Great British Wine Pinot Noir Tasting



Following on from our immensely successful and thoroughly eye-opening Bacchus tasting at the end of summer last year, we continue our series of spotlight tasting features with Pinot Noir.

Pinot Noir is a grape that has been crucial to the UK, with it being one of the holy trinity of traditional method 'Champagne' grapes alongside Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. But the grape enjoys profound success on its own all around the world, from the legendary prized wines of Burgundy to the cooler climate success of New Zealand’s Central Otago and Marlborough. Pinot Noir is the 10th most planted grape in the world (source: Wine Folly) and the second most grown grape variety in England. Whilst domestically most of the juice from the Pinot will end up in a Classic Cuvée sparkling blend, a rosé (still or sparkling) or perhaps even a Blanc de Noirs, the grape’s popularity as a single varietal still wine is starting to increase, and some examples in the line-up have won critical acclaim already.

It’s not an easy task to grow Pinot Noir in the UK with the intention of producing a still wine, particularly a red still wine. Our challenging and cooler than usual climate means that only in great vintages will the vines yield a grape with the required ripeness, concentration and sugar levels to make a decent red Pinot Noir. The end result can be thin and uninspiring, but an increasing number of delicate, precise Pinot-based wines are starting to appear, with evocative notes of English summer berry pudding, gentle floral character and even a subtle lick of oak.

And what about White Pinot Noir? If it can be done in sparkling wines, why not still wines? The extraction of the Pinot Noir grape juice with gentle pressing and no skin contact during fermentation results in a strikingly distinctive take on Pinot Noir. In these situations, the grape’s character is strong enough to handle significant implementation of oak ageing. Based on thorough tasting we believe the results are a staggering elevation – a wine of white Burgundy-like complexity, structured by oak but seasoned with the slightest hint of red fruit character. Could White Pinot be the still wine trend to really put our domestic still wines on the map?

And finally we have the lesser known variety of Pinot Noir Précoce, a French word which directly translates as ‘precocious’, or as we sometimes call it in England, ‘Pinot Noir Early’. This early ripening mutation is popular in Germany, where it is known as Frühburgunder, and can ripen around two to three weeks sooner than the standard variety. This gives the winemaker increased flexibility to either harvest earlier to avoid later harvest disease, or have an elongated ripening period resulting in riper grapes even when the weather is not ideal and, crucially, a higher potential alcohol level. Of the four examples we tried, they had an approachable character and at least a couple of these demonstrated a real richness and depth that many of the standard English Pinot Noirs can lack.

Our tasting panel consisted of myself and GBW collaborator Robbie Priddle, our partners, plus a couple of close friends. We were also joined by Sumita Sarma, a prolific wine blogger and wine radio show host. We don't taste blind - instead opting for a structured but social tasting approach, giving us the opportunity to discuss the wines and regional differences, and test out potential food pairings.




REGION: West Sussex   RRP: £14.95

About the Winemaker: A deliberately small, family owned estate of 26 acres, headed by Alison Nightingale and based in West Sussex.

Whilst labelled as a White Pinot, this wine has a surprising colour of pale salmon – it’s more blush rosé than white wine, but the delightful hue sets the tone for a wine that is colourful and playful throughout.

The nose is quite lively, very reminiscent of English summer fruit, with fresh raspberries, red apple and cherry.

To taste, this was the freshest of the whites that we tried – a striking persistent lime citrus acidity really cuts through and demands attention. Then those red berry flavours take hold: tangy raspberry and redcurrant mixed with smoother strawberry notes. Slight mineral and floral notes on the finish.

Where to Buy: Albourne Estate, Hawkins Bros



REGION: Kent   RRP: £N/A

About the Winemaker: The Mount is a 10 acre-vineyard that was planted in 2004 in Shoreham, Kent. Wines are produced by Litmus Wines in Surrey.

An unoaked White Pinot that is the first of quite a few wines in our line-up to be produced in Dorking by Litmus Wines.

The wine has an inviting bronzed gold colour in the glass. There's a light but aromatic nose, wafts of orchard fruit and melon with honeysuckle floral notes.

It’s very pleasing on the palate, with a crisp bite upfront and tang of crisp green apple. There’s quite a citrus zing throughout, but there’s also a slight sweetness to the finish, which adds a little weight. A little straightforward, but enjoyable for its clean clarity of expression.

Where to Buy: New Vintage Available Soon



REGION: Sussex   RRP: £15.99

About the Winemaker: Based just outside East Grinstead with 15 acres of vines covering sparkling and still varieties. Winemaking headed by the familiar face of Owen Elias.

This wine has a noticeable golden colour with subtle warm pink hues, Robbie described it best as a ‘Golden Pinot’.

The Kingscote is incredibly well structured, beginning with a lively acidity and initial citrus and tangy apple notes. There is a sumptuous and full mid-taste with rich flavours of yellow peach and just the slightest hint of red berry character.

Layered complexity combined with superb length and a nice bit of weight in the mouthfeel – this wine was universally enjoyed.

Where to Buy: Kingscote Estate



REGION: Essex   RRP: £21.75

About the Winemaker: Established in 2008, Martin’s Lane is a grower-producer with currently 18 acres under vine in the River Crouch estuary, Essex.

The first of the oaked White Pinots we tasted, both of these again handled by Litmus Wines.

