Every September on the eve of our annual press tasting the principals of the Bunch [www.bunchwines.co.uk] gather to break bread, discuss topics of mutual interest, such as the Ashes, summer holiday destinations and potential new members, and sample some interesting wines. We have been convening thus for many years now so this is a less formal affair than one might imagine although there is perhaps a degree of one-upmanship regarding the wines that are proffered by the participants. This year we met at Medcalf [www.medcalfbar.co.uk] in Clerkenwell's Exmouth Market, which is an understated gem of a restaurant with a short, savvy, seasonal menu of British food with a Mediterranean tilt and a carefully-crafted and reasonably-priced wine list. As I was chairing our meeting and enjoying the pleasures of the table, I cannot recall in full what food everyone else ordered but I had a starter of whitebait with good home-made tartare sauce (they are big on home-made at Medcalf) followed by the bavette steak and chips which is a reflex order of mine and justifies a trip to Exmouth Market in its own right. One of my confrères ordered the steak and kidney pudding which looked (and was pronounced) great but cannot have been better than the peerless bavette.
By way of an aperitif Rupert Farquharson of Adnams brought along a non-vintage Champagne called 'Exquise' produced by Jacques Selosse from pure Chardonnay in minimal volumes. This wine has a gentle effervescence and quite an oxidative style but very pure fruit and lots of finesse and I liked it very much. Segueing on to another Chardonnay we then sampled 'Ramey Chardonnay' 2006 from Ritchie Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, provided by the only Master of Wine present, Alun Griffiths of Berry Brothers. I found this oaky, toasty, rich and oily with good length and acidity but it was a bit too much of a belter for the whitebait that might have preferred something a tad lighter than 14.5% abv. The first of the reds, courtesy of James Tanner was the 'Racine du Temps', Très Vieilles Vignes (!), Gevrey-Chambertin 2002 from René Bouvier. I thought this was a superb drop, with a lovely damson bouquet and fleshy, mid-weight fruit over fine-grained tannins. If I had any dosh I'd tuck a case or two of this away... My palate was now suitably primed for a brace of well-heeled reds with which Paul Marus from Corney & Barrow indulged us. Firstly we tasted the 'Psi' 2007 from the celebrated Dominio de Pingus in the Ribera del Duero. This is a pure Tempranillo from the stable of Danish wunderkind Peter Sisseck and believe it or not is cheap by his standards at £22.49 a bottle. I liked rather than loved this wine. It was very polished and refined but it didn't really grab me - I suspect it was recently bottled and will appreciate a bit more time in the cellar. We followed the 'Psi' with a Château Roc de Cambes, Côtes de Bourg 2003, which is a blend of Melot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (in descending volumes) from a 10 hectare estate owned by François Mitjavile of Terte Rôteboeuf fame. This stylish, glossy, Claret was packed with sweet berry fruit and made a perfect foil to a selection of fine british cheeses. This is another wine I would happily make cellar space for if funds permitted.
We rounded things off with a bonne bouche of Pinot Gris 'Sélection de Grains Nobles' from Charles Schlèret in Turckheim which was Yapp Brothers' own contribution. This subtle, gently honeyed wine was as understated as the restaurant with its miss-matched chairs and café tables but it made for a very pleasant end to a very pleasant evening. On reflection we really ought to meet up more often!