I don't remember exactly when The Bunch was formed but I seem to recall thinking that the first press tasting was merely a pretext for a rogue's drinking club. Each of the rogues in question, Simon Loftus of Adnams, Graham Chidgey of Laytons, Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow and John Armit of Armit and Robin Yapp of Yapp Bros, was in his own way a pioneer of sorts. Springing from an equal commitment to excellence in wine and contempt for its opposite, the Famous Five got together with the tweedier country wine merchants Tanners and Lay & Wheeler to use The Bunch as a vehicle for promoting individualism and quality.
Any suspicions I may have had that their good intentions would be lost in a haze of boozy consumption have long since been dispelled. Laytons and Armit have bowed out, but Berry Bros & Rudd have taken their place to create an impressive half dozen of the country's leading wine merchants, each different from the other by virtue of their location, their customer base their wine ranges and the services they offer.
One common feature shines out: a commitment to customer service and inspiring wines. The icing on the cake is a code of practice which guarantees a refund for any bottle not enjoyed. And the new-style Bunch has become more adept at trawling the paths less travelled for good value. With the exception of Corney & Barrow, all showed a good selection of wines under £10 at the most recent Bunch tasting.
Yapp (01747 860 423; yapp.com) specialises in the Rhône and Loire. While the Gérard Cordier 2007 Reuilly, £9.25, is as full-flavoured and classically Loire sauvignon blanc as any Pouilly Fumé, Yapp has uncovered a gem that sparkles in its Domaine Collin Crémant de Limoux Selection NV, £8.95, richly yeasty and as teasingly frothy as a young champagne.
Minus Simon Loftus, Southwold-based Adnams (01502 727222; adnams.com) has expanded its cellar and kitchen range to become a leading player. Where else would you find a blend of rabigato, roupeiro, cerciál and gouveio than in the apple and pear-like 2007 Crasto Branco, £7.99, and who else would have the guts to risk taking on the entire stock of Monty Walden's Château Monty, £7.99/£89 a case, a risk that pays off as this carignan and grenache blend from the Roussillon is voluptuous and damsony.
The countryside is well-represented by Tanners (01743 234 500; tanners-wines.co.uk in the west of England and Lay & Wheeler (0845 330 1855; laywheeler.com) in the east. Tanners showed a fine rose petal and lychee-infused Viñas del Vero Gewurztraminer, £7.60, and from southern Italy, a bargain in the rich Terre degli Eventi, Basilicata IGT, £6.60.
Its eastern seaboard alter ego, Lay & Wheeler, also produced two under-£10 stonkers, Domaine Oratoire's clairette and roussanne-based 2007 Cairanne Blanc, Réserve des Seigneurs, from £7.29, a confection of fruitiness, and Michel Bouzereau's good-value white burgundy 2006 Bourgogne Aligoté, £9.95.
Back in town, Corney & Barrow (020-7265 2400; corneyandbarrow.com) couldn't quite limbo under the £10 bar, but they were almost there with an appetisingly bone-dry 2007 Chablis Domaine Vincent Dampt, £11.99, leaving Berry Bros & Rudd (0870 900 4300; bbr.com) to take the moral high ground (and the financial low ground) with Domaine de Terres Falmet's peppery, cherry-fruity 2007 Cinsault, £6.75.
BBR's 2005 Teira Zinfandel, Sonoma County, £10.95, was as near to a tenner as dammit and so crammed with juiciness that it would be churlish to quibble about the extra. All these wines have that extra character that shows just why wine merchants like The Bunch deserve a strong following in straitened times.Reuse content