Jenny Mackenzie reports from the first Morrisons Cellar wine showase

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Morrisons Cellar’s first wine showcase to the press was on its Taste Test theme. The venue space in Marylebone was decorated like an interiors stand at a lifestyle event, with four open-plan, “room set” layouts and the wines grouped in the Taste Test flavour profiles of Sweet, Fresh, Smooth and Intense.

 

The Taste Test concept was developed by Bibendum, which worked with Morrisons’ buying team using criteria such as body, tannin, oak, acidity, sweetness and alcohol to place their wines into the four flavour profiles. A survey of 10,000 consumers, undertaken by Wine Intelligence as well as local focus groups by Morrisons, had identified the need for a simple way of guiding customers.

 

Simon Harrison, commercial director for new business development at Morrisons, said that the results of the survey showed that “what customers love in wine, they also hate”, that is, due to the “endless variety and opportunity” in wine “people can end up buying things they don’t like”.

 

Harrison further explained that Morrisons “under trades in wine with sales of £450 million of the total £13.7 billion excluding VAT and fuel to year end February 3, 2013” from “498 UK stores with 32 inside the M25”. Morrisons acquired some units from the defunct Blockbuster chain and is looking to increase its presence in the capital – a “key focus” according to Harrison.

 

The dedicated wine retail website, morrisonscellar.com was launched in November 2012 and is “already well ahead of every target” according to Harrison. The Taste Test is interactive and prominent, with the idea that customers create their profile from three, simple, non-wine taste preference questions. The average bottle price when purchased online is “approximately £6.50 - 25% higher than in store”. There are currently just over 1000 wines online (around double that in stores). The range in stores is also all available online.

 

Morrisons is relaunching its own-label range later this year, with 140 exclusive lines in three tiers. The “premium offer” will be called Signature with a bottle price of “between £5-£15”, according to wine buyer Trish Scurfield. The own-label range will have the Taste Test profile shown on the label and will be a “priority in promotional terms” with “increased entries” into wine competitions as well.

 

A few top picks from each profile at the tasting were:

Sweet: Cavicchiolo Malvasia Frizzante (8% abv; £8.99) was a sweet but fresh, white sparkling wine with a very pretty label. The underrated and bargain-priced Moscatel de Valencia from Castillo de Betera (£5.99) was a delicious, simple wine; perfect chilled with cake and ice cream.

Fresh: In the “subtle” range, there were some excellent quality wines such as Australia’s Plantagenet Riesling (£14.99) and Carmel Ridge Shomron white blend from Israel (£11.89) – a Kosher “top seller” online. Lavit’s Cava (£12.99) was a well-made, superior example. Chablis fans would love Yalumba’s Y Series “unwooded” Chardonnay (£8.99).

Smooth: “Mellow reds” and “fruity flavours” are the aim in the Smooth profile. Some of the best wines of the tasting were here, such as a bargain-priced Grifone Primitivo di Puglia (£6.99). The Savigny-les-Beaune Premier Cru Les Marconnets (£15.99) was showing very well and at a fair price.

Intense: Having bristled at scoring Intense when I thought I was firmly Fresh, the top wine for me in this profile was my all-time-favourite red grape Sangiovese, from Piccini Sasso Al Poggio (£12.99). The Intense category is described as “packing a punch” and includes Rioja and Malbec.

 

Morrisons’ tasting was a breath of fresh air in terms of attitude towards “consumer engagement”. The wine ranges shown were well thought out and of high quality. The Taste Test format might appear simplistic to knowledgeable wine drinkers who already have a wide and confident range of likes. However, if Morrisons can capture even a tiny amount of the energy of the showcase tasting and the simplicity of the website when bringing the Taste Test to life in stores, they will be taking a positive step forward in tackling the lack of confidence that many supermarket shoppers feel when buying wine.

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