An email dropped into my in-box last week inviting me to Liberty Wines' Autumn Portfolio Tasting - the following day.
However, as luck would have it, the venue was just five minutes' walk from my office so I was able to pop there in my lunchtime.
With a very limited amount of time there, I picked what I thought would prove to be the most interesting wines to try, so what follows is based on my highly idiosyncratic, spur of the moment choices.
It is worth noting that the wines were generally arranged by style / grape variety rather than country, reflecting the trend of most wine lists these days.
Unless otherwise indicated, retail prices for these wines were generally in the £7 - £15 range that is the heartland of good independent wine merchants.
I started with some Italian whites - a lovely Verdicchio was my wine of the month recently, but this Terre di Valbona from Cantine Belisario was sadly not in the same league; lemony and rounded it was well-made and pleasant, but not complex and lacked the toastiness that I associate with good examples.
Much more appealing was a Pecorino IGT Terre di Chieti from Gran Sasso; it had some toastiness on the nose, ripe peach and pear fruit on the palate and a pleasing fullness without being sweet. The finish is long and savoury.
Next came a Pieropan Soave with a minerally nose of white peach, focused acidity on the palate and a minerally finish. It was very elegant but perhaps suffered by comparison in coming after the riper, fuller Pecorino.
I then got the somewhat unusual chance to benchmark Grüner Veltliners from Austria and New Zealand.
The Loimer "Lois" 2010 from Kamptal showed varietal celery and white pepper with mouthfilling ripe peach and pear and a minerally finish, with none of the leanness that is characteristic of 2010 Wachau whites after a very cool vintage.
The Yealands Estate Marlborough Grüner Veltliner 2011was more aromatic on the nose with herbaceous and flinty notes and felt leaner on the palate and finish.
Both were impressive and equally good technically, but I found myself slightly preferring the Austrian wine for its fuller mouthfeel.
I got to repeat this comparison with two Rieslings from the same producers - with the same result.
The Loimer "Lenz" was had a flintsmoke nose and structured, crisp acidity with cox's apples, pears and limes. The palate is mouthfilling with good minerality on the finish.
The Yealands Estate Marlborough 2011 was very pale, almost colourless in the glass with a greenish tinge and again had a herbaceous nose (is there something generally in the air in Marlborough that causes this?). As with the GV, it was lean but rounded with a minerally finish.
Again, I found myself preferring the Austrian example, but I do think the young, current-vintage Yealands wines have the potential to fill out with some more bottle age and a bit of time in the decanter and maybe also need some food to show their best.
As a control, I tried a multi-awarded Australian Riesling from Dandelion Vineyards.
I feel I have yet to fall in love with Australian Rieslings and, medals notwithstanding, this was not the wine to convert me.
With a typical petrolly nose, it was crisp and limey, but fuller than the two previous wines. However, it also felt less interesting and complex, even if technically well-made.
Spotting a Hungarian dry, oaked furmint, I couldn't pass up the chance to try something a bit unusual.
This Dobogo Furmint is aged for a year in three-year old Hungarian oak and is a deep golden colour in the glass. It has an almondy, oaky nose, whilst the palate is full yet crisp with a buttery feel.
At around a tenner, I could definitely recommend it if you like the style, but its retail price is £16.99 and I fear it is not quite special enough at this price point.
Moving on to the reds, I spotted a Canadian Pinot Noir, "Le Clos Jordanne Vineyard" - at £26.99 it is priced at the level of a good red Burgundy.
On the plus side, it showed plenty of interesting varietal aromas of mushrooms, truffles and forest floor with a smooth texture and a touch of grip on the finish.
However, I found it rather too pale and lightweight, with a simple, strawberry-ish palate and a slightly odd aroma of dried flowers.
If you are an affluent appreciator of Canadian Pinot or even just very open-minded, it's probably fine - but I couldn't recommend it as an introduction to Pinot Noir.
Zweigelt, St Laurent and Blaufrankisch
There were actually more grape varieties than wines here - just two red Austrian wines from Burgenland's Heinrich.
The "Red" (a mix of all three) had simple cherry fruit and was well-made with a pleasing finish. A pepperiness develops on the palate and it is a classic "food red" rather than a quaffer.
