Set up in 1993 by Graham Chidgey, the only wine merchant I know to have scored a century in first class cricket, The Bunch (bunchwines.co.uk) is a coming together of six of Britain's top independent wine merchants. A good independent scores every time over a supermarket in the quality and range of what it has to offer. With case discounts, tastings, advice and often free delivery, it provides a service that supermarkets can only dream of.
The Bunch espouses wines of quality and personality. Not nationwide, so less accessible, I hear you say? Not so; with internet shopping, anyone with a laptop has instant access to an independent's range.
The Bunch includes two of the country's most pukka wine merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd, and Lea & Sandeman. Berry Bros, established in 1697, boasts one of the broadest wine ranges and it's become an innovator, too, with its nationwide mail-order list, dynamic website and a packed wine-tasting and dinners programme.
At the annual Bunch press tasting last month, BBR showed, among others, a deliciously spicy, refreshingly cherryish 2008 Langhe Nebbiolo, Coste, Ferdinando Principiano, £16.50; a floral, cherry-laden mini-Barolo; and a bright, aromatically peppery, almost northern Rhône-like 2008 Blaufränkisch from Weingut Moric, £19.95, in Austria's Burgenland.
Although a generalist, Lea & Sandeman is strongest in France and Italy. Its Egly-Ouriet champagnes are outstanding, but for sheer value, the expansive, silky mousse of the Barnaut Champagne, Grande Réserve Brut Grand Cru Bouzy, £23.95, £22.95/case, is a winner. Despite traditional appearances, owners Charles Lea and Patrick Sandeman have embraced the New World, too, with wines like the 2007 Rippon Central Otago Pinot Noir, £27.95, £25.50/case, a fragrantly loganberry-like, spicy pinot noir that gives red Burgundy a run for its money.
You could hardly get more traditional than Corney & Barrow, and it has the wines to prove it: Vincent Dampt's magnificently intense, mineral-dry 2008 Chablis 1er cru Les Lys, Domaine Dampt, £18.59; and from Louis Mitjaville, son of the brilliant François Mitjaville of Tertre Rôteboeuf fame, the modern, spicily oaked and succulent merlot-based claret 2007 Domaine de l'Aurage, Côtes de Castillon, £21.57.
The three London merchants are matched in professionalism by three country cousins: Tanners of Shrewsbury, Southwold's Adnams, and Rhône and Loire specialist Yapp Bros from Mere in Wiltshire. Yapp this year showed a typically leafy, green-pepper-laden Loire cabernet franc in the fine, fresh 2009 Saumur, Domaine Filliatreau Château Fouquet, £10.95, and a spicy, opulent, and unusually elegant 2006 Le Vieux Donjon, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £26.50.
Adnams of Southwold, always innovative, often quirky, came up with an exotically rich gooseberry and guava-like 2009 El Transistor, Rueda, £17.99, from Telmo Rodriguez, and a distinctively full-flavoured, sweet-and-sour, cherryish 2008 Valpolicella Classico Corte del Pozzo, Fasoli Gino, £10.99. Finally, Tanners offered a gloriously grassy, rich, Graves-like 2006 Château Doisy-Daëne, £14.35, as well as a superb-value bright, berryish 2009 Cépage Mourvèdre, £7.20, from Domaine La Condamine L'Evêque.Reuse content