Tanners Douro Red, Douro, Portugal 2018 (£8.80, tanners-wines.co.uk) The fraternity of seven British independent wine merchants known as The Bunch is collectively responsible for a remarkably high proportion of the UK’s overall wine deliciousness quotient. Each autumn – pandemic permitting – the seven get together to show off 10 wines apiece to the press, and this year’s event was the usual attention-grabbing assemblage of the unusual, the up-and-coming and the classically beautiful. Although there’s plenty of expensive “fine” wine on each member’s list, and while they all have a particular sweet spot between £10 and £25, they each have their share of sub-£10 bottles that are very much more engaging than most supermarket equivalents at that price. To pick just one example: the fragrant, supple fruits of the forest-flavoured Douro red made by star winemakers João Portugal Ramos and Jose Maria Soares Franco for the venerable (est 1842) Shropshire merchants Tanners’ highly superior own-label is simply brilliant value.
Bruno Lafon & François Chamboissier Racine Pinot Noir, IGP Pays d’Oc, France 2020 (£12.40, Haynes Hanson & Clark) Although it just tips over the £10 mark (it’s £11 a bottle if it’s bought as part of a case of 12 bottles), London merchant Haynes Hanson & Clark’s southern French find is the best-value pinot noir I’ve tried in a long time, and one of the best versions of the variety I’ve ever tried from the south of France. Admittedly, neither of those categories are especially competitive: good pinot noir tends to be expensive wherever it’s made and the variety is ill suited to the heat of many Midi vineyards. Still, that’s not to lessen the achievement of winemaker Bruno Lafon, who has managed to bring all the finesse that you find in the best of the pinot nor made in his native Burgundy to grapes grown in the relatively cool corner of the Languedoc in the hills of Limoux, n the process fashioning a delicately fragrant, gentle, fine-textured red.
Viña La Ronciere Cabernet Franc Idahue Estate, Licantén, Chile 2018 (£13.95, corneyandbarrow.com) Cabernet franc has been getting a bit of a following in recent years, with the red wines made from the variety in the Loire Valley – such as the delightfully raspberry and blackcurrant-fruited, slightly crunchy Talau-Foltzenlogel Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil 2019 (£14.75 from The Bunch member yapp.co.uk) – as good as they’ve ever been. One of its newer homes is South America, where I’ve been most impressed by Argentina’s take on the grape so far. But I loved the graceful light touch of Viña La Ronciere’s Chilean example, from a region (Licantén, in costal Curíco) and producer that were both new to me. Other highlights in an event filled with great bottles included: an intoxicatingly aromatic, sumptuously rich yet vivacious southern Italian white (Luigi Maffini Kratos Fiano 2020; £22.95, leaandsandeman.co.uk); a vividly berry-fruited Austrian red (Weingut Mehofer Neudeggerhof Zweigelt Neudegg, Wagram 2018; £18, privatecellar.co.uk); and a red-apple and raspberry-tangy, vibrant Essex pink (Adnams English Rosé, Crouch Valley 2019; £14.99, adnams.co.uk).