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The bunch tasting 2002

The Groucho Club, 10th January 2002

The Bunch is a coalition of six of the UK's leading independent wine merchants: Adnams, Tanners, John Armit, Yapp Brothers, Corney & Barrow and Lay & Wheeler. Although they collaborate for marketing excercises, they're all quite different in their emphasis and style. For this tasting, each was showing six wines at different price brackets, with the aim of showing that independents aren't just for those spending a lot, but can offer individual wines at every price point. Unfortunately, I didn't try all the wines offered by each merchant -- I was under quite a bit of time pressure -- but from what I tasted there was some interesting stuff being shown.

Sole Bay Brewery
IP18 6JW

Almuvedre 2000, Alicante, Spain
Made from the Mourvèdre grape by consultant Telmo Rodriguez. Pale purple colour with a bright fruity nose. The palate is quite fruity, isplaying a touch of volatility and soft bright fruit with a caramel-like edge. Soft textured and quite modern styled. Good/very good (£4.65)

Casa Rivas Cabernet Sauvignon 2000, Maipo Valley, Chile
Pronounced blackcurrant nose with a green herby edge. There's lots of sweet blackcurrant fruit on the medium-bodied palate. Quite interesting and very fruity. Good/very good (£5.25)

Paringa Shiraz 2000, South Australia
From David Hickinbotham's vineyards around the Murray River (a hot region associated with bulk production). The muted nose shows lots of rich fruit. Quite modern and typical of Aussie Shiraz, it's a step up from commercial jug wine but not too compelling. Very good (£6.95)

Domaine Richeaume Cuvée Tradition 1999, Côtes du Provence
This domaine was established 30 years ago by a German history professor, Henning Hoesch, now run by his son Sylvain. It's an organic estate, and this is their blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz. It has an enticing, sweet, caramel-edged nose. The palate is very luscious and quite seductive, displaying sweet fruit and a bit of oak. Rich, but just enough savoury, spicy character to hold it in balance. Great concentration and in a new world style. Very good/excellent (£9.35)

Tim Gramp Shiraz 1997, McLaren Vale, Australia
Fermented in open top fermenters and basket pressed, then aged for a year in new American oak. Startling, sweet, exotic nose with sweet menthol notes and minty-edged fruit. Extremely concentrated, almost Port-like palate, but very satisfying in a rich style. Very good/excellent (£15.95)

Martinborough Pinot Noir Reserve 1998, Wairarapa, New Zealand
From New Zealand's star Pinot Noir region, Wairarapa (also known as Martinborough). Only 750 cases produced. Fermented in open fermenters by indigenous yeasts, aged in 50% new French oak. Quite deep coloured, with a complex, rich nose. There's some fairly prominent oak. Lovely, rich savoury complexity on the palate, there's lots of interest here. Quite chunky and the oak is showing, but it's expressive. Very good/excellent. Very good/excellent (£23.50)

John Armit Wines
5 Royalty Studios
105 Lancaster Road
London W11 1QF

Kaesler Old Vine Grenache 2000, Barossa Valley, South Australia
Four years ago Ried Bosward took over a 56 acre vineyard, including 10 acres of old vine Grenache, which makes up the core of this wine (the other 7% is 70 year old Mourvèdre). The fruit was crushed and destemmed, with some stalks added back, and then fermented on its skins. The wine was matured in old oak for a year. It's deep coloured, with a sweet, spicy nose showing notes of cinammon, liquorice and tar. The delicious, rich, full-textured palate is varietally true, dominated by sweet, herby fruit and has a spicy finish. Some tannin hiding under the sweet fruit. Very good/excellent (£11.25)

Ama Chianti Classico 1998, Tuscany, Italy
From a 90 hectare estate, this is 100% Sangiovese. The wine was aged in 40% new French oak barriques. Quite a rich, complex nose with sweet, rich, herby fruit. Concentrated palate with sweet fruit, but also a lovely savoury, slightly bitter kick that provides a nice foil for the fruit. Tannic, dry finish. A dense, concentrated wine. Very good/excellent (£15.66)

Corney & Barrow
12 Helmet Row
London EC1V 3TD
Tel: 020 7359 3200

La Combe de Grinou Blanc 2000, AC Bergerac
A blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, this wine has a lovely expressive nose of grassy, bright fruit with a herby, citrussy edge. The palate is quite full and savoury. Tasty for a relatively inexpensive white. Very good+ (£5.46)

