In case you haven’t come across them before, The Bunch is an informal gathering of UK wine merchants, who get together once or twice a year to persuade wine hacks that the independent sector is still alive and kicking. The official line is that the number of members is dictated by the amount of decent-sized glasses you can get out of a regular bottle of wine. It’s been as high as seven and – following the sale of Lay & Wheeler to Majestic earlier this year – is now down to five. While this means that the remaining Bunchers – Adnams, Berry Bros & Rudd, Corney & Barrow, Tanner and Yapp Bros – currently enjoy more generous measures than in the past, it doesn’t mean that they’re not on the look out for new blood…
Times have of course moved on since The Bunch was founded in the mid-1990s – has The Bunch moved with them?
The selection from the wine arm of the Suffolk brewer is a little more staid than in the gallivanting days when maverick Simon Loftus was at the helm (I once spent an afternoon with Loftus in an amusement arcade at Niagara Falls playing on the skiing machines). It’s not without its pleasures, it’s just been overtaken by others in the quirky stakes. On this showing, 4 wines stood out. Guy Chaumont 2008 Givry Blanc (£11.99) was a tangy young white Burgundy that reminded me a little of Lucozade (in a good way) and had a scalp-itching, briny mineral intensity. Mac Forbes 2006 Riesling from the Strathbogie Ranges in Victoria (£17.50) had some of what I call the dolly mixture edge – think of the icing sugar bit on Turkish Delight – and a wealth of sprightly lime juice flavour. Great now and for the next five years at least. Château Bernardotte 1999 Haut-Médoc (£16.99) comes from the Pichon Lalande stable and was just what you want from ten-year old claret, gentle, lightly leafy, with its dark fruit edges now acquiring touches of tobacco and fig. The Adnams Selection Fronsac 2001 (£17.99) was more forceful and solid, showing a touch of smoked bacon to earthy blackcurrant and blackberry flesh. I wasn’t convinced by the Paul Buisse 2008 ‘Terroirs des Vignerons’ Touraine Sauvignon (£6.50) – just too simple and jelly-like – but overall this was pretty decent showing.
Berry Bros & Rudd
A selection mostly from classic regions that apart from a rather flaccid Domaine Sigalas 2007 Assyrtiko/Athiri (£9.70) and a strangely simple own Label 2003 LBV from Noval (£13.95), was as strong as any. Château La Garde 2007 Pessac-Léognan Blanc (£20.55) had the classic smoky, honeyed tinned pear of great white Bordeaux, plus a touch of fennel. Tasty now, but with it’s best ahead of it. Ostertag’s 2005 Riesling Heissenberg (£17.95) balanced a rich, even creamy edge with taut minerality and sweet-and-sour tang. Delicious and again with a promising future. Olivier Merlin’s 2007 Moulin-à-Vent (£15.95) was lively and earthy although a little on the pricy side – and why doesn’t he call it Merlin-à-Vent…? Domaine Haut-Chassis Crozes Hermitage Les Galets (£15.95) was a step up, wonderfully fragrant with those weird floral overtones found in odd Italian reds like Freisa alongside the plummy orange peel characters. Not as weighty as Hermitage, but just as compelling, and considerably cheaper.
Corney & Barrow
I’m still not convinced by Prosecco, and the Prosecco di Colli Trevigiani Brut Sylvoz, Le Colture NV (£9.29) did nothing to change my opinion – the Pinot Grigio of the sparkling world. Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs NV (£29.99) was so much better, refined and nutty, combining crispness with a more exuberant dark chocolate and pineapple flavour. Olivier Leflaive’s 2007 Puligny-Montrachet Les Meix (£28.99) was just too simple for the price, but then came two star reds. Dominio de Pingus Psi 2007 Ribera del Duero (£22.49) is the new baby of Peter Sisseck’s range, made from bought-in grapes and fruit that doesn’t make it into Pingus and Flor de Pingus. Like it’s bigger (and far more expensive) brothers, it combines power with class, and has a freshness that some RdD’s often lack. Add in solid earthy red berry fruit and a touch of vanilla, and you have a very classy wine. Equally classy is Passopisciaro 2006 (£26.79) from Sicily – and of course you knew that Passopisciaro means ‘step of the fish dealer…’ Imagine a wine that combines those almost ashy tannins and haunting perfume of Barolo with more voluptuous red and black berry fruit, then throws in some southern herbs, and you’ll get the picture – super stuff.
Bully to Tanners that half the wines they showed were less than a tenner. Having said that, I did find the Rayun Carmenère 2008 from Rapel and Casal Branco Terra de Lobos 2006 from Ribatejo (both £5.99) both rather simple and forced, as if the winemakers had tried to eke as much flavour out of the grapes as possible but had forgotten to make the wines charming. Domaine des Lauriers Picpoul de Pinet 2008 (£6.95) was much better, like Mediterranean Muscadet with supple apple and nut flavours. The Von Hövel 2007 Scharzhofberg Riesling Spätlese (£11.80) was better still, off-dry with a citrus, mineral and herb tension – ‘wine on springs’ I wrote in my notes. Top white was Kumeu River’s 2006 Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay (£18.90), plush yet tangy, creamy yet elegant, confident but never bolshy. Yum. The final red was the Kaapzicht Steytler Vision 2004 (£19.95). Hmmm… This was one of those Cape reds that seeks to impress with an overdose of ripe (overripe?) berry and spice flavours, but for me ends up being just too intense for its own good. I’d have been very interested to taste the same bottle a day later to see if it had calmed down, but it didn’t do it for me on this showing.
Red Burgundy? From Yapp? For those who don’t know this Wiltshire merchant, it’s a bit like finding a pair of ‘I Love Rafa’ boxer shorts in Alex Ferguson’s undie drawer. Apparently the new arrivals have been brought in for some of the restaurant customers who prefer to deal with as few merchants at possible. Have to say that the Paul Misset 2002 Nuits St Georges (£26.75) didn’t do it for me. But back on home turf – the Rhône and the Loire – once you’d got past the very ordinary and rather hard Petit Caboche 2008 Vin de Pays de Vaucluse (£7.75), matters looked up. Teiller’s Menetou Salon 2008 (£11.95) was Sauvignon at its sexiest, with an almost strawberry Mivvi-like edge to its floral citrus fruit. François Merlin’s 2007 Condrieu Les Terroirs (£29.50) was a cocktail of nutty greatness, deep and pure, with an almost flor-like tang and a wealth of peach kernel flesh. Graillot’s white Crozes Hermitage 2008 (£17.50) was equally rich, but a little simpler, with vibrant marmalade and pear flavours. Among the reds, the 2002 Clape Cornas (£29) spoke of a less-then-decent year – avoid it and buy two bottles of the 2005 St Gayan Gigondas (£14.50), a bumptious earthy beauty awash with red berry fruit.
For full details on the members of The Bunch, go to their web site here.