Marks & Spencer trolley dash
M&S have a cracking reputation for wine, and had a premium own-brand label range before any of the other supermarkets. Until a couple of years ago, all of their stock was own-label and you couldn’t buy any branded items – from Corn Flakes to floor cleaner, everything was M&S. But in a bid to convince customers to do their whole weekly shop in-store, the chain added a select handful of popular branded goods to their shelves.
Consequently you can now find branded sherry in M&S, albeit a small selection: Tio Pepe, Harveys Bristol Cream and Croft Original. It’s never the cheapest place to stock up on these branded items, as they don’t price match the offers in other supermarkets, but in a sherry emergency you might be prepared to stump up the extra pound to get your fix!
Premium range own-label gems
M&S have two different own-label premium sherry ranges and they genuinely are gems. For many years now they’ve had their Very Rare range from Lustau, which is a big hit with sherry fans and wins awards every year. All the range have won medals this year in the International Wine Challenge and/or the Decanter World Wine Awards. The Palo Cortado won International Wine Challenge (IWC) Great Value Fortified 2015 and the Oloroso won the same prize in 2014.
The range includes a Manzanilla Pasada (with no indication of age), an Amontillado from El Puerto de Santa Maria, from a 20-barrel selection, Oloroso from a 60-barrel selection, Palo Cortado and Pedro Ximenez. It used to include a Puerto Fino too (something Lustau do brilliantly), but I haven’t seen it online or on the shelves for at least the last year. They come in 37.5cl bottles and all are priced at £8.
Not surprisingly given its pedigree, the Palo Cortado is my top pick. It’s medium bodied with flavours of varnished wood, black pepper, vanilla, walnuts and tobacco, finishing long and hazelnutty. However, these are all quality sherries worthy of space in your basket and the Manzanilla Pasada would be a perfect match for fish and chips on a sunny evening. The PX is great for sipping and pouring over ice cream, and there’s always room for one of those teeny tiny bottles in your fridge!
A more recent introduction is the Don Fernando range, originating from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla. For those of you who can’t get sherries from this bodega locally, these two are an absolute must-try. You can read a full review of them here, but here’s the rundown in summary. The range only contains Fino and Oloroso, and they retail for £15 for 50cl.
The Fino is an average of 5 years old and a fresh, zippy classic Jerez Fino with lots of punch. The Oloroso is an average of 12 years old and comes from the first criadera of the Antique Oloroso solera system. Antique Oloroso retails for about £23 for 50cl, so this younger brother is great value and packs much of the same flavour and power. It’s dry as a bone with rich, complex and warming flavours: pencil shavings, worn leather and a little lemony tang alongside classic walnut flavours. It has a long nutty finish which is more roasted hazelnuts than walnuts. It’s superb quality at a very appealing price.
Now this is a tough one. The M&S wine buyers have selected a cracking line-up that I’m very happy to fill my fridge with. But I know I’m supposed to be narrowing the field for you, not telling you to buy everything, so I’ll plump for two.
The Don Fernando Oloroso is the best kept secret in M&S. Half of me wants to stand in the wine aisle telling people to buy it, but the other half wants to keep quiet so there’s more for me!
And the one that I routinely put in my basket when I’m picking up the groceries? It might be predictable, but it’s the Very Rare Palo Cortado. £8 for a complex, rich, classic Palo Cortado. What a bargain.