By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 22 May 2021
We normally think of Marks & Spencer as a safe dependable brand for classics – and this certainly applies to its own label wine range.
Now M&S winebuyers Sue Daniels and Belinda Kleinig believe it is time for M&S customers to step outside their comfort zone. Together with a talented group of winemakers across the world, they have collated a selection of unusual grapes within the sweet spot price of £7-£10 to keep them accessible - and all are vegan-friendly.
“We wanted to throw open the window to a wider world of wine – and we are hoping it will be a breath of fresh air and encourage customers to venture further afield”, says Daniels.
The new wines are all labelled ‘Found’ with evocative and stylish black and white photograph labels – each with a suggested local food pairing from ‘Saganaki’ prawn dish with Greek Moschofilero, ‘Lentejas’ stew with Chilean Pais to aubergine ‘Caponata’ with Italian Nerello Cappucio.
I tasted 8 out of the 12-strong range – and found the quality and value for money pretty reliable across the board, with only one disappointment. The country which really shone out clearly in this range was Greece with a superb white and red duo.
Greece: MOSCHOFILERO & RODITIS 2020 Semeli (12%) ***STAR BUY***
This is a cracking buy for the price. No surprise that this was so good, as it was made by the ‘Master of Moschofilero’, Leonidas Nassiakos of Semeli winery on the Mantinia plateau in central Peloponnese. To achieve freshness and zip, Nassiakos has blended in Roditis grown high up on Aigialia mountain slopes to add minerally notes. I loved its sherbet and spice aromas, juicy limey fruits, honeyed with a salty edge; serve with rich textured seafood, boubaillaise fish stew or buttery herby fish dish.
France: GROS MANSENG 2020 Nicolas Duffour (12.5%)
Anyone who has explored the wines of Gascony or Jurancon in the French Pyrenees will know the Manseng grapes: Petit & Gros – used to produce thrilling dry and sweet wines. This is made from high yielding Gros – starts off rather closed, but citric and pineapple zesty fruit livens the mid-palate, finishing refreshingly bitter; not the best value in the range. Serve with foie gras or just enjoy as aperitif.
Romania: FETEASCA REGALA 2020 Cramele Recas (11.5%)
Feteasca Regala is by far Romania’s most popular grape. This lively aromatic example is made by an Australian and Spanish winemaking team at Romania’s largest independent winery (Cramele Recas), which is owned by Englishman Philip Cox and his Romanian wife Elvira, based in western Banat near the Hungarian and Serbian border. Loved its exotic quince, white flower, lime notes, slightly spicy with lively dry palate and moderate alcohol. Serve with local ‘Bulz’, feta and ham polenta dish.
Italy: RIBOLLA GIALLA 2020 Domus Vini (12%) ***GOOD VALUE***
A hidden gem from Venezia Giulia in northeast Italy made by winemaker Giacomo Vedovato. Ribolla Gialla grape dates back to C13, but is so little known today. Subtle nose, but explosively juicy zesty palate with orange zest, herbs, nuts and crisp dry finish – with moderate alcohol. Easy to drink on its own, it is a perfect hammock wine or serve as a light lunch wine with seafood salad.
Portugal: VINHO VERDE ROSE 2020 Quinta das Arcas (11%)
Certainly a twist on a classic, but not to my taste. Smells of boiled sweets, austere spritzy palate, bitter finish – an unusual rose blend of two Portuguese red grapes Touriga Nacional and Espadeiro. So many good wines in Vinho Verde region, but this is not one of them.
Greece: XINOMAVRO & MANDILARIA 2019 Thymiopoulos (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
Outstanding example of an accessible version of Xinomavro at under £10. Don’t be put off by its pale tones, it has fragrant raspberry bouquet, fabulous rich layers of blackfruits, slightly herby undertones and lingering finish. Made by Apostolos Thymiopoulos who coaxes such elegance and complexity from usually tannic Xinomavro. Here he has soften the blend with 30% Mandilaria grown on volcanic Santorini to add uplifted big bold fruits. Served with Stifado, slow cooked beef stew.
Italy: NERELLO CAPPUCIO 2019 Settesoli (13.5%)
The first Nerello Cappucio single varietal wine available in the UK. This rare Sicilian grape is usually lost in big blends with other Nerellos, but Dominio de Gregorio of the Settesoli winery has created a rather interesting wine. Leathery, spicy, earthy with savoury palate, with underlying juicy red fruits dry tannins with that typical twist to the finish. Good value for those who like Italian bargains.
Chile: PAIS 2019 Indomita (13.5%)
What an impressive effort by winemaker Diego Covarrubias working with the ancient Pais grape in trendy Itata Valley. This is a great introduction to Chile’s oldest grape which fell out of favour for so many years. Bursting with blackcherries on the nose with a juicy fruit, soft smooth palate – it would suit Merlot lovers with its bright plummy fruits. My second favourite red – ideal served with Lentejas sausage stew, Charquican slow cooked beef or just a plain weekday pizza.
Join Rose’s Meet the Rhone Winemaker Bastien Tardieu of Tardieu-Laurent virtual tasting in association with Raeburn Wines on Friday 28 May www.rosemurraybrown.com