The Great British Wine Round-up November 2020

With winter now setting in, a month full of rain and a return to lockdown, I’ve found myself turning to red wine more than usual this month. While England has historically not been a red wine powerhouse, much progress has been made in recent years. In my opinion, it’s the Pinots that really shine, be they Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce or even Pinot Meunier. With quite an array of really strong new Pinot Noir releases in the past few months, many coming from the excellent 2018 vintage, I’ve decided to dedicate this month to some of the best reds I’ve sampled recently.

It feels like 2018 has been something of a catalyst for English Pinot. Prior to that joyous, record harvest, many producers may have passed over the idea of producing red wine – or at least reds made from the Pinots instead of the familiar (to England) Regent, Rondo and Dornfelder. Clonal selection is important – it’s clear that the Champagne clones don’t work successfully with still wine, and Burgundy clones are in favour with many winemakers. But one shouldn’t overlook the other clones too. Woodchester Valley successfully bring both Burgundy clone and Germany clone Pinot Noir to full ripeness and produce a rich, involving and structured red wine. Meanwhile, the Mariafeld clones, which originate from Switzerland, are incorporated by Stanlake Park to produce a darker, black fruit-focussed expression.

My Wine of the Month was a difficult call, as this was yet another strong line-up. I was immensely impressed with Woodchester Valley’s Pinot Noir 2018 (£24.00) and its almost new-world richness. And then there was also Hush Heath’s Suitcase Pinot Noir (£34.99) which stunned with its elegance and wonderful textures. Ultimately, I felt these were both exceptional examples of Pinot Noir, so I’ve named them both Wines of the Month.

Hush Heath also struck a chord with their brilliant Balfour Nouveau 2020 (£20.00) – England’s take on Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s vivid, vibrant and intense and oh-so drinkable. Gusbourne Boot Hill 2018 (£35.00) and Davenport Diamond Fields 2019 (£20.99) impress once again, as does Hoffmann & Rathbone’s NV2 (£21.00). And I finish the selection with a duo of darker, spicier expressions from Stanlake Park (£19.99) and Denbies Wine Estate (£25.00).

Hush Heath Suitcase Pinot Noir 2018

WINE OF THE MONTH

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Kent

This new entry into Hush Heath’s Winemaker’s Collection, due out early December, takes its name from the lauded Dijon 828 and 777 clones of Pinot Noir, which were allegedly smuggled in suitcases out of Burgundy and into the US in the ’60s.

Deceivingly light in complexion, the nose is immense, complex, nuanced and beguiling, with a mixture of dried cranberries, black cherry, winter berries, dried herbs, cured meat and toasted oak. Just what are you about to let yourself in for?

If the nose was a stellar first act compared to the wine’s questionable appearance, it’s the second act where it really flourishes. There’s tangy redcurrant, raspberry and cherry notes upfront, before a swift transition to a smooth, gamey, savoury and red berry compote mid-taste. The mouthfeel on this wine is off the chart, and sets itself at the pinnacle of what is possible with English reds.

When one thinks about the potential of complex Pinot and possible grouse, pigeon or duck pairings, this is one of those wines that would really be in its element… Blissful.

Woodchester Valley Pinot Noir 2018

WINE OF THE MONTH

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Cotswolds

It’s been fascinating to watch Woodchester Valley’s emergence as one of England’s premier still winemakers. Jeremy Mount has a knack for extracting bags of flavour and concentration from his Cotswold fruit – and that shows in spades in this 2018 vintage. He uses a combination of Burgundy and Germany Pinot Noir clones to produce an incredibly expressive and delicious red wine; the wine was aged in a combination of new and three-year-old oak barrels.

The nose: wow, does it make an impression with notes of ripe cherry, hints of bramble fruit, vanilla, dark chocolate and crushed black pepper. It’s intense and bright.

And to taste? The Woodchester has a generosity that is almost as much New World as it is Cool Climate. There’s ripe kirsch cherry, strawberry and raspberry, hints of plums, but that is all cut through rather efficiently with a burst of tangy cranberry acidity.

With understated spice and vanilla on the finish, it’s impeccably structured and so very drinkable. And the really exciting part? This is going to be even better in a year or two… Another standout from this selection.

