Marks and Spencer’s celebrity hell

Marks & Spencer's Britain's Leading Ladies campaign








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 fucking 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.

M&S are having a sale with 25% off wine when you buy six or more until 17th November. Here are two Germans that I’ll be 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.

About Henry

I’m a drinks writer. My day job is features editor at the Master of Malt blog. I also contribute to BBC Good Food, the Spectator and others. You can read some of my work here. I’ve done a bit of radio, given some talks and written a couple of books (Empire of Booze, The Home Bar and the forthcoming Cocktail Dictionary).
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5 Responses to Marks and Spencer’s celebrity hell

  1. Why do they always have to declare on the label that it is an M&S wine? Is it some kind of misguided brand status? Because that’s exactly what stops me buying it.

    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.

    So it must be some kind of social faux pas to serve an M&S wine – n’est ce pas?.

    The Sediment Blog

  2. Henry says:

    I think you must move in more rarefied circles because most of my friends either bring something from the corner shop or one of those half price but not really half price wines from the supermarket. It is a little annoying that M&S feel the need to brand everything but if someone turned up with their own brand champagne, I would be delighted.

    On serving M&S food for guests,I’d rather have M&S chicken tikka marsala than some of the things I’ve been served. Though I do have an aunt who serves pre-prepared stuff and she somehow manages to even balls up reheating them.

  3. Tania Ahsan says:

    I really enjoy your blog and I wanted to thank you for this gem yesterday, as I happened to be near Oxford Circus M&S and I remembered your pick of that Pinot Noir. I had it last night and it was splendid.
    Incidentally the basement entrance to that particular M&S food hall is where they keep Christmas. My husband is very ‘bah humbug’, but I defy even him to not have a smile after seeing the Downton Abbey smellies, the snow globes, and the bunny handwarmers down in that dungeon of festivity.

  4. Emma says:

    Hah. M&S. A few things:

    1) Their women’s clothing problem can be summed up very easily, IMHO. The fabrics are great if you’re young, the styles are awful. The styles are great if you’re old, the fabrics are awful. And ne’er the twain shall meet. Manufacturing quality has also gone right off in recent years, and pointed out by Michael Portillo & his pants.

    2) Their food pricing is not a significant problem (high, but good quality), their packaging is what puts me off. It’s still obscenely over the top, despite all their “Plan A” puff, which has gone mysteriously quiet since the exit of Stuart Rose. I don’t want to pay for plastic, I want to pay for food.

    3) And the wine? The wine is, in theory, great. But you try working out where a particular recommended bottle is available. Each store picks its own selection, and no-one seems to hold a master list of who stocks what. Moreover, online wine buying seems only to offer cases of 6 or more. So I can’t, under any circumstances, buy single intriguing bottles unless they’re available in my local branch, or I happen to pass another, remember exactly which wine I’m after, & be able to find & buy it. I’m keen to try their new eastern Med / Levant wines, but less interested in a 20 mile round trip to get them, even if they do turn out to be in stock elsewhere.

    I will, on the other hand, happily recommend their 3x 1l fresh fruit juices for a fiver. Excellent selection for those rare moments when I’m not on the booze. 🙂

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