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Christmas wines with labels to trust
Last month Martin Higginson sampled some of the best bottles from Waitrose; this time, and with festive buying in mind, he turns his focus to two other High Street names, M&S and Adnams
We always say that we are so lucky in the UK to have the vast choice of wines that we are offered, but sometimes, when standing in front of a wall of wine in-store, or scrolling through page after page of online lists, that choice is just too much.
For many the easy answer is to go for ‘own-brand’ wines based on the presumption that they represent quality and value for money. Every supermarket now has its range of own label wines, as do many specialist wine retailers, but do they represent top choices, or are they bland, generic, and bulk produced, whose main purpose is to maximise retailers’ profits?
The simple answer is ‘it depends’; on the retailer, on their buyers, and their objectives in having a brand of their own. In this article we are looking at some own label wines from two retailers of different scales; Marks & Spencer, one of the most highly rated of the supermarkets for food and wine, and Suffolk’s own drinks specialists Adnams of Southwold.
M&S has always been own label in essence, even though the famous ‘St Michael’ brand name disappeared some 20 years ago. This summer they launched the Classics range which has steadily grown in number and there are now over 30 different wines in the range. “We started out by looking for the best loved styles of wine and then sourced the highest quality we could at an accessible price,” states buyer Sue Daniels. Some
are repackaged former M&S favourites while others are new to the store. They represent both single grape varieties or well-known regional wines from all over the world, and are priced from £7 to £12 per bottle.
The Adnams own label Signature range is pretty substantial too, chosen by their own Master of Wine, James Davis. Again, the emphasis is on single grape varieties, and they also include more
famous regional styles such as Chianti and Claret. They also have a similar price range as the M&S Classics, but although the better examples are up to around £13- £14, they still represent good value.
Branding is a key element in own-label products, and with wine this tends to mean the label design and the information provided about the wine. Over the last few years labels have dramatically changed from just text with occasional drawings of a chateau, to bright, bold designs, often with associated ‘humorous’ names.
M&S has gone for a simple, ‘traditional’ black and white label although each wine has been given a
number, which to be honest, I don’t like (“I’ll have a number 16, a 22, and a 30 please”- is that any way to buy wine?) and it makes them look a bit unexciting. I personally find it a bit annoying too that the red capsules are not a standard tone throughout the range, and, perhaps it’s just me, but a red capsule on a white wine just seems a bit.....odd?
Adnams labels are all about a bold graphic and minimal text on the front, each wine having a different colour label. I quite like the simplicity, but some people might think that makes them look a bit ‘cheap’. The back label on the M&S wines has more information about what’s in the bottle than the Adnams labels, and I like the Style, Taste and Food descriptions better than the Adnams over-use of ‘wine terms’ such as ‘balanced’, ‘structured’, and ‘grippy’.
“But what about the wine?” I hear you ask. Even we couldn’t taste 60 odd wines (honest!) so we tasted just a selection which included some usual standards and a few less well known wines. For whites, in the M&S Classic range we tried Californian Chardonnay (£8) and Touraine Sauvignon (£8), (or a No 25 and a No 32 if you like), while we went a little ‘off-piste’ with our choice from Adnams, their Bourgogne Blanc (£10.99), and a Roero Arneis (£13.99) from Italy. Though it may not be fashionable to say so, we really like Chardonnay, and it’s always good to taste the same grape variety from different parts of the world. Burgundy in France is the recognised birthplace of Chardonnay, and we’ve recommended
 Some to sample: Bottles of port and claret from Adnams

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