Thursday, 14 November 2013

Morrisons Wine: Better Than You Think?

It’s got a bit of a sketchy rep, has Morrison’s. Always the theta supermarket to Waitrose’s alpha and Tesco’s beta, always finishing last in the food supplements’ product comparisons; on top of which it insists on hiring bafflingly cack ‘celebrities’ to promote its brand: Richard Hammond, Alan Hansen – it’s as if they want to fail.

Then there’s the stores themselves. Sometimes you’ll find a nice one. The one in Letchworth is pretty ship-shape, in fact it’s verging on posh, but my local one in Stamford Hill, north London, on certain days could be mistaken for a medieval cattle auction.

In spite of all of this, I like Morrisons. It’s relatively cheap, and when I moved to where I live now I would regularly buy wine there. It was, occasionally, quite good – I liked the mid-range pinot noir particularly – but more often than not what you would expect: tedious, middle-of-the-road, Richard Hammond sort of wine.

Now, along with every other British supermarket, Morrisons - and the new Morrison's wine cellar - has realised it has to up its game. It’s recognised that the average wine drinker is becoming more savvy, more demanding. Even the casual guzzler of Saturday night plonk in front of the telly has grown weary of that flabby fruit-bomb Jacob’s Creek. She wants something new, intriguing, pizzazzy.

So when the invitation to the tasting for the Morrisons wine range relaunch dropped in my inbox, rather than guffaw loudly and expedite it to my trash folder, I replied saying I’d be happy to attend and duly paid a visit.

The verdict? Well, the wine bods at Waitrose are hardly going to be soiling themselves, but there are definitely decent everyday-drinking bottles to be found among the 148-bottle range (three-quarters of which are totally new).

What’s also good is that they’ve made it super-easy for uninitiated wine drinkers to work out what they like – by introducing fool-proof labelling, QR codes and a very simple three-question Taste Test to help define which wine they might prefer (at the moment you can use it online at, but it should be in selected stores in the near future). I tried the Taste Test and it was pretty accurate, actually. And anything that helps people refine what makes them tick is okay by me.

So, if you’re going to Morrisons, my guidance, based on an heroic tasting of most of the 148 bottles in the range, is as follows:

1) Avoid the entry-level stuff, the bottles for less than a fiver: yes, it’s inoffensive but there really is nothing to it. Buy it if you need a bottle to cook with.

2) Avoid the champagne. It tastes overwhelmingly of rhubarb and is guaranteed to dampen the celebration you bought it for.

3) Similarly, if Rioja or Pouilly Fumé are to your taste, you’ll find far, far better ones elsewhere. (I’ve had just about as much nauseatingly oaky corner shop-quality rioja as I can drink.)

With those negatives out of the way, here are my top five highlights of the Morrison’s Signature wine range (the level up from basic): all under a tenner, and won’t let you down when the big M is your best booze option. Of the following highlights, only two are currently in stock, but Vinspire has been promised the others will be available in the coming weeks:

1: Morrisons Signature Saint Véran (£8.99)
100% Burgundian chardonnay aged on the lees. Clean, citrusy, with a hint of richness. Will make any white fish and buttery sauce combo literally sing. Well, literally as in not really...   

It’s nice to check in with a cool, sharp Chablis every now and again, and this perfectly palatable one will save you a couple of quid. Go Morrisons!

3: Morrisons Signature Barbera d'Asti (£7.99)
100% barbera – perfect for those vegetative nights in with a pizza, a jazz woodbine and crap TV.

4: Morrisons Signature AOC Pic St Loup (£8.99)
A mildly spicy syrah/grenache blend from one of the Languedoc’s top AOCs. I’m biased towards the Languedoc, but for value this is my pick of the bunch.

A wild yeast-fermented wine in Morrisons. How about that? Full of warm, dark-fruit  flavour to get you through a pointlessly cold and dark winter’s eve. 

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