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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test