR BUY
Friuli, NE Italy: Pinot Grigio Friuli 2012 £8.99
Friuli which borders Slovenia in north-east Italy is always a great place to track down decent pinot grigio: which is the same grape as pinot gris. This is the home of Italy’s best white wines – and although most Italian pinot grigios leave me cold – this effort made by Arrigo Bidoli is extremely quaffable and well-made.
Stellenbosch, South Africa: Crow’s Fountain Chenin Blanc 2012 £7.99
A bronze medal winner in this year’s IWC – made from low yielding Chenin vines grown in Stellenbosch by the Villiera winery which makes very approachable good value wines. Full citric, guava flavours. Very attractive, although the alcohol level is a touch high at 13.5 per cent.
Calchaqui Valley, Argentina: El Esteco Tannat 2011 £7.49
A really intriguing wine made from tannat, a grape usually grown in Uruguay. This tannat comes from the far north-west of Argentina, the stunning high altitude Calchaqui Valley where cool night temperatures give the wine a minerally edge – but it has powerful black fruit and chocolate notes. It’s an absolutely delicious quaffing barbecue wine made by Michel Torino’s winemaker Fabian Miranda. I preferred to it many Uruguayan tannats as the tannins in this Argentinian wine are much softer and more approachable. STAR BUY
Bordeaux, France: Mauregard Bordeaux 2011 £6.49
I don’t think this bottle looks very promising, but what more could you expect from a claret under £7? A surprising amount of fruit, compared to many other dismal lean supermarket own label clarets. Bordeaux negociants Yvon Mau have done a very good job here offering ripe fruits and balanced acidity.
New South Wales, Australia: Hunter Valley Shiraz 2011 £9.99
Hunter shiraz was once described as smelling of sweaty saddles. This example from the sunny Hunter, north of Sydney, is more new wave Aussie with juicy mulberry fruit and spicy peppery undertones than anything resembling leather. Commended in the IWC. It is not obvious on the label, but this is made by Mark Richardson of the excellent Tyrrells winery.
Western Cape, South Africa: Zebra View Rose 2012 £7.99
I am not a great fan of rosé – but this was my least favourite of the M&S range in terms of value for money. A blend of pinotage, shiraz and merlot made by Stellenrust winery, based in Stellenbosch, from Western Cape fruit. Tangy, but lacks depth.
Piedmont, NW Italy: Monferrato Chiaretto 2011 £5.99
Juicy cherry-fruited rosé blend of barbera and pinot noir made by Araldica in Piedmont – quite unusual. Winner of the best value rosé under £7.
Join Rose’s Beginners Wine Tastings in Edinburgh from £35, www.rosemurraybrown.com