Episode 129 – The Best of The Bunch
5th October 2022
The Bunch is a collective of seven elite UK independent wine merchants whose mantra is to raise the profile of grower-led wines while protecting and honouring the interests of wine consumers. I have faithfully attended their wine tastings since they set up this posse in 1993. Current Bunch Members are Adnams, Corney & Barrow, Haynes Hanson & Clark, Lea & Sandeman, Private Cellar, Tanners and Yapp Brothers. This week’s Wednesday Wines recommendations are drawn from their Autumn Tasting, held last week at Groucho Club in London. Here are my favourite wines.
2020 Saperavi, Tbilvino, Georgia (£12.99, www.adnams.co.uk).
I have only written up a handful of Saperavis in my wine career, which must be the most accessible and enchanting. Youthful, vigorous and bursting with blackberry and liquorice notes, this is a Beaujolais-shaped red wine with a zany, hectic and somewhat hilarious cacophony of fruit and spice. Its competitive price point is likely to be a massive success for curious Adnams punters in search of something a little different.
2017 Lonely Vineyard, Montepulciano, Eden Valley, South Australia (£21.25, www.corneyandbarrow.com).
Clean, bright, balanced and refreshing, this is a lovely red wine from the confident hands of Michael Schreurs. I know Mr Schreurs well, having enjoyed his wines during his tenures at Henschke (Eden Valley & Adelaide Hills) and The Lane Vineyard (Adelaide Hills). He is a laid-back fellow with a quizzical mind, and this Monte takes an Abruzzo model and polishes it, removing glitches and imperfections while rewarding it with 16 months in old French puncheons. The result is a Zen red with delightful freshness under the smooth red-fruited chassis.
2021 Muscadet, Sèvre et Maine sur lie, Domaine de la Chauvinière, Loire, France (£10.95, reduced to £9.75 by the case, www.hhandc.co.uk).
One of the least expensive wines on the day with one of the highest scores; I cannot fault the flavour or energy in this smashing wine. It is a cut above every Muscadet I can think of, and the case price ducks under a tenner – phenomenal. Keen, lively, racy and pure, this is your go-to light white for all-day glugging this season. Note that 30% of the fruit goes through a short skin-contact technique, and I imagine that this immeasurably enhances the class of the finished product – genius.
2021 Anjou Blanc, Domaine Cady, Loire, France (£13.65, reduced to £12.10 by the case, www.hhandc.co.uk).
This was my joint highest-scoring wine of the day, and look at the price! Knockout quality, from this little-known appellation, this is the wine to take to a dinner party as it pairs exquisitely with a vast array of dishes. Shaped like a Premier Cru Chablis but with mellow and more welcoming tones of pear and apple, this is an organically-grown beauty and a Burgundy-obliterating wine at £13.65, let alone the case price. Take the plunge and broaden your horizons; you will not regret it.
2020 Chablis, Côte de Léchet, Domaine Daniel Dampt, Burgundy, France (£25.85, reduced to £22.95 by the case, www.hhandc.co.uk).
You might wonder why this wine makes the page at nearly twice the price of the Anjou Blanc, given my Burgundy-bashing note above. The answer is that one has to pay up for serious white Burgundy these days, so the wines I recommend from this region are truly world-class and worth every penny. Of course, the Anjou is more appropriate for everyday duties while not dropping your standards of taste and elegance, but when the time comes to show off, please be very selective about the wines you buy. This Chablis has a flavour that soars over its price, making it about as high a price I feel is necessary to pay for dinner party entertaining in these challenging times. The wine is celestial; perfectly balanced, generous, silky-smooth, and with white-knuckle tension on the finish. It is a wine of rare beauty, and I hope you grab a few bottles to see what I mean.
2021 Juliénas, Domaine de Forétal, Beaujolais, France (£14.65, reduced to £13.00 by the case, www.hhandc.co.uk).
A new find for HH&C, I dived into the 2020 stock and went crazy, so I was anxious to see how this 2021 performed. This was, by far and away, the finest value ‘light red’ of the 70 wines on show. Certainly edgier and more youthful, this is another gem of a Gamay, made from 45-year-old vines and bursting with vibrant cherry and mulberry fruit. This is your emergency red for the autumn/winter season, but be sure to buy enough to take you around into spring because it will inevitably mellow and soften over the coming six months.
