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Sparring Partners

by Tom Cannavan, 08/12

3 bottles This is a small sample of wines currently on sale in the SPAR chain of high street grocery stores. With 2,400 stores in the UK alone - 1,200 of them licensed - SPAR is a potentially handy place to pick up the odd bottle. I've reviewed the wines of SPAR before, and have usually found a similar story of one-third pretty poor wines, one-third perfectly decent wines and one-third rather good wines. This tasting included three inexpensive wines that, between them fitted that profile, plus three from SPAR's higher priced range which were all rather good. And those higher priced wines are each on special offer as detailed below until 29th August 2012. One source of mild frustration is that as SPAR is an association of independent retailers, it is very difficult to get information on how many stores stock a particular wine, so happy hunting if these appeal.

white wines

SPAR, Hand-selected Chenin Blanc Reserve 2010, South Africa
I recommended the 2009 vintage of this wine, and though still the star of this trio, this vintage just misses a little of the 2009's charm. There's a hint of oatmeal on the nose to otherwise straightforward apple fruit, that just has a hint of damp wool in there too. On the palate it is lemony, crisp, and quaffable. 84/100. £5.79, Spar.

Chêne St Louis, Sancerre 2010, France
Sourced from the Caves des Vins de Sancerre, this is Sauvignon Blanc in its cool, citrus and gently grassy style, with a nice hint of nettle and asparagus herbaceousness in the background. On the palate it is really very nicely done: there's a burgeoning hint of sweeter, peachier fruit, but that cool lemon and crunchy red apple freshness drives this wine into a long, lightly mineral and elegant finish. 88/100. £9.99 down from £11.29 until 29th August 2012.

red and rosé wines

SPAR, Portuguese Rosé NV, Portugal
Already featured on wine-pages as part of my summer pinks round-up, this is a wine I tried several years ago and thought it might just be the worst wine - not just rosé, but any wine - available on the UK shelves. This second tasting confirms this as an absolute shocker - if any readers have tried it and disagree, please get in touch to explain it to me. It's a non-vintage, non-regional blend of undeclared grapes made with a considerable bucket of residual sugar (officially 'medium sweet' on the back label). It has a hopeless browning colour, lots of Sherry-like oxidation and truly sickly flavour. 60/100. £5.09, Spar.

Viotollo, Nero d'Avola Shiraz 2011, Italy
From Sicily, Pleasantly fruity on the nose with cherry and plum to the fore, and a dry, slightly Indian ink quality that is very typical of Nero d'Avola. On the palate the plum skin and liquorice flirts with being a touch austere, but the sappy, black cherry brightness of the fruit is attractive. Authentic stuff and a bit of character. 85-86/100. £5.59, Spar.

François Martenot, Fleurie 2009, France
How interesting that Spar has a Cru Beaujolais from the fabled 2009 vintage on special offer down to £6.99 from £9.19. It has a gorgeous Gamay nose, with sappy, gently briary cherry and red liquorice notes, and a lovely sense of refinement. On the palate it has mineral and stony freshness, with that crunch and racy, sappy character coming through on the palate even in this ripe vintage. A knockout at the offer price. 89/100. £6.99 until 29th August 2012.

Valle Vento, Barolo 2007, Italy
Made by the Araldica cooperative, the offer price makes this about as cheap as Barolo gets, save for the odd mysterious parcel turning up in one of the discount supermarkets. It has a pleasant though quite developed nose, with some scents of damp, sweet undergrowth, tiny floral nuances and a soft red fruit core. On the palate it is quite light and crisp, perhaps just a touch medicinal, though cherry fruit, some keen acidity and a little backbone of tannin does leave the finish in balance, with some spicy length. 88/100. £11.99, down from £14.99 until 29th August 2012.