Descendientes J Palacios 1999 Bierzo, Spain
Bierzo is a small, hilly region in the northwest of Spain, inland from Galicia and at the margins of Castilla y León, and this wine is the first vintage of a new project shared between Alvaro Palacios and his nephew. Two wines have been made: Carullón, the top wine, and this regular Bierzo from bought in grapes (both are predominantly Mencía, the local grape, that was once thought to be the same as Cabernet Franc). Beautifully packaged with an elegant capsule, this is an opaque purple colour in the glass. The nose is sweet and quite modern, with spice and dark fruits. The deep concentrated palate displays liquoricey fruit that meshes well with the new oak. There's a fair whack of tannin hiding underneath the fruit. A big wine, it will be interesting to see how this develops. (£16.45)

Lay & Wheeler
117 Gosbecks Road
Gosbecks Park
Essex CO2 9JT
Tel: 10206 764446

Academy Chenin Blanc 2001, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Made for Lay and Wheeler by Rust en Vrede winemaker Louis Strydom, this has a very fruity, modern nose, with almost Sauvignon-like grassiness. There's a boiled sweets edge to the modern palate. Attractive and quite good value. Very good (£5.25)

Saxenburg Private Collection Sauvignon Blanc 2001, Stellenbosch.
There's quite an intense, vegetal element to the nose. Good concentration on the palate, but it's dominated by a rather off-putting herby, vegetal character. Ambitious, but I'm not keen. Good (£6.95)

Montaigne Noire Grenache 2000, Vin de Pays 'Oc
Made by the Foncalieu co-op, this is a clean glugger of a red wine. Attractive sweet nose gives way to a cherry-fruit dominated palate. Clean and modern. Good/very good (£3.95)

Christa Rolf Shiraz Grenache 1999, Barossa, Australia
A sister/brother collaboration between Rolf and Christa Binder (Rolf's the wine maker at Veritas). A deep coloured red/purple colour, the nose shows a sweet caramel edge with some herbal complexity. Great concentration on the palate: this is typical Barossa style with rich layered berry fruit. Quite a big wine. Very good+ (£8.95)

Domaine de la Vougeraie Chambolle Musigny 1999, Burgundy
A newly designated estate bringing together the vineyard jewels of the huge Boisset empire in Burgundy. Quite deep red coloured. The sweetly fruited nose already shows some complexity, with rich, herby, red fruit character. The palate is quite extracted with dense red berry fruit and a dry spicy finish. In a new style, it will be interesting to see how this develops. Very good/excellent (£21.75)

Fromm Clayvin Vineyard Pinot Noir 'La Strada' 2000, Marlborough, New Zealand
This single-vineyard wine is a deep purple colour. Nose is quite tight, with some herb-tinged dark fruits. Good concentration of lovely, rich, herby fruit with a sweet edge. Quite a big Pinot Noir but there's enough stuffing to suggest this may age. Intense stuff. Very good/excellent (£15.95)

Tanners Wines
26 Wyle Cop
Shrewsbury SY1 1XD

Le Pigeoulet des Brunier Rouge 2000, Vin de Pays de Vacluse
Nicely packaged. Bright red/purple with an attractive nose of slightly herby, spicy red berry fruit. Delicious medium-bodied meaty/savoury palate with some spiciness on the finish. A tasty glugging wine and very good value. Very good+ (£5.40)

Yapp Brothers
Wiltshire BA12 6OY
Tel: 01747 860423

Domaine des Gavelles Bouches du Rhône 2000
Good glugger. Sweet herby fruit on nose. Nicely balanced, savoury fruity palate. Good/very good (£4.95)

Saint Cy en Bourg Samur Blanc 2000
Fresh, clean stuff and a subtle nose. Dry, nicely textured palate with a slightly waxy, lemony edge. Interesting, but quite subtle. Very good (£5.45)

Château Valcombe Côtes du Ventoux Rouge 1999
Juicy red wine with good concentration and some interesting herby fruit. Tasty stuff; perhaps just a little overpriced? Very good (£6.25)

Mas de la Rouvière Bandol Rouge 1999
55% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 30% Cinsault and 5% Syrah. An accessible style of Bandol. There's a bit of herby stink and an attractive spiciness on the nose, leading to a soft, rich, southern-style palate with nice spiciness and some minerality. Very good+ (£10.75)

Jasper Hill Georgia's Paddock Riesling 1998, Heathcote, Victoria
Jasper Hill red wines have achieved cult status, but this is the first time I've come across one of their whites. Ex-food scientist Ron Laughton makes this Riesling from a seven acre parcel of vines that are farmed biodynamically. A full yellow colour, it has a really striking limey nose with a bright floral edge. The fascinating, expressive herby palate has a limey edge. This is really interesting: wonderful stuff and worth the rather high price tag. Very good/excellent (£13.50)

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