Attending a tasting run by The Bunch, a group of Britain’s leading independent wine merchants, is like watching The Magnificent Seven. Every time the posse reassembles, it seems to have lost a member. Lay & Wheeler is the latest to fall, not because it’s been picked off by moustachioed banditos but because the company is ineligible now that is owned by Majestic.
To be fair, membership has fluctuated since the club was formed in the early 1990s to combat the rise of the supermarkets, publish a code of practice (see www.bbr.com/about/bunch) and hold tastings. Laytons and Armit left for various reasons, but Berry Brothers joined. All the same, the five survivors (Yapp, Tanners, Corney & Barrow, Adnams and Berry Brothers) could do with reinforcements. Noel Young? Lea & Sandeman?
Even with only five tables and a total of 40 bottles, The Bunch managed to show more interesting wines than most supermarkets manage in a year. The group has its own personalities (two have royal warrants, one is appealingly laddish, one is the quintessential country merchant, and the other is the eccentric scion of a brewery empire) and chooses wines accordingly. What sets them apart is a determination to list things with personality.
Arguably to combat the criticism independent merchants aren’t good at selecting inexpensive wines, The Bunch put on half a dozen wines under £7. Even Berry Brothers and Corney & Barrow (the ones with the royal connections) showed wines at £7.75 and £7.49 respectively. Maybe times are hard at Buckingham Palace, too.
That said, I’d be tempted to spend more than £7 with these guys. Where The Bunch really delivers (literally in one sense, given they are all mail-order merchants, though two, Adnams and Tanners, have retail shops) is between £10 and £25.
If I had to choose one wine from each member, they’d be the 2006 Kumeu River Maté’s Vineyard Chardonnay, Auckland (£18.90, 13.5%, www.tanners-wines.co.uk), which gets my vote as the New World’s best Chardonnay; the sweetly oaked, Merlot-dominated 2001 Adnams Cellar Selection Fronsac (£17.99, 12.5%, www.adnams.co.uk), the aromatic, red Burgundy-like 2006 Passopisciaro, Sicily (£26.79, 14.5%, www.corneyandbarrow.com) made from Nerello Mascalese; the taut, minerally 2008 Menetou-Salon, Domaine Teiller (£11.95, 13%, www.yapp.co.uk); and the smoky 2007 Crozes-Hermitage Les Galets, Domaine Haut-Chassis (£15.95, 12.5%, www.bbr.com), which is as good as many a Hermitage at three times the price.
Originally published in The Observer