RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT: PICK A WINE, ANY WINE

M&S wines won't make you break into song but you sure can rely on them

IF THE WINE list at Marks & Spencer were a horse, it would be one of those steady beasts that never win the Grand National but always finish the race. Their recent London tasting, 91 wines of which I tasted (all but a handful), was remarkable for its consistency. It scored 100 per cent on avoidance of what we professional wine writers call TGICS (Thank God I Can Spit) Syndrome.

What it gained in return for trough-avoidance was a corresponding lack of acquaintance with the peaks. When I commented to a fellow taster that the tables were packed with well made, inoffensive wines, he said: "They would take that as a compliment." When I made the same point to someone from the company later on, they affirmed that that was indeed their view. "People trust us to deliver consistently", she said.

And that's what their list does. If I didn't taste many wines that made me want to break into song, maybe that's my problem - or a problem that we wine-hacks create for ourselves. We want stuff that will awaken our senses and breed good copy. Shoppers want good bottles at whichever retailer supplies their daily meat and drink. And good bottles, moreover, at price levels suiting every financial condition from end-of-the-month insolvency to pay-day euphoria.

The big surprise at the Marks & Spencer tasting was the number of high- quality cheapies. This company does not sell itself on price, yet they've got a handful of good bottles selling for pounds 2.99, which is an Impossible Dream for some retailers and an Undrinkable Crime for others.

Easy winners of the Party-Wine-of-the-Month Award are two Italians, Bianco di Puglia and Rosso di Puglia. Both of the 1997 vintage, both made by Casa Girelli, both possessing a pleasant, friendly charm. The red contains Primitivo (aka Zinfandel) and Negroamara, and its spice-kissed berry fruit should make you pay attention even over the din of a drinks party. The white is made from Bombino Bianco, and prolonged contact with the lees after fermentation lends a bit of depth to its fresh, grapefruity character. Both delicious.

Other winners in the less-is-more category include Hungarian Chardonnay 1997 and Hungarian Merlot Kekfrankos 1997. These unoaked wines, both pounds 3.99, hail from the Meszmely Winery, which does not seem to sell any bad wines in this country. The red is especially good, with ripe soft Merlot given a bit of rough by its indigenous bottlemate.

Needless to say, Marks & Spencer would like to sell you bottles at un- humble prices. And some are worth the money. Chablis 1996 (pounds 7.99), from the La Chablisienne co-operative, is a choice specimen of the nervy, minerally leanness this appellation can achieve even at its most basic. Their Pouilly Fume 1997 (pounds 8.99) has intense, prickly gooseberry and melon fruit with good richness even in the absence of oak. The new vintage of a semi-super-Tuscan, Canfera Vino da Tavola 1995 (pounds 8.99), which I have recommended in an earlier form, keeps all its complex flavours in superb balance - and will continue to do so, with steady improvement, over the next few years.

Finally, a special mention for St Gall Champagne. Marks & Spencer has long had an intimate and mutually satisfying relationship with the Union Champagne, producers of its own-label shampers, and the chemistry continues in three Blanc de Blancs. The one to draw a bead on is Champagne Orpale 1988 (pounds 22.50), with grapes sourced entirely from Grand Cru vineyards and matured on the lees for eight to 10 years. The creamy yeast, the completely mature Chardonnay fruit, the fine mousse - these are qualities for which you could easily pay another pounds 10. Truly fantastic value, and an indubitable Red Rum among the solid, steady runners in the Marks & Spencer list.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot