What is your style of wine? Fresh, smooth, intense or sweet? These are simple words to describe a whole complex range of flavours, especially since they apply to both reds and whites, but Morrisons are hoping that they will steer you towards a better choice of wine.
Instead of arranging their shelves in the usual country by country way, Morrisons have been using a taste by taste approach to wine in their stores and now they have rolled out the whole idea onto their website. If you check out their site (www.morrisonscellar.com) and try their Taste Test, they hope to give you some pointers about the styles of wine you like and what else might delight your tastebuds. It is the popular “If you like this, then you will probably like that” approach to wine buying.
The taste test asks about your favourite hot drink, with options of black coffee, hot chocolate or tea with milk. Then it asks how you like your soft drinks – with sugar or without and then there is a question on how much salt you like in your food.
Answer the questions, and your tastes are scored from sweet, fresh, smooth or intense, and as well as suggesting a mixed case for you to buy online, pages of other suggestions follow, which you can arrange by price to find the ones you might buy. The wines are available by mail order or in store so you don’t have to buy a case, you can just call in your local Morrisons store and select from the shelves.
I tried the test and depending on whether I clicked the tea with milk or black coffee, both of which I enjoy, my taste was described as either smooth or intense. In both categories a list of wines popped up helpfully including those that are on special offer and there is a click through to more details about the suggested wines.
I’m all in favour of suggesting new wines to try out. Whether this Taste Test actually works is another matter since the questions are quite simplistic but Morrisons are to be congratulated for at least trying to encourage their customers to select different wines.
And Morrisons were determined to show that they are taking a different approach to selling wine. Instead of the hushed surroundings of the usual supermarket Press tasting where bottles are lined up on tables and we all work up and down the line in a slurp and spit semi-silence, the Morrisons event was like a house party.
In a space divided up into “rooms” the wines were displayed to suit their styles with bottles arranged across kitchen worktops, on a dining table, lined up on a (pretend) fireplace and on a bookcase. It was like hunt-the-bottle at some points.
New in the range is the Morrisons Own Brand, nicely positioned under a fiver and some of them are really quite good. I would be happy to drink the clean, apple-fresh Morrisons Chenin Blanc 2013 (Fresh) at £4.99, a lively juicy Morrisons Beaujolais 2011 (Fresh) at £4.99 and a soft, chunky Morrisons Pinotage 2013 (Smooth), also £4.99.
Morrisons Signature is a step up in quality and price, bearing the signature of Wm Morrison who started out in 1899 with an egg and butter stall in Rawson market, Bradford.
In the Fresh style, Morrisons Signature Fiano 2012 from Puglia (£6.99) has light, clean, nutty, herbal tones, while, Morrisons Signature Rueda 2012 from Spain (£7.99) also classified as Fresh, has zesty, green apple and citrus notes.
Classed as Smooth, Signature Chablis 2011 (£9.99) is really quite good with nice minerally crunchy flavours, while the Signature Chilean Pinot Noir 2012 (£7.99), Smooth, is bursting with juicy summer berry fruit. Reaching into Intense category, Barbera d’Asti 2011 (£7.99) shows dusky cherry fruit with hints of autumn leaves while Signature Barolo 2009 (£14.99) has layers of damsons and cherries, mingled with truffles and minerals with a soft, but definite tannic edge.
While this range is well chosen I found that some of the wines in this Signature range just missed the target on price to quality which made me wonder whether they were being set up for the usual up and down pricing policy which bedevils wine buying these days. One good idea is the tear-off slips on the back labels so you can remember which wine you enjoyed and buy it again.
The range that really hit the mark is the wines without the Morrisons stamp on them, just well selected wines, under their own brands from around the world and some of them are quite surprising.
At the top end they list the elegant Ch Pontet Canet 2003 at a fairly challenging £109 and the ripe and delicious Sarget de Gruard Larose 2011 at £29.99. But further down the price scale it was good to see the lively, lush flavours of Yalumba’s Barossa Bush Vine Grenache 2012 (£12.99) and the creamy intensity of Flagstone Cheetah Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 (£8.99). The pair of New Zealand wines, Yealands Black Label Riesling 2011 (£10.99) and Matua Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£9.99) both showed well and it was a pleasure to see Novas Viognier 2012 from Chile (£9.99), in the range. This is produced on an organic farm where they use geese to keep the bugs down instead of sprays.
In the past 12 months Morrisons has certainly turned its wine department around. There have been significant changes in the buying team with an injection of new talent and a big investment in the Taste Test website. Morrisons are also moving into home delivery which will see them start to compete against the other major supermarket names. All these changes will need some time to settle down and I really hope that enough attention is paid to putting the right quality of wine in the bottle under their own labels. I like the taste test idea which will expand tasting horizons and despite its simple format it really can offer up a few more ideas when selecting wine.
As a mid-term report Morrisons is certainly trying hard. Let’s see if they can build on this progress.