Pinot Noir, the cultivar that prompts more poetic flights of fancy than any other, about which there has probably been more chin stroking and idle speculation than all other varieties put together. It is also one of the more planted red grapes in the UK.
English wine has taken no small amount of criticism over the years, despite vigorous fighting back on the bubble front and a nice rear guard action from the aromatic whites the reds have still largely been left to suffer in silence.
It was a morning of twitter discussion that brought the idea of an English Pinot Noir tasting into fruition. Now at this point, I should mention that virtually all the organization was undertaken by the fabulous Dominique and Julia; of the Wine Pantry in Borough Market. They harangued producers into submitting bottles, sorted a glorious spread of nibbles and arranged a room in which we could sup.
I managed to bring along a bottle of ropey Sancerre Pinot, which did at least make everything else look well made and beautiful.
A short aside regarding clonal diversity, nomenclature, influence and language:
Pinot Noir is an incredibly old vine cultivar. As such it is rather plastic with regards to genetic homogeneity, there are multiple clones (often known simply by their nursery numbers, 113, 114 etc). Aficionados will drop these into conversation as a signifier of their elevated knowledge. In the UK there is less of a clonal issue at the moment, except relating to the difference between Early Pinot and Late Pinot. The Germans, who as far as I can gather, have the most that makes it to market call it Fruhburgunder as opposed to Spatburgunder, the French plump for Pinot Noir Precoce. The EC regards the two cultivars as being distinct and thus they need to be labeled as such.
I shall use the term on the label, though I prefer early and late.
Sharpham Estate 2010, Pinot Noir Precoce (Totnes, Devon)
This showed a slightly smoky cherry/raspberry edged nose with vibrant acidity and a spritz of tannins.
Welcombe Hills 2010 Pinot Noir Precoce (Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire)
Minerally strawberry inflected fruit overlaying a definite autolytic leesy like character. Just a hint of clove, with a fresh juicy palette.
Three Choirs 2010 Pinot Noir (Newent, Gloucestershire)
This wine caused a degree of disagreement, there is a very obvious oak influence on the nose, I found this unsettling, though there were comments that it would really help in a dining context.
Chapel Down 2009 Pinot Noir (Tenterden, Kent)
Slightly mute initially on the nose, some meaty bread like characters, again cherry scented fruit and an almost chalkiness to the acidity.
Gusbourne Estate 2010 (Appledore, Kent)
The palest of the wines, almost a schiller wine sort of colour, however this didn’t detract from the aromatics, clove scented cherries, a touch of something floral, this was for me the prettiest of the wines, a steely yet elegant palette made this my favourite wine of the day.
Plumpton College 2010, Sutherland’s Block (Plumpton, East Sussex)
This had a sort of caramel, milk chocolate hobnobs character that I found quite disconcerting, lending the wine an air of confectionary, sharpish acidity and a little short. I’d like to point out that I have in the past raved about this wine.
Bolney 2010 (Bolney, West Sussex)
Strawberries and a lactic sort of note, a touch of orange peel and some swish acidity.
So seven Pinot Noirs, coming across like Irancy but with the cheekbones and steely hauteur of Kate Moss at her prime. As I expected I liked the wines that had the least done to them, as it’s a slight struggle to get the real ripeness to the wines, it’s the growers with the gentlest touches that impressed me the most. As a final thought, I’d love to see these wines in ten to twenty years, as many of the ancient Burgundies were probably of a comparable ripeness and alcohol, so I have an inkling that these wines could age surprisingly well.