This month, with the winter weather well and truly out in force and Christmas around the corner, I’ve turned my attention to the somewhat tricky category of English red. Tricky because honestly, it’s not always very good, it often comes at an (increasingly) high price, and when it is great, it sells out quickly. So putting together a selection was a little challenging, as some of the year’s top reds have already sold out. However, this month I have tasted some truly superb red examples. All bar one are made of Pinot Noir and are properly winter-ready examples of English red wine.
On selecting a Wine of the Month, I consciously try to make sure we don’t repeat a producer too often – certainly not more than once a year. However, Danbury Ridge’s Pinot Noir 2019 (£34.00 Grape Britannia) was the stand-out red, and perhaps the stand-out wine for me in November. It’s not easy to find a decent English red from the 2019 vintage, but this isn’t just decent – it is an outstanding Pinot Noir. Keeping things in the challenging vintage of 2019, the Whitehall Pinot Noir 2019 (£19.99) also impressed with its richness and spice. It’s got surprising body, helped by a subtle sprinkling of Rondo for extra depth. Speaking of Rondo, it’s answering its naysayers (I’m one of them) in Dunleavy’s Sparkling Red 2019 (£29.99) – a superbly made, refreshing and lively example of bubbly red wine.
On the younger side, my pick of the 2020 reds were the Balfour Luke’s Pinot Noir 2020 (£23.99 – Grape Britannia) and Artelium Artefact #1 Pinot Noir (£36.00). Both of these wines impressed; the Balfour’s immediacy makes it immediately gratifying, while the Artelium is moody and spicy, and ultimately will be even better with a couple of years in bottle.
To close things off, I decided to change things up by looking at a couple of my favourite English red past vintages, and I raided the GBW cellars. First up was the Simpson’s Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2018 – their first red, and it’s ageing superbly. And then a wine that I continue to marvel at: the Gusbourne Pinot Noir 2016 which even with five years of ageing has a good few more in it. My advice is to stock up on great English Pinot Noir when you find it, and lay some down when you get the chance!
Danbury Ridge Pinot Noir 2019
• WINE OF THE MONTH •
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This is the most impressive release from the much-lauded Essex estate yet. Why? Because they have managed to make a world-class Pinot Noir from the 2019 vintage – a year that I have found generally a little lacklustre for still Pinot Noir (and Chardonnay), especially compared to the warm 2018.
But even immediately on opening, this wine leapt out of the glass with youthful exuberance. There are aromas of cherry, strawberry, raspberry and floral hints, with a lick of vanilla and dry earth.
Structurally, this Pinot was the stand-out. The fruit is superbly defined with all those red berries and some deeper black fruit tones. There’s also a soft, supple smoothness that is incredibly rare to find in the 2019 vintage. There are black pepper and graphite notes on the finish that add texture, along with fine tannins.
Usually, I would say I can’t wait to see how this ages, but this wine is drinking so superbly now that I don’t think it will be hanging around in my cellar for long enough.
Balfour Luke’s Pinot Noir 2020
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This red wine from Balfour’s core wine range is made from Burgundian clone Pinot Noir that is aged in French and American oak. I think it’s the best red from Balfour to date outside of their limited Winemaker’s Collection range.
The aromas are classic cool climate Pinot, with cherry, redcurrant and cranberry, as well as a lick of vanilla and winter berry, and a floral charm.
To taste, there’s plenty of tangy red fruit, with redcurrant, cranberry and raspberry up front. It’s fresh and youthful, but there’s a warming darker cherry mid-taste, together with welcoming vanilla. The tannins are fine, and the wine finishes on a light truffle savoury note – immensely drinkable already.
It’s the most ready-to-drink English Pinot Noir I’ve tasted from 2020 – top work from Fergus and the team at Balfour.
Artelium Artefact #1 Barrel Aged Pinot Noir
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This is a bold expression of Pinot Noir to partner a bold and beautifully coloured label. Artelium worked with Owen Elias at Defined Wines on this deep coloured red from the first harvest from their Streat vineyard last year. The wine was matured in new American and French oak for nine months.
The vibrant ruby and violet hues have a striking depth, and the wine has a matching nose of kirsch cherry, blackcurrant, forest fruit, intense spiced oak and mocha.
