M&S

Never mind the ad campaigns, M&S is still great for food and booze, says wine correspondent Henry…

We should have guessed that Marks & Spencer was in trouble again from their recent advertising campaign. One can imagine desperate executives at head office shouting: ‘dammit John! We’ve got Mirren, Westwood and Twiggy, yet we’re still losing sales. Get me Lulu on the phone! What you can’t get Lulu? What about Petula Clark? Is she still alive? Edwina Currie? Do people like her? Ok fine we’ll have Emin then but can you get her to stop scowling?’

‘Actually scratch all that, Steve, we’ve got Bonham f****g Carter on board. Don’t ask how much it cost but put it this way, nobody’s getting bonuses this year.’

The reasons for the decline of this British institution have been well-documented. If you wanted basic quality clothes then Marks & Spencer was the only place to shop. Things have moved on and Marks haven’t or maybe they have but they moved the wrong way. And the less said about their nauseating branding as ‘Your M&S’ the better. All this noise, however, obscures how well they do food and drink. The wine department in particular has changed out of all recognition in recent years. It’s now for my money the best place to shop on the high street, better than Oddbins, better than Majestic and better than Waitrose. The range is adventurous with an orange wine from Georgia, some good Croatian and Sicilian stuff and as well as some solid classics from Rioja, Burgundy etc.

My mother used to tut at the extravagance of mothers who did all their shopping at M&S but as a thrifty shopper myself, I don’t think they’re that expensive. And the great thing about Marks is that even though it is technically a supermarket it is acceptable to buy their own branded chocolates, wine, flowers etc. as gifts in a way it wouldn’t be with Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. (I was trying to explain this to my wife who is American the other day as she still hasn’t quite grasped how supermarkets fit into the class system.) For most people who don’t live near an independent merchant or a delicatessen, having a Marks nearby must be a Godsend particularly at Christmas.  If the clothing side went I don’t think I’d notice but a high street without their food and wine would be a very sad place indeed.

Anyway, here are two M&S German wines worth stocking up on:

Palataia Pinot Noir 2012 – £8.99 (£6.74 after discount)
A ripe but not at all jammy German pinot noir for under a tenner, I’m not sure how they do it.  There’s even a herby quality like you get in a Burgundy. If you were feeling mischievous, you could decant and pretend it was Santenay.

Darting Estate Riesling 2012 – £9.49 (£7.50 after discount)
This has a little 3% scheurebe in it as well. It’s super zingy, floral and so much fun. It reminded me a little of the young wine, Heurige, you get served in bars in Vienna. Also bone dry so don’t be afraid to serve to German wine-phobic people.

Henry Jeffreys writes a weekly column about wine for The Lady magazine and blogs at worldofbooze.wordpress.com

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  1. Mahlerman on Monday 9, 2013

    Yes Henry, when the ad’s came out I wondered, not what the suits at M&S were thinking about, but what quarter-arsed thinking led the ‘creatives’ to imagine that this sorry bunch would somehow tap into the company zeitgeist? I remember Dame Helen ( she of the jaunty sailor’s cap, centre-right ) saying that this group represented the ‘ultimate dinner party guests’ (from hell?), and thinking that surely some dim spark must have planted those words into her script. How could an institution that, for donkey’s years, got it absolutely right with the schmutter, suddenly lose the plot – but continue to produce the sort of food we want to eat, and booze that we are happy to guzzle? I’m just off to grab a bottle of that Palataia Pinot Noir, perhaps two – but it is H&M for the undies.

  2. Worm on Monday 9, 2013

    whenever I’m in the M&S round the corner I grab a random bottle of cotes du rhone and I have yet to be disappointed, but then they are usually nearer the £10 mark than the £5 mark – is the difference simply that when one is in M&S you feel more justified in splurging, and thus end up in the price bracket where better wines live?

  3. Sediment on Monday 9, 2013

    The big question remains whether you could possibly serve an M&S wine to guests – or take one to someone else’s dinner party.

    The thing is, M&S food is really food for yourselves. Most people would feel “cheated” if they went out to dinner and someone served them pre-prepared M&S food. It looks as if you have made no effort. Well, you have made no effort. Unless you count queuing.

    What, then, about a recognisably M&S wine? The store consistently win awards for their wines – but again, the “no effort” issue rears its head. Rightly or wrongly, it looks like an afterthought. Turn up at a dinner party bearing a bottle of Marks & Spencer wine, and it looks like you popped in to get some elasticated – sorry, Active Waist – trousers, and grabbed a bottle of wine just because you were there. No effort.

    Social faux pas, surely?

    The Sediment Blog

  4. Gaw on Monday 9, 2013

    Our local M&S is almost next door to the local Waitrose (the latter moved into the former Woolies, a sign of the times).

    Where Waitrose is packed with customers, M&S is sparse. I’m with the mob: having food shopped at M&S in the Woolies days I now invariably go to the Waitrose. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I bought something from Marks.

    Somehow, I’m absolutely sure that Waitrose is better and it would take a lot for me to go to the M&S, celebrity ads be damned. Funny how that happens.

  5. malty on Monday 9, 2013

    One of the curiosities surrounding German wine, that is wine produced in Germany, is how comparatively little of the good stuff was for sale in Britain, the scuttlebutt in Germany for some years, was that this was deliberate, they kept the good stuff for themselves, let the Brit’s drink Blue Nun. I must say, considering the extent of just one wine growing area, from Koblenz to the outskirts of Wiesbaden and including the Rhine tributary, the Moselle, that’s just the NRW and Hessen area, the Rheingau with it’s tacky epicentre, Rüdesheim, that this may well be true, particularly in the case of rotwein, if we wanted a swift gargle of the good stuff, retiring to the Guten Abend in Köln’s Neustadt was the place, amazingly, the Krauts have their own Barolo look-a-drink. The problem was that simply jotting down the name was no guarantee of acquiring the odd case, no way, only for the trade, mein freund. As for the fizzy stuff the extremely pleasant to drink on a hot summer’s day Vaux, mainly available in the beautifull village of Eltville on Wiesbaden’s northern perimeter, the wide flowing Rhine, the Vaux restaurant, the English garden all enhance the glug factor. The drink however, although for sale at Köln Bonn airport is scarce elsewhere. Image the horror, possibly disgust at seeing S.Fry standing in the village during one of his many, many TV appearances.

    The kraut’s keeping it under the desktop theory has been further enhanced by my old mate Geordie Speidel who is a major supplier to the European wine makers, all in Edelstahl and looking like petrochem equipment, it took some years for him to hand over a case of wine from his own Baden-Württemberg vineyard. I wish that he hadn’t.

    It’s the same with their beer, try buying Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier, the Chateau Petrus of beers.