If you imagine the average wine buyer (someone who chooses the wines for supermarket shelves) to be male, older, tweedy or wearing a lab coat, then let me introduce you to Jeneve Williams, a young New Zealander with long pinky-orange hair and neon clothes who joined Marks & Spencer in 2012. She’s not just a buyer – she’s a trained winemaker who travels to far-flung wineries putting together bespoke blends for the store.
Having studied winemaking at Roseworthy college in Australia, Williams is in charge of M&S wines from South America, Eastern Europe and, naturally, New Zealand, but her biggest impact has been on the Italian range. She inherited a good set from her predecessor, Jo Ahearne MW, and has built on it imaginatively, bringing in 24 diverse wines to make up what I reckon is the best Italian collection currently on the high street.
“I love Italy’s diversity: all those grape varieties, the new finds at every turn,” says Williams. She’s introduced unusual wines from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, a rare dry Sicilian zibibbo, an exotically scented Le Marche lacrima red, and the low-alcohol Giardini.
And now there’s a chianti in a raffia flask – the sort that you turn into a candle holder (or used to) when it’s empty. It’s selling well. “The packaging is either a nostalgic nod or a new discovery, depending on your age!” she says. Next she’s scouring Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, where she describes herself as like “a kid in a candy shop”. Look out for what she picks and mixes.
- Giardini Veneto 2012, Veneto (Marks & Spencer, £6.99)
- Chianti 2012 Villa Cerna, Tuscany (£9.99)
- Lacrima di Morro d’Alba, Le Marche (£11.99) - A lively, perfumed red with a whiff of Parma violets and bright, intense, fresh red-cherry fruit, this would be perfect with a fine ragù.