Marks & Spencer’s Christmas wine: my pick of the best bottles

John Wilson: A sweep of the supermarket’s top bubblies, whites and reds for the season

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Of all the supermarkets, Marks & Spencer tries the hardest. It certainly has the best and most adventurous range of wines. I think I have noticed a slight thinning out, in Ireland at least, but its selection is still superior to all of its rivals’, with an amazingly eclectic list from all over the globe and a heavy emphasis on the Mediterranean. Even some of its entry-level house wines, and others priced at €7.50-€8, are very good: any of these M&S wines under €15 represent excellent value for money. Here’s a small selection of my favourites, from €9 to €81.

SPARKLING WINES

Alcohol-Free Sparkling Muscat NV, France
0%, €9
The alcohol is removed by a process known as reverse osmosis, leaving a fresh, juicy, fruit-filled glass of alcohol-free wine. You miss the alcohol, but this would go down a treat at parties and any other get-together.

Rocca di Lago Spumante NV, Garda DOC, Italy
11.5%, €10.50
Made in the same way as prosecco, this is a fresh, fruity, lightly sparkling wine with clean apple fruits. Not too sweet; I would prefer it to most prosecco.

Champagne Delacourt NV, France
12.5%, €81 for a magnum
If you are having a gang around, a magnum creates a real sense of occasion, and this one is very good. Real depth and length, with rich, creamy complex apples and brioche.

WHITE WINES

La Fortezza Vermentino 2017, Italy
13%, €9
Perfumed and delicate with very attractive soft floral stone fruits and citrus.

Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin Blanc 2017, South Africa
14%, €13.30
An old favourite of mine. The current vintage is fresh and crisp, with lovely rich ripe peaches, subtle nuts and a dry finish. Try it with creamy pasta dishes or chicken.

Palataia Pinot Blanc, Germany
12.5%, €15
The Palataia Pinot Noir is pretty good and well-priced, but this was my first taste of the Pinot Blanc. It is very good, crisp and dry with very attractive pear fruits and a dry finish. A good all-purpose white to serve as an aperitif, with fish and seafood or white meats.

Fresquito Pedro Ximénez Vino Nuevo de Tinaja 2017, Spain
14%, €13.30
This is one of my all-time favourite M&S wines, and I was delighted to see a new vintage appear recently. Made in clay amphorae in Montilla-Moriles, it is an utterly delicious, vaguely sherry-like (but unfortified) wine with delicate toasted nuts, green olives and plump apricot fruits, finishing dry.

Rabl Grüner Veltliner 2017, Kamptal, Austria
12%, €13.30
Attractive brisk gingery green apple fruits and a crisp dry finish. Well-made, easy-drinking.

Craft 3 Chardonnay 2017, Adelaide Hills, Australia
12%, €15
A very nicely crafted, crisp, dry Chardonnay, with no obvious oak; just ample apple and pear fruits, with a solid backbone of acidity.

Val de Souto 2017, Ribeiro, Spain
12.5%, €17.50
Galicia produces some fantastic white wines, including Alvariño from Rías Baixas and Godello from Valdeorras. This wine, made mainly from the unpronounceable Treixadura grape, is well worth trying; very lovely plump apricots, a subtle saline touch, finishing dry. Nice wine. With scallops or prawns.

Denbies Bacchus 2017, Surrey, England
12%, €20.50
Very floral and aromatic, with racy acidity and attractive refreshing fruit. Nice wine. Is this how Irish wine might taste in the future?

RED WINES

Madiran Terres de Moraines 2014, France
14%, €14
Madiran can be tannic and chewy, but this version is very accessible with good smooth ripe blackcurrant fruits and light savoury tannins on the finish. Perfect with a steak or grilled duck breast.

Craft 3 Cabernet Sauvignon 2016, Maipo Vally, Chile
13%, €15
A very fine Cabernet, with clean blackcurrants and cassis, a refreshing seam of acidity and a good dry finish. Would sit well with roast lamb or beef.

Pisano Cisplatino Tannat, Uruguay
13.5%, €15
M&S has a track record for listing wines from lesser-known countries; this time it is Uruguay, producer of some very good wines, with the southwest French variety Tannat being their speciality. This version is ripe with soft dark fruits, sprinkled with spice and wood smoke. One to try with barbecued beef.

Dominio del Plata Terroir Series Malbec 2016, Uco Valley, Argentina
14.5%, €18.50
Intensely aromatic, all violets and dark fruits, with delicious fresh, lightly spicy plums, dark cherries and mint on the palate. Serve with pork belly or lamb chops.

Ebenezer & Seppeltsfield Shiraz 2016, Barossa Valley, Australia
15%, €22.50
An Australian classic, of a style that is not easy to come across these days. Big, powerful, hedonistic sweet ripe dark fruits, lots of spicy vanilla oak, and a very good finish. Not for the faint-hearted, but perfect with all sorts of red meat dishes on a cold winter evening.

Levantine by Château Musar 2017, Bekaa Valley, Lebanon
14%, €24.50
Juicy dark cherries and raspberries with a lovely spicy touch. Very tasty wine. Would pair well with a tagine.

Contino Rioja Reserva 2014, Spain
13.5%, €35.50
An excellent young Rioja with very concentrated blackcurrant fruits, firm structured tannins and great length. Ideally you would stash it away for a few years. If serving now, decant before serving. Perfect with roast lamb.

Volnay Premier Cru Le Blondeau 2015 Hospices de Beaune, France
14%, €52.50
Expensive but good Burgundy is not cheap. A relatively young wine that will improve further with a little age. Youthful piquant ripe dark cherry, with a touch of smoky new oak, underpinned by good acidity. If you are having it for Christmas, decant half an hour before dinner. Perfect with the turkey.

FORTIFIED WINE

Very Rare Palo Cortado Premium Sherry half-bottle, Spain
19%, €12
Made by Lustau, this is the perfect Christmas treat for the Sherry lover in your life. Intense, bone dry and wonderful, this has masses of toasted nuts, dried fruits, orange peel and much more besides. Drink with a plate of hard cheese, crackers and walnuts.

John Wilson is author of Wilson on Wine 2019; you can buy it here

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