2019 Scorpo Estate, Shiraz, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria, Australia (£28.50, reduced to £25.25 by the case, www.hhandc.co.uk).
The third wine with an immense score from HH&C is a model cool-climate Aussie Shiraz with more perfume and bright fruit than an ocean liner of Crozes-Hermitage and more silkiness and allure than a battleship of red Burgundy. The wines from Mornington tend to tread an invisible line between the Rhône and Burgundy, whether they are made from Shiraz or Pinot Noir. Scorpo, of course, makes both styles, so it is inevitable that this Shiraz, made by ‘Pinot hands’, has a sensual texture and a gentler and more civilised demeanour than a typical hot climate style. Thrilling and drinking already, despite its youth, this is a brilliant autumnal red.
2021 Visintini, Ribolla Gialla, Fruili, Italy (15.95, reduced to £13.95 by the case, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk).
Hello Ribolla. This is the definitive version if you have yet to taste this grape in isolation (it loves to hide in swanky blends). Pure, floral, bitingly clean, and one step sideways from PGs, PBs and legions of innocuous Soaves, this is a brilliant wine with serious élan, and it stays one step ahead at all moments! While this wine might be a bit of a punt if you usually stick to tried and tested, I can underline its importance by saying that this was a stalwart on my Bibendum Restaurant wine list back in the day. This 2021 is leagues ahead in quality than those cheeky drops in the old days!
2021 Dolcetto Dogliani, Pàpa Celso, Marziano Abbona, Piemonte, Italy (21.95, reduced to £19.50 by the case, www.leaandsandeman.co.uk).
I have just published my Piemonte Report for 2022 (and anyone reading this needs to sign up as Member now!), and yet this wine has made me want to stop the printing press. Classy, louche, resplendent in its selective glory, and yet rather delicious, this is a sensational Dolcetto, and it electrocutes the palate with its vivid blueberry and spice tones. How to deploy this wine ought to be the only question (I assume you are a buyer). It is simple; this is the wine before the BIG Italian wine. Every time. Just let it do what it does best. This is a support act wine that adores having a chance to perform before select palates. Just make sure you don’t miss out on how delicious it is.
2019 Lenton Brae, Southside Chardonnay, Margaret River, Western Australia (£18.50, www.privatecellar.co.uk).
I love these guys, and here we have a pinpoint accurate Chardonnay from the legendary Margaret River turf. But, stop press. The famous names are now £50 – £99 a bottle, and this Lenton Brae number limbos under every recognised MR price point. Contr0versial; decant it. Very few Chardonnays on earth sing like this one does at this price.
2018 Barolo del Commune di La Morra, Crisante, Piemonte, Italy (£39.00, www.tanners-wines.co.uk).
Yup, this was a delicious wine, and you can read about it in my 2022 Piemonte Report, so please sign up as a Member, and you will never spend an inaccurate pound again. So this is Tanners’ sole inclusion. Nope! 2020 Kumeu River Hand Harvested Chardonnay (£13.90) was a predictable delight, and if you read my notes, you will already know that 2015 Château La Tour de By (£23.50) is a bloody brilliant claret.
2021 Rioja Blanco, Viña Zearra, Bodeagas Petralanda, Spain (£10.95, www.yapp.co.uk).
I have spent my entire life avoiding writing up white Rioja. I wouldn’t say I like this style of wine. I cannot stand a couple of word wine styles of wine that others seemingly adore (not naming names here). Not me, until this cheeky little fellow popped up. Between you and me, it is delicious, too, and it is only tenner! Well played and great buying – this is a superb find.
2019 Vouvray, Demi-Sec, Jean-Claude & Didier Aubert, Loire France (14.95, www.yapp.co.uk).
Bang, bang, bang. This wine smashes its brief and brings discreet sweetness and immense class to the party. Hey everyone, you all love sweet wine now… The acid line in this epic Chenin is such that no one will even pick up on the lusty chassis and decadence on show here unless they wish to. Great wine and a great price from Loire Lords Yapp.