High street rising to the challenge

By Richard Ehrlich, May 30, 2013

Every year a small army of expert tasters descends on London and sniffs, sips and spits its way through thousands of bottles of wine. They are there for the International Wine Challenge, now in its 30th year.

No wine competition is ever going to be perfect in every respect, but the IWC does a very creditable job. Every wine is tasted by at least 10 judges, the quality of the tasters (full list at www.internationalwinechallenge.com/judges.html) is unimpeachable, and all tasting is done blind.

In this year’s results, announced in mid-May, supermarket own-label wines made a strong showing: 30 gold medals, 13 of which sell at less than £10 (though that figure includes half bottles). Fortified wines feature prominently (nine golds) and so does champagne (six).

The most striking feature of the supermarket list is the dominance of Marks and Spencer, with 13 gold medals. This doesn’t surprise me, as regular readers of this column know that I’m a big fan of the M&S wine list. But it’s still a very impressive result.

Do these awards matter? They do to the retailers, who know that consumers appreciate every bit of extra help with choosing wine. When the shelf label says that something has won a gold medal someplace, sales go up.

Needless to say, not winning a gold medal doesn’t mean that a wine is no good.

Thus, while I am rapturous about M&S’s gold-struck Herbert Beaufort Champagne NV (£32), I am nearly as fervent about their Tapada de Villar Vinho Verde 2012 (£6.49) which has all the hallmark spritzy freshness of these wines plus an extra dimension of complexity.

I was also pleased to see a gold for the Co-Op’s Les Pionniers Champagne NV, a consistent outperformer among low-priced Champagne. Fresh, rounded, good finish. Usually £19.99 but reduced to £16.99 until June 4.

And finally, thinking ahead to summer (if we get one): Tesco Finest Dessert Semillon 2008, made by the outstanding De Bortoli Winery in southeast Australia, is honeyed, lush with stone-fruit flavours, and a perfect accompaniment for a fresh fruit salad. £6.79/37.5cl. Gold medal at IWC. Wonderful.

Last updated: 4:45pm, May 30 2013