Campania, Piedmont, Puglia, Tuscany

New Italian Wine range at Marks & Spencer

“What is it? Why does he have to shout? Why!” The Queen turned to say to noone in particular at the G20 Conference in 2009. The collective groan could be heard all the way from Italy after President Berlusconi shouted across The Throne Room in Buckingham Palace to introduce himself to the new US President Obbammmmaaa.

Which brings me to the Marks & Spencer Spring Tasting. One word came to me while walking away: inoffensive. Marks & Spencer are revamping their range, beginning with their Italian wines. The new Italian wines are distinctly quiet interpretations of wines which traditionally have big personalities.

Inoffensive. Is that such a bad thing? It is not offensive, after all. But what I look for in Italian wine is bella figura (the beautiful gesture or good impression), only one or two of the new wines showed an extra flourish of humour or their regional personality.

The new range introduces Southern Italian white wines to Marks & Spencer customers, which are literally volcanic wines, from Campania, but perhaps a little dormant at this stage (although to be fair, they were tank samples). Perhaps not everyone shopping at Marks & Spencer wants a true volcano in their glass after a long commute home from work.

What is good about the new range is there are now some new Italian regions and grape varieties represented at Marks & Spencer supermarkets across the UK. These wines will feature in their £10 “wine and dine” promotion, which makes sense, as Italian wines shine with food. Italian readers may like to cover their ears now: Marks & Spencer sell a range of prepared, ready meals. Not exactly the Italian way to eat, but then, it is sensible to sell Italian wine with food.

We are not amused? Here are the new wines that will:

NEW Whites

Marks & Spencer 2010 Cori DOC £5.49

Brilliant to see a white wine from Lazio (Rome region) that is not a Frascati. Good zippy palate with a light peachy character thanks to the 50% Malvasia. Very light on the nose which is typical of Italian whites from here. Needs food, although a good selection of ham would do nicely.

Marks & Spencer 2010 Vermentino IGT Lazio £6.99

Another Roman white. Very fruity nose with good grip on the palate, in the lean mineral style rather than the more voluptuous style you’ll find across the straits in Sardinia. Pick it up if it is discounted.

Marks & Spencer Fiano Sannio DOC £7.99

You can find brilliant examples of Fiano (di Avellino) at around £15 per bottle, but this is not a bad introduction from the Sannio region at this price. Fresh with white flowers on the nose with good structure on the palate to frame food, as should be with grapes grown on volcanic pumice soils in Campania (home to Naples). Unlike a lot of Italian whites, it can be had with or without food.

NEW Reds

2008 Villa Magna Primitivo di Manduria £9.99

Think Zinfandel but with Italian herbs and good lick of licorice. A full bodied red which still shows freshness despite age. Savoury, good mouthfeel and warmth with only a hint of tannins. Quite expensive for this style of wine, but satisfying.

Marks & Spencer 2009 Chianti DOCG £6.99

Compared to some Chianti I have tried from supermarkets at this price, this is quite good; it is 100% Sangiovese yet also tastes complete. This has a pretty perfume of cherry and delicate Sangiovese colour. Good value.

2007 Castello della Paneretta Chianti Classico DOCG Riserva  £12.99

If you look at the name of this wine, it is not the Riserva that signals this may be a good wine but the year, 2007. This is evident in the fruit, which fills the mouth and is balanced by classic, dry Chianti tannins designed to devour a steak.

2008 Renato Ratti Nebbiolo (Langhe) £12.99

Bella figura – finally! And yet, this could be the most “offensive” wine in the Italian range for some. A funky nose with a good savoury finish but with a light-weight feel in the mouth. Partly aged in large Slovonian oak and “modern-style” French barriques, this has style, but then again, it is also one of the most expensive tasted.