Supermarket wine buyers are looking further afield in search of new flavours, writes Christine Austin.
In recent weeks the major supermarkets have opened hundreds of bottles for the press at their Spring Tastings and on your behalf, without a care for my tooth enamel, I have sipped and slurped my way through them all. This is an opportunity to take a snapshot of the shelves, to review what the buyers have been developing and to find out whether they are hitting the right notes for flavour and value.
Clearly the buyers at Marks & Spencer have been pushing the boundaries of their buying trips to come up with a wine from Japan. I have been tasting Koshu wines for several years, wondering whether their delicate flavours have a place outside specialist restaurants. Now M&S have put Sol Lucet Koshu 2013 on the shelves at their largest 70 stores, and if it isn’t at your local store you can order it on the M&S website. Koshu (pronounced co-shoe) is the grape variety, part of the Vitis Vinifera family, so it is a true wine-producing grape and is predominantly grown around the town of Katsunuma in the main grape production area of Yamanashi.
This is a challenging region for grapes with high rainfall, particularly during the typhoon season, so much that some producers even adorn their bunches of grapes with protective hats to keep the rain off. But this pinkish-coloured grape variety is remarkable when made into wine. Crisp, clean, delicate and fragrant, it is the perfect match to Japanese cuisine. Think of the flavours of nashi pears, with a hint of floral aromatics of Riesling and a creamy harmonious finish and you have some idea of the flavour of this grape. At £12.99 this is hardly a bargain buy, but M&S are to be congratulated for being the first major retailer to put Koshu in the UK market. If you like sushi then this is definitely the wine to pour alongside.
M&S has also blazed a trail to the vineyards of India and now has three wines sourced from Nasik, 100 miles northeast of Mumbai. This is a fairly new venture for the region, kick-started by a former engineer from California’s Silicon Valley and now with 700 hectares under vine, Nasik has become India’s largest wine growing region. What I like about this trio of wines is that they have been assembled to suit UK tastes, and so are missing the usual slug of sugar that is normally part of an Indian wine blend. Jewel of Nasik Sauvignon Blanc 2013 has lifted, citrus fruit and a good weight of flavour; the Zinfandel Rosé 2013 has ripe strawberry fruit and just an edge of sweetness while the red, my favourite, is a Tempranillo Shiraz blend with ripe cherry fruit and a touch of spice. At £6.99 these are well worth a try.
Other highlights from the Marks & Spencer range include a fresh-tasting, crisp apple style of English White Lily 2013 (£9.99), sourced from the chalky, south-facing slopes of the North Downs in Surrey and an English red wine, Bolney Estate Linter’s Red 2012 (£12.99) made from Rondo grape. This is a surprisingly deep-coloured, well-flavoured grape with juicy red-berry fruit, which could easily stand 30 minutes in the fridge for summertime drinking.
Another new addition to the shelves comes from the delightful region of Niagara-on-the-Lake just over the US border in Ontario, Canada. Southbrook Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (£15.99) is biodynamically farmed and certified organic and this wine brings deep cassis notes with bright fruit and supple tannins.
Just in case you are thinking that the M&S range is all new wines from strange and far-flung places, it isn’t. There are still plenty of good wines at everyday prices to enjoy, in particular the herb and minerals, crunchy white Marques de Alarcon Blanco 2013 from Castilla in Spain (£7.99) and the chunky cherry flavours of Loretto Sangiovese Rubicone 2013 from Emilia Romagna (£6.49).
The Co-op has faded from my tasting horizons for a year or so, and since their main tasting clashed with the mega-event arranged by Waitrose I thought I would miss them again. However they arranged a second event and in the calm of their London offices just one other writer and I worked our way through 60 of their wines.
I was pleased not to have missed them. This is a range that is well-chosen, well-priced and the buyers haven’t had to head off to odd corners of the earth to find them.
Among the whites Indomita Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc 2013 from Chile (£7.49, on offer at £6.49 until June 3) is stacked with bright, crisp, green gooseberry fruit, although I would be tempted to buy the Co-op’s own brand Truly Irresistible Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2013 at £6.99 for its zesty style and clarity of flavours. There is a gentle, apricot-tinged Les Jamelles Viognier 2013 (£6.49) from the Languedoc but until June 3 the Co-op’s Truly Irresistible Viognier 2013 is down from £8.99 to £6.99 and it packs more weight and smooth, elegant fruit.
Even if you have never shopped for wine at the Co-op before it is worth finding your local store for the Truly Irresistible Godello 2013 from Galicia in Spain (on promotion at just £6.49 until June 3). With aromatic pear and honeydew melon fruit and a crunchy lemon finish, this is a wine for summer sunshine lunches.
Among the reds head for the great value, supple, plummy flavours of Linda Mora Malbec 2013 from Argentina (£5.99) or the deeper, mulberry fruit of The Co-op’s Fairtrade Malbec 2012 also from Argentina (£8.49). The Co-op is the largest supporter of Fairtrade wines in the UK and has overseen some substantial projects in South America and South Africa. Also well worth a taste are the dark, damson fruit flavours of Casa Planeta Nero d’Avola Syrah 2013 from Sicily. This is down from £9.99 to £7.99 until June 3 and it will go wonderfully with barbecued spare ribs. Staying with an Italian grape, but grown in South Africa, Zalze Sangiovese 2012 (£6.99) is a terrific wine, packed with juicy, dark morello cherry fruit.