Friday, March 18, 2011

M&S Spring Press Tasting 2011

Here I was again at the bi-annual M&S tasting. I approached it a bit differently this time - I didn't have to go to work afterwards and I could take my time. Also, I decided to concentrate on the reds a bit more as last time I spent most of my time on the whites and ended up rushing through the reds due to time constraints.

I was particularly interested in the Old World reds and the new offerings from California. I also paid a bit more attention to their Wine Direct table, with wines only available through their website.

I sort of breezed through the whites, and have to say I wasn't all that impressed. Sure, most of them were under £10 and could be considered bottom of the range, but I couldn't get excited about any of them. The Italian range was just dull - everything tasted like pears, no matter what grape variety it was. The sparkling wines I mostly skipped - I already know M&S Champagnes are very good. I did try a couple of Cavas though, and quite liked the Single Estate Vintage Chardonnay Cava 2009 (£9.99), with it's bright, crisp and refreshing character. I also tried the Ridgeview Marksman Brut Blanc de Blancs 2008 (£22), and didn't really like it -it was soft and rounded (not what I like in a Blanc de Blancs) and had obvious oak influence and coarse bubbles.

I also tried a couple of pink sparklers - the Bluff Hill Sparkling Rosé NV from Montana, NZ (£9.99) was simple but tasty, and the Vintage Cava Pinot Noir Rosado 2008 (£12.99) was a darker pink with good red-fruit flavour.

The new California range was interesting. First a couple of bargains from Hahn Family Wines. The Freedom Ridge Monterey Chardonnay 2009 was full of creamy vanilla notes, and the Shiraz (2009) was really a Syrah with surprising intensity. Both wines go for £7.99. You don't often see good wines from California at this price - well done M&S. I didn't appreciate the Schug Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009 (£14.99) so much - it is of the barnyard style that I really don't like. However what might have been my favourite of the day was the Domaine Georg Rafael Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2001 (£30) which was a lovely balance of fruit and tannin. Gorgeous wine.

I was really impressed by the Italian range, especially the Chianti. They were literally all impressive, ranging from the Chianti DOCG 2009 (£6.99) to the Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva 2007 (£12.99), which was really top drawer. All the ones in between were equally as good. Also a bit of a surprise was the Nebbiolo d'Alba 2007 (£7.99), which although not a world-beater was better that it should be at that price.

The Spanish range, like the Italian one was well represented by its flagship wine - in this case Rioja. First a mention for the Mencia Bierzo Escondite Perfecto 2009 (£9.99) which had good grip and dusty, floury fruit. I had never tried the Mencia grape before this. Another oddity was the Rioja Bodegas Age 2009 (£6.99) which was unoaked, but good enough to get a check mark beside it. The next two, Rioja Perez Burton 2007 (£9.99) and Contino Rioja 2005 (£22) were both excellent, especially the latter.

Onto the French wines, I was particularly enamoured by the Cotes du Rhone Villages St. Maurice 2009 (£6.99). Good stony fruit (what I mean by this is a gravel-like character on the palate which I like - not stone fruit like peaches) and tannin. A bargain and good to see terrific wines like this at these prices. A couple of Burgundies next - the Gevrey-Chambertin 2007 (£29) was predictably delicious, but to be honest the Saint Aubin Les Argillers Rouge 2007 (£17.00) is the better deal - just as good but only slightly less intense. Both wines giving fantastic cherry fruit and silky texture.

Lastly, the Wine Direct wines. All the whites were warm. I think that's supposed to be good for tasting, as the flavours aren't muted by cold. However either the wines weren't very nice or I don't like warm white wine (the truth would be a bit of both). The only white that I found interesting was the Hunky Dory 'The Tangle' 2010 (£6.99). It is a blend of Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Rielsing from Marlborough, New Zealand. This is the type of wine that excites me, especially for that price.

Making up for the Wine Direct whites were the reds, especially a couple of Spanish wines. The Baigorri Crianza 2005 (£11.49) had superior fruit and structure, especially for a 6 year old wine, and the Mange del Brujo Calatayud 2008 (£11.49) was equally concentrated, with grippy tannin and a dark-fruit finish. From Italy there was an interesting blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot in the Monferratto Cantamerli Rosso 2008 (£10.49), which is full of cherry and leather character. From Argentina the Nieto Bonarda 2009 (£11.49) is worth a mention, although it tastes rather young and lacks complexity now.

So all in all some really, really great value wines are on offer here, and Marks and Spencer deserves some applause for their efforts, especially at the low end. I know I griped about the whites, but I didn't try all of them, and the reds more than made up for it.

1 comment:

  1. The 2007 Saint Aubin Rouge burgundy is on sale for £13.99 at my local M&S - great wine at a great price