Janet Harrison, organiser of the annual Fizz Festival and founder of Cracking Winesrecounts her experience inside the wine tasting room at The Co-op head office in Manchester and shares her pick of the tipples on offer.

My Grandma always shopped at The Co-op. As a kid, I remember being excited when asked to stick hundreds of Green Shield stamps into her book. This was obviously a diversionary tactic and well before the days of loyalty cards.

Fast forward 40-odd years and I’m standing in the main atrium of the Emerald City-inspired 1 Angel Square, the head office of said Co-op. It’s an impressive sight and supposedly the greenest building in the world when it comes to being environmentally friendly (nothing to do with the previous Wizard of Oz reference).

“Over three and a half thousand people work here,” the host cheerfully remarks as I’m excitedly collecting my visitor badge alongside Mid-Week wine guru, Brian Elliott. Brian writes a wine column for a Scottish newspaper and has a regular blog with recommendations for affordable supermarket wines you might like to buy during the week – something I really admire him for.

We are ushered through to a fabulous purpose-built tasting room stuffed full of wine. It even has built-in spittoons (yes, I had to) and laboratory-like white décor.

Vanita Grillo from Sicily I make an idiot of myself by accepting a cup of tea before the tasting (everyone else declines to preserve their palate). I take a couple of sips before leaving to one side.

We are joined by two wine buyers for Co-op. They have lined up 19 bottles altogether – gulp – to include new vintages from their existing ranges. Prior to the tasting, I’d asked to try some of their sparkling wines vis-à-vis my status as organiser of the Fizz Festival. Which, of course, they did.

I can honestly say that there wasn’t one bad wine out of the 19, which is some achievement. Co-op’s range is good but I hadn’t really appreciated how good (although I’ve been making a decent dent in the wine aisles of my local Co-op on Burton Road in West Didsbury).

Cordorniu Gran Cremant My first favourite was perhaps the most surprising: Vanita Grillo from Sicily (£6.99) I’ve never been a fan of this grape, but this is certainly a notch up from some of the neutral types you see around. Lovely, almost herbal aromas with citrus (mostly lime) flavours and good acidity. A great wine to match with fish, but also very quaffable on a sunny afternoon or evening. Brilliant quality for the price too.

Codorniu Gran Cremant Cava (£9.99) is something I’ve seen on the shelves but never tried. I tend to go for the bargain basement Co-op Cava at a staggering £5.99 which I use a lot in my tastings. It has a fascinating story as Cordorniu won a legal battle to use the term Cremant, something French Cremant producers have tried to protect. Who knew that Cordorniu had trademarked the term as far back as 1924? What clever chaps they are. Anyway, I digress. Style wise, this wine is a real bridge between Cava and Prosecco. A dry brut but with some lovely fruity flavours to balance the usual toasty-ness you get with wines made using the ‘traditional method’. Try it and see what you think.

KWV CinsautFor the reds, another surprise is newbie KWV Cinsaut (I’ve not misspelled that by the way, it is usually Cinsault in France.). I’m surprised because I rarely reach for a South African wine in supermarkets. I know they make some amazing wines but I’m not sure we always see the best of them. At a modest £7.99, this light-bodied, fruity wine has some Beaujolais features with an earthy/smokiness which makes it a bit more complex (I hate that term) – something over and above the normal neutral red, you might say. You could certainly chill this and it would be perfect with charcuterie and very easy drinking.

Lastly, not one of the new wines, but a brilliant Villa Boscorotondo Chianti Classico Riserva (£15.99). In my humble opinion, you can get some underwhelming Chiantis. It has one of those familiar names which people latch onto and assume every bottle will be brilliant. This one is the most balanced wine out of the tasting. What do I mean by that?  Fruit/acidity/tannins all very much complement each other. With lovely sour cherry flavours, this would be perfect with pretty much most tomato based Italian dishes and great with a pizza. A bit more of a ‘splurge at the weekend’ wine, but one I’ll be picking up again for sure.

And so, our wonderful afternoon came to an end. Brian and I were impressed by the whole thing and said our goodbyes as we ventured outside. “Brew, Brian?” I asked, with much more confidence this time.

By Janet Harrison


Cracking Wine has launched the People’s Choice Wine Awards, the first of its kind in the UK and the only national wine awards dedicated to and judged by members of the general public. For more information, click here.