I've been invited to these events before but for various reasons this was the first one I had actually been able to attend. I was expecting a couple of dozen wines, a room full of journalists and a PR person singing the praises of the wines on offer with flowery prose. The reality was different, we were taken to a large room with 150 wines laid out on tables and told to help ourselves.
I had a look around at my fellow tasters and chatted to a few, most it seemed were wine advisers from M&S stores around the UK. They had come to experience first hand the wine they will soon be recommending to their customers. A few journalistic types did turn up a bit later on, unsurprisingly they all seemed to know each other.
Tasting and making notes on all 150 wines was going to be hard work, but not being afraid of a bit of hard work I got stuck in straight away...
It soon became apparent that there was no way I was going to be able to make meaningful notes on all 150 wines, so I decided to just pick out the highlights and report back on these. Being new to this 'mass wine tasting', I then realised the 'highlights' were invariably the most expensive wines. When you're tasting lots of wines alongside each other the difference in quality is very apparent, and the quality more often than not matches the price. I therefore decided to change tact and go for value for money or QPR (quality price ratio).
Here is my pick of the bunch, I have tried to include links but many of these wines aren't on general sale yet or aren't available in these vintages:
PX Elqui 2010 - £4.99
An Chilean white using the Pedro Ximanez grape; a grape more usually associated with Sherry. Not the most complex of wines but very good value at under £5. Pale lemon wine with a fairly pronounced aroma apples and green fruit on the palate. Medium to short finish but leaves you wanting lots more, great party wine or for a BBQ when the weather warms up. (7/10)
M'Hudi Sauvignon Blanc 2010 - £8.99
Pale lemon in colour, typical of Sauvignon Blanc. Very crisp, tastes of goosebury and grapefruit, very herbaceous with a nose so fruity and pronounced it is hard to believe they only used grapes to make this wine. Good long finish, a great alternative if you getting a bit bored of NZ Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. (6/10)
M&S Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2008 - £8.99
The best of the Marlborough SBs on the day, not quite up there with Jackson Estate and Cloudy Bay (in my view the best of the Marlborough SBs available in the supermarkets), but less expensive and a fine example. Very fruity, herbaceous with citrus and gooseberries on the palate. Produced by Wither Hills in partnership with M&S. (7/10)
English Bacchus 2009 £10.99
In truth I only mention this one because it is English. It was however crisp and peachy, a high level of acidity as you would expect from a wine from a cool climate. If it was £8.99 I would probably be singing its praises, but £10.99 puts it into a price bracket where there are a better wines available. The yeild on English vines is low making it expensive to produce, so if you're feeling patriotic during the Royal Wedding and don't mind paying a bit over the odds for the privilege of drinking a decent English wine then go for it! (6/10)
Vermintino IGT Lazio 2010 - £6.99
This one is not available until April, it is something to look forward too. Very aromatic, crisp with high acidity but balanced well against the pronounced citrus fruit palate. (7.5/10)
M&S White Burgundy 2010 - £6.99
I have been drinking M&S White Burgundy for years and every vintage is good, consistently providing excellent value for money. The 2010 vintage is no exception. Citrus and apples with a long honeyed finished, crisp and high in acidity but perfectly balanced. Good White Burgundy can be very expensive and so a £6.99 price tag for wine of this quality is all the more astounding. (8/10)
Mersault 2008 - £29
I know look at the price tag. I very rarely paid this much money for a bottle of wine and when I do it is usually a red wine for a special occasion. I would have previous never dreamed of paying this much for a white, however tasting this wine has changed my mind. Quite simply this wine is glorious, the finest example of white Burgundy. Rich and buttery, delightfully oaked the most exquisitely subtle vanilla finish. Sigh....if only I could afford to drink wine of this quality all the time. Outstanding. (10/10)
Altos del Condor Malbec 2009 - £7.49
This Argentinian Malbec really focused my attention and I without a doubt be purchasing some as soon as it becomes available. A typical and fine example of a Malbec. Deep red almost black in colour, full bodied with a plum like aroma and taste, with a long vanilla oak finish and good strong but well balance tannins. Perfect with Steak or Beef Stew. (9/10)
Los Nucos Carminere Shiraz - £5.49
A bargain red from Chile, excellent value for money. Deep ruby red, medium bodied, medium tannins and quite high in acidity well balanced with red cherry fruit taste. (6/10)
Canelo Cabernet Sauvignon Carminere 2009 - £6.99
A Fair Trade wine and another good value wine from Chile. Deep ruby red, pronounced blackberry fruit taste with a hints of spice, medium tannins and medium bodied. Very nice. (7/10)
Tobiano Pinot Noir 2008 - £19.00
Chile has always made some decent Pinot Noir, nothing special but usually well priced. Given how difficult Pinot Noir is to grow this is some achievement. Even a half decent Red Burgundy usually fetches at least £20. This Pinot Noir is the exception. Burgundy like, silky strawberries on the palate, delicate tannins and a long spicy finish. Exceptionally good wine and a bargain even at £19. (9/10)
Dolphin Bay Shiraz 2010 - £4.99
Light Ruby in colour, medium body with medium tannins. Silky smooth, tastes of red cherry and dark chocolate, medium length warm and satisfying finish. An absolute bargain at under £5. (6/10)
Freedom Ridge Monterey Shiraz 2009 - £8.49
Having shaken off my prejudice to Californian wine, I keep finding myself increasingly impressed by the quality of the wine coming out of there. This wine is no exception, a deep purple/ruby colour, blackberries and spice with a long warm caramel chocolate finish. Highly recommended. (8/10)
Domaine Goerg Rafael Napa Cabernet Sauvignon - £2001 - £30
Fantastic 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley in California. Very deep ruby colour and rich blackberries and plum aroma, tastes of opulence. Lovely balanced tannins and acidity - a world class wine. Expensive, but perfect for a special occasion or to impress a friend at a dinner party. (10/10)
Ebenzer & Seppelsfied Shiraz 2009 - £11.99
Everything you want an expect from and Australian Shiraz and more. You will struggle to find a better one at any price. Deep Ruby colour, full bodied black fruit and spice aroma, rich ripe blackberries with delicate vanilla from being aged for 20 months in American oak. My wife will love this one! (9/10)
Rioja Perez Burton 2007 - £9.99
I'm been on the look out for a good Rioja since my favourite Vina Pomal Reserva seems in short supply - if you know where it is on sale drop me a line. This is good example ruby coloured but already started to turn a tad tawny despite being less than 4 years old. Fresh red cherry flavours, medium bodied, mediums tannins. You can taste the oak but not overpowering, not much sign of the vanilla that overpowers a lot of Rioja these days. (7/10)
Nebbiolo d'Alba 2007- £7.99
Made from the Nebbiola grape the same grape that make Borola and Barbaresco and also from Piedmont in Italy. Light Ruby coloured, strong in flavour - vegetal and earthy, balanced with cherries. Quite tannic and good balanced acidity, I recommend alongside Italian tomato based foods. Good value for money. (7/10)
Renato Ratti Nebbiolo 2008 - £12.99.