The Burgenland Zweigelt was darker in the glass with a more intense and complex nose. It had a fuller palate and more textural complexity.
At £17.99, it is only a few pounds more expensive than the "Red" and definitely worth the extra.
It also has a Decanter Trophy.
Monstrell & Tempranillo
The Monastrell from Spain's Bodegas Castano had a tarry nose, dark bramble fruit, plums and prunes on the palate and and soft yet mouthfilling texture.
Castano is based in the lesser-known region of Yecla at an altitude of around 600m above sea level, giving the wines greater extraction and texture.
Merlot & Carménère
The 2009 Carménère Seleccion from Vina Chocalan had coffee and tar on the nose whilst the palate showed dark berry fruit and more tarriness. The texture is smooth but grippy, increasingly so on the finish, so decanting or cellaring is recommended.
Although there was not a specific Portugal category, I tried a number of wines from this country and it makes sense to put them all together.
The 2008 Petit Verdot from Azamor, with 15% Syrah added, was a lovely wine with dark berry fruit and lovely oak on the nose.
On the palate, there is black cherry fruit, a custard cream smoothness and some spice on the finish, whilst the texture is inky and muscular.
It costs £17.99 which is fair given the quality.
The Quinta Do Infanto Douro 2008 Red is a few pounds cheaper and has a Gold Medal from Brussells, but to me was much less interesting - it felt thinner, with simpler cherry fruit, less complex and a grippier finish.
Finally, a 2008 Douro Red Reserva from Quinta Da Romaneira; dark purple in the glass, it has an intense nose of elderberries and ink. The palate shows more dark berry fruit, elderberries and blueberries.
It has a lovely texture, dense and inky yet soft, with dark spices on the finish which is grippy yet balanced and rounded.
It is a really lovely wine and has an IWC Gold to boot.
Sadly, it costs £49.99 and whilst it may just about be worth the price, it's a lot of money to spend on a single bottle.
The 2009 Chateau Saint-Roch Chimeres Cotes du Roussillon Villages had a Decanter Gold, but I found it rather middling and straightforward - juicy with some sweet fruit.
Syrah / Shiraz & Blends
Increasingly, I am finding myself appreciating Rhone Syrah which can rival similarly-priced Bordeaux for texture and fruit even if the wines are very different in style.
The 2007 Paul Jaboulet Aine Crozes Hermitage Rouge Domaine de Thalabert has a complex, intense nose of prunes, oak and pencil shavings.
On the palate, there is bramble fruit, vanilla and spice and the finish shows a lovely mixture of fruit and grip.
The texture is soft with a grip that is gentle yet firm, poised and commanding - rather like a masseuse, I imagine.
A really lovely wine, but again not exactly everyday drinking at £28.99.
My final two wines were both benchmark comparisons of this one:
A similarly-priced (£38.99) Charles Melton Grains of Paradise Shiraz from Australia had dark fruit, sweet eucalyptus and blackcurrant on the nose.
The palate reeks intensely of blackcurrant with prunes and raisins and a dense, inky texture.
Of the two, however, I found the less expensive, more classic French wine to be the more interesting.
The Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage. "La Petite Chapelle" 2007 was a step-up in terms of price at £63.99, but also a noticeable step-up in terms of quality from the already very good Thalabert, with greater finesse, complexity and definition.
You are either very lucky or very discerning if you can decide to pick one bottle of the Petite Chapelle over two of the Thalabert, but if it's your birthday and your rich uncle is feeling expansive, there's no contest.
Recommended wine - white
I loved the Austrian GV and Riesling from Loimer and they are definitely worth buying.
However, my non-Austrian recommendations is Gran Sasso Pecorino IGT Terre (£11.99) for its ripe fullness, complexity and balance.
Available through Slurp.co.uk and http://www.reservewines.co.uk/
Recommended wine - red
There were some stunning reds above £20, but at a rather more affordable, if still special-occasion, price point, I recommend the Azamor Petit Verdot (£17.99) for its lovely oaking, wonderful texture and dark sensual fruit.
Liberty Wines - http://www.libertywine.co.uk/index.aspx /