A Yorkshire Master of Wine is shaking things up at one of the UK's biggest brands, writes Christine Austin

With around 2400 UK shops bearing the Spar brand I am astonished that, before now, I have not really investigated the wines they sell.  All that will change because Spar has recruited York resident and Master of Wine Philippa Carr as consultant and she has been busy helping Spar’s wine buyer Martin Fowkes with the range.  Before moving to Spar, Philippa clocked up several years in Asda’s wine buying department where she was instrumental in developing and improving the range, including a fabulous selection of wines made from unusual, hard-to-find grape varieties.  Now she is turning her attention to Spar where she has helped select and blend all the Spar brand wines and worked on the new exclusive range called Wildflower. She also makes sure that all new vintages and blends meet the approval of her tastebuds before they are bottled. In short, this means that Spar’s wines are definitely worth checking out.

The first thing to say about the range is that they are mostly ‘own label’ Spar wines, but you will have to look hard to find the brand which is usually tucked away with the address on the back label.  This means that you can happily put the bottle on your table and everyone will be impressed by the quality of the wine long before you tell them where you bought it.

The other point is that prices are really keen, but despite that they still run special offers so it is worth popping into your local Spar to check them out.  Not all stores have the whole range but there are enough good wines to find something worth pouring with dinner.

These are some to look out for.

 

Tino Pai Sauvignon Blanc 2017, France, normally £7, down to £6 until September 26

Despite the New Zealand-sounding name, this wine comes from France, although there is more than a nod to NZ in its style.  It is a bright and breezy style of Sauvignon with notes of grapefruit and gooseberry with a streak of crunchy beach pebbles on the finish.  Terrific as an aperitif or with seafood.

Brindle Ridge Chardonnay, Romania, normally £6.50 down to £5 until September 26

A soft, easy style of Chardonnay that will go down well on a Tuesday tea-time. It comes from Cramele Recas, one of the best wineries in Romania which, bizarrely, is owned and run by a chap from Bristol. No vintage on this wine, possibly because it is blended across vintages to keep the style consistent.

Wildflower Pinot Grigio, Romania, £6.50

Another wine from quality producer Cramele Recas and this is a definite step up in quality.  It has good, fresh-tasting apricot and white peach fruit with a touch of lime adding a zing to the finish.

PG Pinot Grigio Rosé, Romania, £6

Another Romanian wine which is probably how Spar manage to hit both quality and price points.  It is pale in colour and soft and easy in style with a touch of sweetness and will go well with lightly spiced dishes.

Wildflower Pinot Noir, Romania, normally £6.50 down to £5.50 until September 26

Even if you miss the offer, this wine is well worth buying at its full price. Pinot Noir has been planted in Romania for decades and so the vines have had time to put down their roots and deliver grapes with depth and concentration.  This has lovely aromatic cherry and strawberry fruit with a soft, rounded style.  Good enough for Saturday night drinking with herb-spiked lamb, roast salmon or a simple plate of paté and crusty bread.

PN Pinot Noir 2016, France, £6

This wine does have the Spar logo on the front label, but it is in pale grey and is almost invisible.  The flavours inside the bottle are light but good in style.  This wine is slightly outshone by the Romanian Wildflower Pinot so it is worth heading out to get that wine before the offer ends.

Brindle Ridge Merlot, Romania, normally £6.50 down to £5 until September 26

Simple, juicy plums and blackberry fruit with soft tannins.  It is a popular style, but there seems to be a touch of sweetness in this wine.

Legendary Malbec 2016, Comté Tolosan, France, £7.50

Made by Maison Rigal who are based in Cahors and this is typical of their style. Full of chunky dark red fruit, with food-friendly freshness on the palate and enough structure to stand up to a piece of steak or just a steak and kidney pie.

Languedoc 2017, Grenache, Syrah Carignan, France, £7

Sourced from Paul Mas who makes good wine across the board for many UK supermarkets, this manages to hit price and quality with ease.  Deep blackberry and cherry fruit tis balanced by a touch of vanilla, spice and liquorice with a rounded, mouth-filling style.

Costières de Nîmes 2016, Languedoc, France, £8

After considering so many great value wines, I actually started to think this was expensive, until I tasted it.  Packed with dark, damson fruit it is still rather closed and structured but when poured alongside a casserole, or a meaty pasta dish it opens up showing off its layers of fruit, spice and herbal notes.

Prosecco Extra Dry, normally £9.50 down to £7.50 until September 26

It is confusing, but Extra Dry actually means that it is slightly sweeter than Brut. However this one is not over-sweet, balancing its fresh, fruity, frothy flavours with good acidity.  At the offer price it is a bargain, but there are wines at other retailers that compete with it at its full price.

Prosecco Superiore Valdobbiadene, Extra Dry, £10

This wine comes from the heartland of the Prosecco region and so it costs more, but I am not sure that the additional quality shines out in the glass.  Despite being the same sweetness level as the plain Prosecco above, the sugar seems to sit above the fruit and takes away the flavour. Save money and buy the cheaper one, especially when it is on offer.

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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