Another good Nebbiolo and a notch up from the last in terms of quality. Medium Ripe almost dried fruit - red cherries and raspberries the spice from the oak is apparent and well balanced, very good. (8/10)
Chateau Gillet Bordeaux 2009 - £5.99
A decent bargain basement claret. Medium ruby appearance, pronounced aroma and very fruity. Fresh red fruits - strawberries and red cherries. Good acidity and medium tannins a great party or BBQ red wine. Very good QPR! (6/10)
Cotes Du Nuits Villages 2008 - £13.99
Decent Red Burgundy is very expensive, so at £13.99 this is a good entry level bargain basement Red Burgundy. Light bodied but spicy and fruity, pronounced strawberry, red fruit and I thought I could taste eucalyptus. Very good was my conclusion, until I tasted the next Red Burgundy on show... (7/10)
Gevrey-Chambertin 2007 - £29.00
Outstanding Pinot Noir from Burgundy, everything you hope and expect from a top end Red Burgundy. Delicious strawberries and a smooth long, warm, spicy and satisfying finish. Expensive, but you can pay a lot more for a Red Burgundy of this calibre. (10/10)
Baigorri Crianza - 2005 - £10.34 if you buy 12 bottles otherwise £11.49
Surprisingly mature for a Rioja Crianza, but 2005 is a fine year throughout Europe and this is a fine Rioja. Very fruity aroma with red cherry and plum palate, lovely vanilla finish from being aged in French and American oak for 14 months. An M&S Wine Direct wine so only available online or through their monthly subscription programme. (8/10)
Chianti Poggio Piano 2008 - £6.74 if you buy 12 bottles otherwise £7.49
This was in my opinion by far the best of the Chianti on offer and remarkably good value at under £10. Good Chianti is not cheap and believe me this is a very good Chianti. 100% Sangiovese, as with most Chianti you are first hit by the oak aromas, but then the ripe plum fruits and come through with a few swishes of the tasting glass. The palate is very fruity with red cherries and plum, the tannins are present but not over powering and nicely balanced with fruit. High acidity, perfect for Italian food. Only available through M&S Wine Direct. (9/10)
Hunky Dory Pinot Noir - £9.89 if you buy 12 bottles otherwise £10.99
Good value New World Pinot Noir from Marlborough in New Zealand. More full bodied and jammy than a Red Burgundy, but plenty for fresh red fruit in there too. Gentle tannins and a nice long finish. Only available through M&S Wine Direct. (9/10)
Nieto Bonarda 2009 - £11.49 .89 if you buy 12 bottles otherwise £10.99
Full bodied red made from the Bonarda grape, a grape originally from Italy but now almost exclusively grown in Argentina. Deep purple in colour blackberries and plum palate with a rich caramel and spicy vanilla finish. Fairly good tannins so match with red meats and stews. Only available through M&S Wine Direct. (8/10)
Champagnes and Sparkling Wine:
Champagne Desroche NV - £25.00
45% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. Good Non-Vintage Champagne creamy in texture and gentle yeast. Well structured and good value. (8/10)
Herbert Beaufort Brut Carte d'Or Grand Cru NV - £30
Due to the location in Bouzy this Champagne is Pinot Noir dominant and excellent citrussy champagne, lovely fine bubbles. Aged for 24-30 months. (9/10)
Saint Gall Vintage Premier Cru 2004 - £29
In my view the best of the Champagnes on offer, matured in cellars on the Lees (with the dead yeast), this is buscuity with subtle citrus fruits, very complex. (10/10)
There were a handful of Rose wines on offer. To me Rose is something for a very hot day at a BBQ with grilled meats and salad. Two Rose's perfect for this scenario were the Valdepomares Rioja Risado 2010 - £5.99 and available from May 2011 and the Navarra Rosada 2010 - £6.99.
So there you have it, my pick from 150 wines! More reds than whites but not surprising since I tend to drink red more than white. A good selection and I think something for everyone. This was my first corporate wine tasting but it definitely but it won't be my last, so you will be the first to get the low down on all the new season's releases.
Oddbins is next up I believe!