M&S has a great track record with bubbly, selling quite a few that are both good and affordable.
Their red label Prestige Brut Cava (alongside its sweeter green label counterpart) has become the default fizz for many Irish fans, as have various M&S proseccos such as the pink Raboso. Plus, from New Zealand, delicious, fragrant strawberries-and-cream Bluff Hill rosé.
But now they’ve outdone themselves with their Okhre Cava Brut. I’m agnostic on its organic status. (I don’t seek out organic wines and would suggest there generally is little difference between them and wines that don’t have such a certificate.) But on its own merits — the way it looks, smells and tastes in the glass — the Okhre Cava rocks. And at under a tenner it’s outstanding.
It was just one of more than 80 Marks & Spencer wines featured in a recent tasting. Here are my top tips from that snapshot, and there’s more, including a look at sparkling styles, on my blog at blakecreedon.wordpress.com.
BEST UNDER €10
Organic Okhre Cava NV
No contest: this is the bargain of the week — and that’s the regular price, not some special offer. A vibrant fresh bubbly with a delectable undertow of that yeasty bready character you usually associate with upmarket Champagne. The latter isn’t to everyone’s taste so try one first before backing the car up and filling your boot.
Reggiano Rosso 2011
Now for something a little different — but I think you’ll like it. This well-made red from the Reggio Emilia region of Italy is so softly fragrant (it’s like a bridge between rose and red), I wonder if the trio of grapes in the blend are in some way related to Gamay. Either way, it’s a lovely cheap and cheerful unshouty tipple, like blessed balm to jaded palates.
Bellota Rosado 2011
Along with sparklers, rosé is one Marks & Spencers’ strong suits with a surprisingly diverse range. While a touch of sweetness is good in a rose on a warm summer’s day this one comes across quite dryish and best of all a lovely lick of savoury tempranillo character. (Next week I’ll be taking a closer look at that beautiful spanish grape and the wonders it can work at the dinner table.)
BEST VALUE UNDER €20
Houdamond Pinotage 2009
Woah. The term “kitchen sink” springs to mind. Sometimes that’s a pejorative term, and there are wines around that are just too much. But when it’s done well, as it is here, a powerful red packed with flavour can be a great counterweight to a big beefy dishes. The oak is a big influence here, bringing vanilla and toffee to the almost Port-rich payload of baked red fruit.
Chianti colli di Rasenna DOCG 2010
By way of contrast with the softness of today’s other Italian red, this is the very model of posh modern Chianti — it’s herbily fragrant and ripe, but it’s also disciplined and crisply firm with tannin. In all, a sangiovese that would snap to attention and salute a good steak. Yum.
Ken Forrester Workhorse Chenin 2011
Like red pinotage, South African chenin has a desperately bad reputation. But in the right hands the Loire native can be made into terrific wines. Here, Ken Forrester has made a crisp and lean appley white rightly augmented by a mere whisper of oak. It’s far better than M&S’s soft barrel-fermented chenin which costs €4 more.
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