Last night we attended a tasting at Marks & Spencer Altrincham, hosted by Stephen Rosser, well-respected Wine Educator and the very brave man who got me and my husband through our WSET Level 3 course. While M&S may be best known for keeping the UK in underwear and the best ready meals known to man, they have also won the International Wine Challenge Supermarket of the Year award two years running.
We were greeted by the M&S team with a glass of Louis Chaurey Champagne (£32) and strawberries. This won a silver medal at the IWC. It’s made from 25% Chardonnay, blended with Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. The high proportion of black grapes gave it a very fresh red apple flavour. The bubbles are gentle, making it a nice easy drinker. Personally I prefer my Champagne to have a bit more buttery toast going on, but this is very pleasantly crisp and fruity, perhaps more suitable for hotter weather (the English summer is apparently over).
The second wine was Fragoso Chardonnay (£7.50) from the Mendoza region of Argentina. Stephen explained that the high altitude means that the grapes get a lot of sun, so ripen well, but the cooler nights stop the flavours from getting flabby. The wine is “not played with” and unoaked, resulting in what I think is the purest Chardonnay flavour I’ve ever tasted. It started off smelling of citrus and tasting of pineapple, but when I returned to it a little while later, it had opened up a bit and lychees were coming through. If I hadn’t tasted this wine, I’d probably have avoided a Chardonnay at this price point, fearing a mouthful of wood chips and general queasiness. However, having tasted it, I recommend it as an absolute bargain, perfect for converting anyone still hanging onto their outdated “ABC” principles. We tasted some Lancashire cheese with it, which went really well.
The third wine was Belle Tour Merlot from Narbonne (£8). This smelled beautifully autumnal – like spiced stewed plums. On the palate, it was plummy with a hint of peppery spice. However, it was somewhat lacking in body for my taste, although you’d enjoy it if you like light-bodied, spicy, fruity reds.
The fourth and final wine was Valdubon Roble Ribera Del Duero (£10), aka Rioja’s brother from another mother. Made from 100% tempranillo (the main Rioja grape), but grown at a higher altitude, the high sunlight and wide diurnal range means that the grapes retain their acidity and fruit aromas. This wine then spends just 4 months in oak. The result is a wonderful combination of black cherry fruit flavours, balanced with a touch of leather, plus vanilla and cedar from the oak. We tasted some “Cornish Cruncher” mature Cheddar cheese, which was another excellent match.
We then headed into the wine department in the manner of “Supermarket Sweep” to spend our gift cards (a refund of the tasting price of £5 per person). As you may have guessed, we bought a couple of the Chardonnays, plus a duo of Ribera del Dueros. To make our haul up to 6 bottles to benefit from an extra 25% off, we threw in a wild card of Underwood Pinot Noir from Oregon, on the basis that 1) I’ve been hearing lots of good things about Oregon wine from my wine blogging friends, and 2) you can never have too much Pinot Noir. I’ll let you know what I think!
Our local M&S team is hoping to make this a regular event and I hope that they do. Thanks to Stephen and the team for an enjoyable and educational evening.