The palate is tangy up-front – mostly raspberry and cherry, but leading to darker cherry and spiced notes. Then there are hints of coffee, cinnamon and winter spice; this wine certainly doesn’t shy away from its generous meeting with oak.
Overall, this is a hugely textural wine and one that is bold enough to stand up to hearty winter fare.
Whitehall Pinot Noir 2019
Grapes: Pinot Noir & Rondo
As one of two English red Gold Medal winners at the IEWA 2021, I was keen to sit down and get to know this surprisingly deep Pinot Noir. This Whitehall red was blended with a little (15%) Rondo and was aged in French oak.
On the nose I found lots of black pepper, cherry and raspberry, with hints of cinnamon and winter spices – appropriately festive smelling, I thought.
Whilst there is quite a lot of spiced oak on the palate here, it’s well integrated and supported by ripe, supple berry fruit. Again there are predominately raspberry and cherry flavours, but there’s also some blackberry in there too. The tannins provide ample texture, and there are leafy, savoury undertones that give this red some impressive depth.
Dunleavy Sparkling Red 2020
I was forced to eat my anti-Rondo words earlier this year when I reviewed Dunleavy’s rather tasty Sparkling Red 2018, and this latest vintage, the 2019, goes one step further in making me a (sparkling) Rondo convert. It’s the Somerset producer’s best yet!
The colour is appealingly ruby-hued, but also, pleasingly, not too inky and deep. There are aromas of wild raspberry, damson and a hint of blackcurrant.
What I like about this wine is how brisk and crisp it is – it’s zero dosage and that, combined with a cooler vintage of fruit, makes it a rather refreshing drop. There are crunchy red berries with tangy raspberry and redcurrant and a twist of cherry and black fruit.
This is actually a really accomplished sparkling wine for a wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Simpsons Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2018
Grapes: Pinot Noir
This was a stand-out release from Simpsons and was their first red wine from an estate that never intended to produce still wine, let alone red.
While the recently released Rabbit Hole 2020 is also showing lots of potential, this 2018 feels in its element right now. The nose offers aromas of cranberry, raspberry and blueberry, with black pepper and forest floor.
Rooted somewhere in between classic cool climate Pinot and Burgundy, this is a delicate but thoroughly expressive red. The complexion is light but the fruit is still very bright, with redcurrant, cherry and blueberry flavours. There’s a clear savoury edge, and drying tannin and spice to finish.
Interestingly, the Simpsons have recently launched a super-premium Q Series Pinot Noir, priced at £100 in limited magnum format. I’ve not had a chance to try that yet, but I have it on good authority that it’s up there with the very best English red wines.
Gusbourne Boot Hill Pinot Noir 2016
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Gusbourne was the English producer that made me sit up and take notice of English Pinot Noir. Their 2013 was my first, but this 2016 is, still to this day, my favourite. So I thought it would be a great addition to this round-up as an example of English Pinot with half a decade of age.
The colour has matured to a slightly brick red hue, though the nose remains incredibly perfumed with cherry, raspberry, cracked black pepper and roasted spice at the forefront. There’s definitely suggestions of savoury, almost truffle aromas, but the red fruit remains impeccably vibrant.
I love the palate – this was the best this wine has ever tasted to me. Initially there are tangy redcurrant and cranberry flavours with bright acidity. The mid-taste is softer with cranberry and hints of damson, as well as the peppery spice that the nose promised. The oak feels nicely integrated, and the tannin is still nicely defined; I think this still has a good few years in it.
If you can, track down this older vintage. In my opinion, this is the best red wine that Charlie Holland has made at Gusbourne to date, outside of the exceptional but rare Barrel Selection 2018.
In part two of the April round-up, John tastes through seven diverse sparkling rosé wines.
In the first of a double feature, John rounds up a selection of the best still English rosé wines from the 2022 vintage.
John takes a look at a selection of still and sparkling English Chardonnay.
A look at the 2020 vintage of Danbury Ridge Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Crouch Valley, Essex.
John tastes through seven vintages of Balfour Brut Rosé, including the newly released 2008 Archive Collection.
John tastes through four delicious sparkling wines and two textural 2021 still wines in his October round-up.