English Pinot Noir? Pull the other one. Mind you that’s what the French said about our sparklers before they tasted Nyetimber, Ridgeview and the like. If English wine isn’t news anymore, decent red from this profound, yet humbling variety that has frustrated growers and emptied back accounts the world over, surely would make the headlines? Spurred on by some idle Twitter chat about the success of the variety in England, Borough Market’s enterprising Wine Pantry team took up the challenge and organised a tasting of England’s up-and-coming Pinots sourced from all points on the compass – Devon, Gloucestershire, Kent and Sussex.
Pitted against these were some other cool-climate Pinots from the Loire, Burgundy and New Zealand’s Otago just to make sure we didn’t all get carried away. The results? There were some very encouraging wines I’d have to say. It’s difficult to know quite how representative the sample was but the best showed English Pinot to be a delicate, fragrant and, in some cases, surprisingly generous wine.
Top of my list was Three Choirs 2010 Pinot from Newent in Gloucestershire. There had been a bit of pre-fermentation maceration here, the ‘cold soak’ much used in Burgundy, which had helped to beef up the colour [not important in Pinot I know] but it did emphasize the floral fruit tones in the wine. On the palate it was round and charming. Attractive stuff. It reminded me of some early New Zealand Pinots, say Mark Rattray’s Canterbury Pinots from the 1990s.
Both Sharpham Estate and Welcombe Hills Vineyard were making Pinot Noir from an early ripening mutation called Pinot Noir Précoce that I understand has done well in Germany. Sharpham Estate’s 2009, from Totnes in Devon, showed attractive perfume and minerality whilst Welcombe Hills 2010, from Stratford-on-Avon, was sweet and cherry-like with plenty of spice and juice on the palate. Again both wines were pretty encouraging.
Behind these Gusbourne Estate’s 2010 Pinot from Appledore in Kent was delicate and restrained. Maybe it felt almost like a sparkling wine base and lacked the vibrancy of the first three but showed promise. Plumpton College’s 2010 Southerland’s Block from Lewes in East Sussex was deep looking and pretty fresh. It felt a bit tight on the palate and was short on the finish, though to be fair to both of these they had recently been bottled.
Chapel Down from Tenderten in Kent felt disappointing. It had a vegetal whiff and felt a bit mean on the finish. Foxhole’s 2010 Pinot Noir was more rosé than red but was reasonable enough with some maceration carbonique tang, but certainly very light. Bolney’s 2010 Pinot Noir from Sussex felt the most disappointing, partly because it had been much heralded. Light translucent red with lots of gas in the rim, this was a neutral style with some tang but it lacked interest. The petillant fizz distracted and felt more like a flaw.
Despite these nevertheless overall the tasting was extremely positive. Obviously these are wines made in tiny quantities and clearly there’s going to be a lot of vintage variation but in the right micro-climates and terroirs with the right vineyard management, and a lightish touch in the cellar, the best English Pinots held their own.
The following wines were shown by the delightful Wine Pantry tea in the Borough Market boardroom on Tuesday 1st November 2011. Broadly in terms of prices I believe most samples were in the £10-£14 range.
Three Choirs, Pinot Noir 2010, Newent, Gloucestershire
Deepish colour; earthy purple rim; quite seductive nose; perfume; reminds me of some of the early New Zealand Pinots from Canterbury [Mark Rattray]; this is a pretty good effort; round and full palate; charming and attractive; lots of flavour and fruit here. Pre-fermentation maceration has obviously helped here. Knocked the assembled Cote de Beaune Village and two Sancerre Pinots into a cocked hat. 86+/100
Sharpham Estate, Pinot Noir Précoce, 2009, Totnes, Devon
Earthy red; good density; purple edge; some minerality, attractive, whiff of perfume; opens quite nicely in the glass; some carbonic maceration notes; good density and grip on the palate; not at all bad and attractive; quite appetizing and fresh with some delicacy. 84/100
Welcombe Hills Vineyard 2010, Pinot Noir Précoce, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire
Purple at edge; mid depth; sweetness on the nose; cherry, some carbonic maceration elements; some bright fruit but very clean; perfume too; fruity, ripe palate; surprisingly fullish with some spice; attractive wine; soft and easy with violet lift, perfume and fruit. 84/100
Gusbourne Estate 2010 Pinot Noir [Appledore Kent]
Very light coloured; little neutral on the nose; some spice; feels a little like a sparkling wine base rather than a red; some spice; very delicate and light palate; lacks fruit but has some delicacy. Potential here if they approach this more as a genuine red. 80/100
Plumpton College, 2010 Sutherland’s Block [Lewes, East Sussex]
Earthy; good colour, translucent at the core; some gloss but feels a little neutral on the nose; again white wine; palate some spice; lacks flavour; has some mouthfeel but still feels a little tight. Recently bottled. Little short on the finish. 80/100
Translucent; some earthy purple at edge; lots of maceration carbonique tang here; spicy; feels more like a rose than a red; lacks density on the palate; freshness but too light. 78/100
Chapel Down, 2009, Pinot Noir [Tenderden, Kent]
Earthy; some maturity at the edge; bit dusty on the nose; lacks the vibrancy of the first three; feels a little dusty on the palate and a whiff of something vegetal; slight meanness to the palate and feels a bit forced/extracted on the finish. Lacks generosity. 75/100
Bolney Pinot Noir 2010 Sussex
Bit of gas in the glass; light translucent red; some maceration carbonique style to the nose; again pretty neutral but fresh; almost light Beaujolais Village style; sweet palate; lacks interest and is a bit too fizzy? Duff bottle? ?/100
Archangel, Pinot Noir, Central Otago 2009
Deep nose; quite sweet and ripe; lots of fruit and lifted oak; big thick palate; very ripe and open; feels a bit sweet in this line-up and too much of a good thing. At 14% this feels very big in this company. Chalk and cheese. 89/100
Simcic Pinot Noir 2007, Slovenia
Dark, earthy edge; earthy attractive Pinot nose; some VA lift and development with charred oak, and red fruits; quite lifted palate which feels warm and mature. Oak influenced and full. Pretty good. 88+/100
Labour-Roi, Cote de Beaune 2007, France
Earthy; legs; some stalky notes with undergrowth; charred earthy palate; some structure. OK. Little mean on the finish. 82/100
Vacheron, JP Vacher et Fils, Sancerre, 2009, France
Earthy; looks a bit tired; some spice bit neutral; feels a bit dull and lacking in vibrancy. 80/100
Domaine Girault, Le Grand Moulin, Sancerre, 2008, France
Little reductive on the nose; stinky; quite sweet palate with Pinot characters but lacks generosity and feels mean and short on the finish. 78/100
Tags: Bolney Estate, Borough Market, Chapel Down, English Wine, Foxhole, Gusbourne Estate, Nyetimber, Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce, Plumpton College, Ridgeview, Sharpham Estate, Sutherland’s Block, The Wine Pantry, Three Choirs, Welcombe Hills Vineyard