Six Italian wines from the Co-op (and one Trophy winner!)

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014

THE Co-op white wine Truly Irresistible Fiano 2014 has picked up the Great Value White under £7 trophy from the International Wine Challenge.  I spent an afternoon with the man who brought the wine to the shelves,  the Co-op’s Italian wines buyer,  Ben Cahill.

First, I asked Ben what he would say to people who don’t buy Italian wines.

He said: “Italy is not renowned for its wines – people think cheap gluggable whites or chianti – but the quality has improved immeasurably. There’s been a renaissance; over the last 30 years Italy has enjoyed an absolute revolution.”

He said: “Now’s the time to try Italian wines if you haven’t already. If I had less than a tenner to spend on a bottle and I wanted something exciting then Italy is the first country I’d make a beeline for.

“The majority of reds  are  food friendly and the quality of whites has gone through the roof.”

Ben Cahill Co-op wine buyer
Ben Cahill

Italian wines: Here’s three whites and three reds from the Co-op’s range

The Co-operative Orvieto Classico (£5.49) This is definitely an alternative to pinot grigio as it’s just a bit more interesting (well, most things are). It is crisp, clean, revitalising, with more body, and  more rounded than pinot grigio, slightly  honeyed, almondy with a good balance between acidity and fruit.  If you like a PG and fancy a change, but not too much of a change, go for it.

Gavi La Luciani (£7.49)  This is very pretty and feminine, with a contrast between floral notes and stony minerality. A touch of lime lingers at the back of the mouth after you swallow, giving both an extra bite and a mouth-watering moreishness. It’s a wine to have in the fridge ready to chink chink on a sunny day.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Fiano (£6.99) Golden in colour, quite rich, with aromas which hopscotch between citrus, herbs, and flowers. I’d recently cooked a risotto with this (I drank some too!) and it was interesting to see how the same vintage – 2014 – had developed. It has more weight than the gavi and the orvieto, and felt  comfortable in its soul.

The Co-operative Truly Irresistible Barbera d’Asti (£6.99)  This has a fair amount of tannin and structure but wasn’t mouth drying. It had a slight smokiness, with aromas of cherries, bramble fruit, wild blackberries, dried leaves and a hint of savoury. So much going on!

Bibbiano Chianti Classico (£9.99) Ben has brought this wine exclusively to the Co-op. Bibbiano supplies top-notch restaurants and he explored further and developed a partnership which has seen a slight tweak on the blend, but with the same winemaking expertise behind it.  It is a great  example of its type for less than £10. It would be fantastic with tomato-lashed spaghetti.

Villa Annaberta Amarone della Valpolicella (£17.99) I love the story of amarone wine. Time and skill is invested in making it, hence the price tag, but it’s worth it. Grapes are dried on racks before being fermented and the result is a wine that is very rich, almost a port, with  a slightly unctuous weight in the mouth. Enjoy with cheese instead of port – or simply sit in a comfy chair in front of a fire and wallow in selfish tranquility.

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First published in the saturday extra magazine February 2016

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Marks & Sparks’ wines top Gold table in International Wine Challenge gongs

Verdicchio International Wine Challenge winners

KEEP your eyes peeled on the supermarket shelves for a new raft of medal winners which have impressed judges in the International Wine Challenge.

A total of 184 gold, silver and bronze medals have been awarded to supermarket own-brand wines, with Marks & Spencer trouncing the competition picking up 73 gongs, more than twice as many medals as its closest rival Tesco which received 32 awards.

International Wine Challenge
Charles Metcalfe

The awards follow a blind tasting last week and Charles Metcalfe, co-chairman of the IWC says: ““We have discovered some outstanding supermarket own-brand wines which would definitely bring a touch of elegance to any Christmas table.

“All the major supermarkets performed very well. They have very good buying teams. It’s hard work, and Britain is lucky to have supermarket buyers who can source great wines across the entire range and to suit any budget.”

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Marks and Spencer
Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico

Marks & Spencer received five gold medals for wines from France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain. Its 2013 Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico (£8)  was a particular favourite with judges. M&S, which was named IWC Supermarket of the Year in 2014, also  picked up 21 silver medals and 47 bronze medals.

Next in the medals chart was Tesco, which received four gold medals, eight silver medals and 20 bronze medals. The supermarket’s Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne, which sells at less than £25, sparkled with the judges and picked up a gold.

Tesco Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne
Tesco Finest 2007 Vintage Grand Cru Champagne

Tesco also won gold medals for its 2009 Finest Dessert Semillon as well as its Finest NV Amontillado Sherry, which at  £6 was the cheapest own-brand wine to strike gold at the competition.

Morrisons received a gold medal for its own-brand NV Amontillado Sherry (RRP £6.99) as well as picking up gold for its Signature Chablis 1er Cru (RRP £14.99) and its Signature Grüner Veltliner (£6.99). The supermarket picked up a total of 30 medals, including 14 silver and 13 bronze.

The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc
The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc

Aldi won gold for its 2014 The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc (£7.99) . It also received a single silver medal and eight bronze medals.

Waitrose received three silver medals, including one for its non-vintage Brut Champagne (RRP £19.99). The supermarket received 12 Bronze medals.

The Co-op received a total of ten medals, with two silver and eight bronze medals. ASDA picked up three silver and four bronze medals, whilst Sainsbury’s received two silver and four bronze medals.

International Wine Challenge Gold medals

Charles says: “This is great news for shoppers who can get their hands on a medal winning wine when it really is ready to pour. IWC medal stickers are there to help shoppers navigate the sometimes confusing world of wine. If they spot a medal sticker on the bottle, they can buy with confidence, knowing it has been tasted by the best wine judges in the world,” he added.

An at-a-glance of the Gold winners

  • Aldi The Exquisite Collection Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (RRP £7.99)
  • Marks & Spencer Chateau de Chamboureau Savennières 2009 (RRP £16)
  • Marks & Spencer Stepp Riesling *S*, Kallstadter Saumagen 2013 (RRP £15)
  • Marks & Spencer Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico 2013 (RRP £8)
  • Marks & Spencer Royal Palace Colheita Single Harvest Port 2001 (RRP £25)
  • Marks & Spencer Fernando di Castilla “Don Fernando Oloroso” NV (RRP £15)
  • Morrisons Signature Chablis 1er Cru 2012 (RRP £14.99)
  • Morrisons Signature Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£6.99)
  • Morrisons Amontillado Sherry NV (RRP £6.99)
  • Tesco finest* Amontillado NV (RRP £6)
  • Tesco finest* Dessert Semillon 2009 (RRP £6.79)
  • Tesco finest* Sancerre 2013 (RRP £12.79)
  • Tesco finest* Vintage Grand Cru Champagne 2007 (RRP £24.99)

What is the International Wine Challenge?

The International Wine Challenge is in its 32nd year and it assesses every wine ‘blind’ and judges each for its faithfulness to style, region and vintage. Each medal-winning wine is tasted on at least three separate occasions by a minimum of 10 different judges including Masters of Wine. Awards include medals (gold, silver, bronze) and commended awards.

For more from the IWC  go to its website here.