Hush Heath Balfour Nouveau 2020

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Kent

The second of a duo of Pinots from Hush Heath which together show just how far English Pinot has come. The grapes were only picked two months ago, having gone through carbonic maceration and a brief spell in new oak. It’s bold, it’s vivid, and it’s England’s answer to Beaujoulais Nouveau.

The colour is amazingly striking: bright ruby with magenta hints and a punchy nose to match. It’s unquestionably red fruit-focussed, with cherry, raspberry and cranberry aromas, paired with smoky cedarwood spice, violet and floral blossoms.

It’s packed to the brim with tangy, pure red fruit. With all the red berries that the nose promised, the acidity is bright, tingling, almost spritzy. But it’s not overwhelming, as the fruit also has a soft, generous touch. Most commendable, though, is the firm but superbly integrated oak and hit of almost salted-pretzel savouriness.

Gusbourne Boot Hill Pinot Noir 2018

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Kent

This has been the benchmark for English Pinot Noir for quite some time, often combining vibrant red fruit flavours with judicious use of textural oak.

The nose on the 2018 Boot Hill instantly grabs you. Vibrant cherries, raspberry and cherry blossom leap out the glass, with toasted oak and cracked black pepper complexities.

To taste, there’s a fusion of jammy, ripe red berries and taut, tangy cranberry; the acidity is lively and punchy, and does need a bit more time to settle down. The oak is less pronounced than the nose suggests, intermingling nicely with a light tannic chew on the finish.

Overall, this is hugely enjoyable, however you can’t help but feel this will not hit its drinking stride for a good few more years.

Davenport Diamond Fields 2019

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Sussex/Kent

Another younger release, Davenport’s follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2018 was released just last week. This 2019 spent nine months in old oak, was bottled without filtration and was made from Burgundy clone Pinot grown in Kent. Davenport is a fully organic certified producer, and the winery is just across the border in Sussex.

Another beautifully ruby-hued wine, this wine has characteristic aromas of wild cherry and raspberry as well as bramble fruits and a twist of spice and dried herbs.

The palate opens with crunchy, youthful, tangy cranberry and winter berries, with hints of dark chocolate or mocha to follow. It’s not quite as generous as the 2018 wines, and there’s a slight austerity to the fruit. However, overall this is another strong effort from Davenport which I feel will benefit from another year or two in bottle.

Stanlake Park Pinot Noir 2018

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Berkshire

This is one of the deeper-hued Pinots (using Swiss Mariafied clones in this case) in this line-up.

Deep ruby, with almost a hint of brick red, its nose is rounded and moody with a mixture of black cherry, blackcurrant and tobacco spiced notes suggesting a prominence of oak.

The palate is rounded and composed and it feels a little softer compared to some of the other ‘18s – making it preferable if you plan to drink imminently. It’s not as fruit-forward as the nose suggests; there’s a delicacy to the ripe cherry-focussed flavours and light tannic structure, and the oak integrates very nicely. There are slightly jammy notes, with a smoky, spicy backbone.

Denbies Vineyard Select Pinot Noir 2018

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Surrey

Only made in years when select Pinot blocks produce the very best fruit, this is another strong offering from Denbies Vineyard Select Range. Aged for 17 months in used French oak, this is another intense and spicy expression.

There’s kirsch cherry, dark chocolate and dried cranberry on the nose, with a generous helping of vanilla spice and quite prominent oak.

The palate is less heavy than the nose suggested – there are sour cherry and ripe raspberry flavours, backed by dark chocolate and a crushed peppery spice.

Hoffmann & Rathbone Pinot Noir NV2

Grapes: Pinot Noir
Region: Sussex

Is this one of the most mysterious and exclusive English wine brands? Hoffmann & Rathbone is the brainchild of veteran English winemaker, Ulrich Hoffmann. This is his second HR Pinot Noir, and is a blend of a third each of 2017, ‘18 and ‘19 fruit, all from the same single vineyard.

On the nose this somehow feels both pretty and moody. Floral hues and fragrant cherries are partnered with peppery spice, forest floor and spiced woody notes.

To taste, this is quite a contrast to the fruit-forward examples in this line-up. There’s a really developed savoury element to the HR, with its earthy, almost meaty and cedarwood spice. The fruit is on the darker side of cherry, perhaps bordering on lean, but this wine is all about the fine tannin, savoury textures and structure.

Posted in Monthly Round-Up.

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