Was it the prospect of The Dirty Dozen yapping at their heels that prompted The Bunch to pull out the stops at their autumn tasting a fortnight ago? Let me explain. The Dirty Dozen is a new grouping of some of the UK's top independent wine importers, The Bunch an association of independent wine merchants that's been going strong for a little while now. No one's suggesting that The Bunch has been resting on its laurels, far from it, but The Dirty Dozen is a new force in the land.

Choosing a name to reflect a dirt-under-the-fingernails approach (in the winemaking sense), The Dirty Dozen reflects a growing interest in distinctive wines of character, in contrast to the brand-orientated fare churned out by supermarkets. Largely specialising in specific regions or countries, what the 12 have in common is their focus on wines made with TLC. The wine merchant Roberson, says, "we remain passionate advocates of wines that offer value, character and substance; we choose wines that we like – that speak of place and individuality from small artisanal producers".

Last year, Roberson won Decanter Magazine's London Wine Merchant of the Year for wines such as the lime-zesty 2009 Marcel Deiss Riesling, £19.95, the smoky 2010 Domaine les Goubert Côtes du Rhône Blanc, £10.50, and the outstandingly complex 2002 Domaine Peyre Rose Coteaux du Languedoc, £46. One of the major differences between The Dirty Dozen and The Bunch, whose six members are totally focused on consumer retailing, is that TDD includes both retailers and suppliers to the trade. Most of TDD will sell by the mixed case to consumers.

Barely known outside the trade, The Wine Barn, for instance, has established itself within the restaurant trade as a supplier of high-quality, often dry, German wines. Over 11 years, its founder Iris Ellmann has built up an impressive portfolio, selling a host of excellent German rieslings, among them the refreshingly dry 2009 Hans Wirsching Riesling Spätlese Iphofer Kronsberg, £24.75, and introducing a raft of fine German pinot noirs such as the sweetly raspberryish 2009 Spätburgunder 'Franz Anton' from Franz Keller, £20.10.

With a focus on family-run estates in France, Portugal and Spain, Indigo Wine is another similar supplier. A terrific Spanish list includes, among others, the tangy, bone-dry El Maestro Sierra Fino Sherry, £14.95, Indigo, as well as the smoky-scented, stonefruit-flavoured 2009 Coto de Gomariz Blanc, Ribeiro, £14.50, The Sampler, and the richly concentrated and ultra-stylish 2009 4 Kilos, Mallorca, £31.95, The Sampler, Harvey Nichols.

Flint Wines is a relative newcomer specialising in high-quality burgundy and including a few gems from the Rhône, too – and Oregon. Among its quality white burgundies, look for the dry, mineral 2009 Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er cru Côte de Lechet, £18.50, and the spicy, strawberryish 2009 Cristom Vineyards Mount Jefferson Pinot Noir, £25.95.

H2Vin, for its part, only two years old, is the brainchild of sommelier Matt Wilkin and the experienced Christian Honorez. Their portfolio includes superb burgundies such as the 2008 Domaine Moreau Naudet Chablis Vieilles Vignes, £15, and the wonderfully savoury 2007 Bruno Colin Chassagne Montrachet 1er cru Morgeot, £38.75. This may be the first you've heard of The Dirty Dozen but not, I suspect, the last. For their full contact details, check out anthonyrosewine.com.

The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011 ticket giveaway

The Wine Gang is five of the UK’s most respected wine critics: Anthony Rose of The Independent, Joanna Simon of House & Garden, Tom Cannavan of wine-pages.com, David Williams of The Observer and Jane Parkinson of janeparkinson.com.

For the third year running, they have put together an incredible all-day festival of wine where you can taste from 600 wines priced £6 to £80, take part in a fun and a free wine walk conducted by the Gang, and meet and learn from some famous names who will present tutored masterclasses including Bollinger Champagne, Michael Chapoutier of the Rhone, Bodegas O Fournier from Argentina and Jane Ferrari presenting the icon wines of Yalumba.

This is Britain’s brightest, best and most relaxed wine event and is a fabulous chance to plan your wine drinking for Christmas and beyond. Many of the exhibitors at the fair will be offering exclusive discounts on the day, too.

We have three pairs of tickets to the event, including a masterclass of your choice (subject to availability) to give away (each of the three prize packages is worth £70).

The Wine Gang Christmas Fair 2011, Vinopolis, 1 Bank End, London, SE1; Sat 29 Oct; £20, early bird £15, optional tickets for each masterclass £15; ticketSOUP.com; 0844 481 8898