Not knowing the difference between good, bad or great wine can make casual wine shoppers reluctant to take a leap of faith. But, for most of their drinking life these people have enjoyed bottles of wine that cost no more than about €4 to €8. And I am convinced that with a little inside knowledge the average supermarket in Cyprus would reveal affordable wines ranging from drinkable to excellent.
Cheap supermarket wines might not sound too appealing, but there are some genuinely good bottles out there for less than a fiver, if you know how to scour the shelves – and more importantly, stay away from over-zealous advertising.
This is why I have a soft spot for M&S Wines. But before we come to that I admit that I don’t usually get worked up about the wines sold by Cyprus supermarkets. Most multiple retailers are eminently capable of looking after themselves and their precious market shares and special offers. But Marks & Spencer’s wine range fills me with frustration, almost rage. This is not because it is bad. If anything it’s because it is so good, but M&S seems collectively determined to hide this fact from the consumer.
Is this misplaced modesty? Or is it arrogance perhaps – a belief that the fact that a wine has been selected by M&S’ six-strong buying team is virtue enough? Perhaps it is all driven by a determination that wines should be exclusive, like their fashion collections by famous designers, and therefore free of price comparisons. I believe this is the case, M&S exclusivity.
My guess is that the M&S buying team has inherited a philosophy that it could be no longer relevant to the wine market in a few years from now. If you are asking someone to pay €10 (even €5) for a bottle of wine, you should be boasting about its origins – often grander than for other retailers’ own label wines – rather than being coy about them. Wine lovers in future will be too sophisticated and better informed to hand over total responsibility for their wine choices to the retailer. Except (for Cyprus) when it comes to M&S.
That was my minor criticism, because the reality is that if you are looking for a favourite wine, you needn’t look any further than your local M&S. This retailer continues to prove it is at the top its game when it comes to selecting exceptional wines for consumers. The team does a fantastic job blending and sourcing M&S exclusive wines from around the world and over decades have developed great relationships with their suppliers too. This partnership is key to their success and ensures M&S wine is of the very best quality and offers excellent value for money.
Do we want more proof than that? Marks & Spencer wine fared best in the competition tasted and judged by some of the world’s top wine experts. We are talking about the IWC, the International Wine Competition, held in London once a year and is considered one of the most influential in the world with over 12,000 wines tested. The high street favourite, in 2016, picked up 13 gold medals, including three for its sparkling wines. It was also awarded 43 Silver medals and 61 Bronze medals, with the IWC describing the shop’s wine-customers as “truly spoiled for choice”.
Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the IWC, said: “We are so fortunate in the quality of the wines selected for UK supermarkets. Not all are winners, but if you stick to wines that have won IWC medals, you will find so many great wines, of all colours and styles. And even the Gold medals don’t have to cost you a fortune.”
There are great wines in M&S shops to suit every occasion and every budget. And by selecting an IWC medal winner from a supermarket shelf, you can buy with the confidence of knowing that the wine has been carefully selected and tested by the M&S team. Here are half a dozen which have recently impressed me, some for everyday and some for splashing out on Easter holidays which are fast approaching
2013 Bordeaux Merlot, Bordeaux AOC, Abv 12.5%
The fruit was picked from vineyards on clay and limestone soils overlooking the Garonne River, south of the city of Bordeaux. Winemaker Yvan Meyer has left this 100% Merlot wine unoaked. Intense and brilliant red. Dense and elegant, the nose displays an aromatic complexity in which cherry notes harmoniously combine with fresh blackcurrant. The attack is full and lush, revealing attractively mature fruit underpinned by powerful tannins. The overall balance is remarkable. The slightly spicy finish, generous and pleasant, is sustained by lingering flavours. Best enjoyed with spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf, Chinese style crispy duck, chicken casserole or grilled chops-pork, veal or lamb. €6.50
2013 Montepulziano D’ Abruzzo, D.O.C, Italy, Abv 13%
This is an intense red, with purple shadows in the glass. The wine has inviting aromas of wild rose, violet, crisp red fruits (redcurrant, wild strawberry), graphite and licorice. The taste shows density and persistence, with refined tannins that make voluptuous and savoury profile. Long finish with great freshness and mineral extension. This smooth and characterful red is ideal for everyday sipping; it makes a fine pairing with any mildly spicy tomato-based chili, eggplant alla Parmigiana or Lasagna. €4.50
2015 Burra Brook Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia, Abv 14%
Australian winemaker Paul Milton has created a style with typical varietal characters selected from premium vineyards, resulting in a deep colour and a rich, smooth texture. Excellent crimson-purple hue; herb, notes of five spice, mint and bay leaf announce their presence on the bouquet, blackcurrant and dark fruits in general quickly following and taking control on the palate alongside fine, ripe, espresso-tinged tannins, that will support the development of additional character and complexity if cellared. Enjoy with hamburgers, penne a la vodka, roast beef and braised lamb shanks and definitely with lamb souvla. €4.95
2015 Le Froglet, Shiraz, Pays d’ Oc, Languedoc, France, Abv 13%
The fruit comes from the warm Languedoc region of southern France and the wine was aged in oak before bottling. Winemaker Belinda Klenig added a bit of Grenache in the mix. It displays great dark garnet-red colour in the glass. The nose is laden with aromas of black fruits, pepper, leather and graphite with hints of shrubs. On the palate, the fleshy quality of the wine is apparent straight away from the attack. Rich and dense, the wine finishes with balance of fruit and delicate tannins. Slow cooked BBQ, one of the best for Easter Sunday, excellent with beef stew and Mexican salsas with chili. €3.95
2015 Fairtrade Zebra View, Cabernet Sauvignon, W.O. Swartland, South Africa, Abv 13.5%
This Cabernet Sauvignon has a fresh, slightly minty blackberry and red plum-scented bouquet with a touch of cedar and tobacco coming through. The palate is medium-bodied with a tobacco-tinged entry. I like the acidity here, nice and fresh, quite linear in the mouth with a welcome graphite tinged on the finish that has moderate length. A perfect accompaniment to grilled beef, especially with a Béarnaise sauce and rocket salad. €4.95
2015 Gold Label Malbec Pays D’ Oc, Languedoc Roussillon, France, Abv 13%
This 100% fresh and delicate Malbec grape has a core intensity of red fruit flavours, light raisin, currant, blackberry, blueberry tart and lifted violet aromas. This is exquisitely balanced by freshness of acidity, it finishes very long, with this harmonious acidity to leaven its sweetness and serious, ripe tannins providing the structural underpinning to support further evolution in bottle. You can enjoy this wine with Tagliatelle with mushrooms and chorizo sausage, but lamb shanks, prime rib and of course my favourite for Easter whole lamb. €4.50