The Martin’s Lane presents itself with a curiously diverse nose. Many picked up on quite a distinctive savoury character of feta cheese, with baked apple and warm toasty vanilla.

To taste, the wine was again a flavour sensation, with its White Burgundy weight and expressions of baked apple and apricot. There's rich vanilla and toasty undertones with nutty and savoury flavours showing through. Perhaps most fascinating was the red berry character that develops on the lengthy finish.

This has such a distinctive style compared to the first three wines, with some slightly funky savoury notes – it was a wonderful pairing to pulled pork and stuffing.

Where to Buy: Martin's Lane



REGION: Surrey   RRP: £22.00

About the Winemaker: Litmus Wines is run by John Worontschak, Mike Florence and Matthieu Elzinga, and they are based at Denbies in Surrey. They focus on premium still English wines of distinction.

Much like the Martin’s Lane, this wine has a wonderfully complex character that seems to develop with each and every sip.

The nose was slightly fresher, again with baked apple and apricot aromas and that gentle warming spiced vanilla. The palate was consistent with the nose, but also introduced a layer of smokiness.

The structure on this wine really impressed – as it paired the wonderful weight and oily textures with a striking cutting acidity.

This is distinctive and elegant – a rather excellent and balanced wine.

Where to Buy: Litmus Wines, Marks & Spencer



REGION: Kent   RRP: £19.00

About the Winemaker: Famed for their vintage sparkling wines, winemakers Owen Elias & Victoria Ash have turned a few heads with their precise and expressive still wines.

This is very light in colour and complexion, with pale red hues and transparency. These looks deceive and hide a charismatic and distinctively fresh English Pinot.

The nose is hugely aromatic, with potent aromas of freshly picked raspberry, cranberry and red cherry as well as a slight hint of sweet vanilla.

The palate brought much of the same expressive red fruit led character. It's light but super juicy but with delicate hints of pepper and earth and a slight silky texture.

A personal favourite of mine for its contrasting qualities and expressive character, but all agreed it was charismatic overall and rather lovely!

Where to Buy: Hush Heath


REGION: Wiltshire   RRP: £17.00

About the Winemaker: A family run vineyard, planted in 2001 with a strong focus on Pinot Noir, accounting for around 65% of the vineyard.

This wine initially appealed with its red berry aromas of raspberry and cherry, accompanied by notes of spice and pepper.

The palate, however, let the experience down, as the initially bright red fruit character quickly became overpowered by an overly tangy and sour mouthfeel.

Overall this wine felt out of balance, with high acidity but not enough alcohol to support it.

Where to Buy: a'Becketts


REGION: Surrey   RRP: £16.95

About the Winemaker: Denbies Estate is based in Dorking, Surrey and has a huge 265 acres of land under vine. The wines are made on site by Litmus Wines.

Despite having a relatively pale complexion, the wine opens up with a rich, intensely spiced nose of black pepper with raspberry and cherry.

Vibrant acidity carries a fusion of dark and red berry flavours, underpinned by notes of toasted spice and crushed black pepper.

The flavours were great, though the wine would have greatly benefitted from some more pronounced tannins as the finish was short and left us longing for more structure.

Where to Buy: Denbies


REGION: Kent   RRP: £21.99

About the Winemaker: Producer of world-class sparkling wines, but also two of England’s most mature still wine offerings. Under the winemaking helm of Charlie Holland, Gusbourne continue to go from strength to strength.

In the glass this exhibited a slightly more brick red colour, and teased us with its deep aromas of cherry, damp earth and hints of savoury and dark chocolate.

To taste, the wine continued to impress with a delicately balanced acidity and precise red cherry, raspberry and black fruit, an expressive but poised style.

Incredible well-structured palate made this wine stand out – a thoughtful use of oak added texture, rather than masked flavour. The silky gently tannin will help this to mature and integrate further in the coming years.

Where to Buy: Hennings


REGION: Surrey   RRP: £30.00

About the Winemaker: Litmus Wines is run by John Worontschak, Mike Florence and Matthieu Elzinga, and based Denbies in Surrey. They focus on premium still English wines of distinction.

The last of the Litmus produced wines that we tasted, and perhaps the wine that appeared to divide the most opinion.

The Litmus impressed with its almost Burgundian aromas of mature cherry, floral tones and toasted spice.

The palate split the opinion, as the oak and tannin was seen by some to dominate the fresher fruity character. Certainly a richer and bold approach to making an English Pinot, and it’s worth noting that we tried this pre-release as it will inevitably mellow out with more time in the bottle.

Where to Buy: Litmus Wines



REGION: Devon   RRP: £15.95

About the Winemaker: Based on a 1,000 year old farm in South Devon, Sharpham is a specialist producer of both Wine & Cheese. Winemaker Duncan Schwab has been with Sharpham since 1992.

The first of two wines from Sharpham and the first 100% Pinot Noir Précoce in our tasting. There are pleasing garnet/ruby red colour with vibrant red fruit aromas of raspberry and cherry.

This is a very fruit-focussed wine, with ripe raspberry flavours and an underlying cranberry or redcurrant tang. The wine is oak-aged, but the oak is nowhere near as profound as in the Litmus & Denbies that preceded it.

Certainly a pleasurable wine – fruit-focussed, vibrant and crowd-pleasing in its appeal.

Where to Buy: Sharpham


REGION: Devon   RRP: £23.95

About the Winemaker: Based on a 1,000 year old farm in South Devon, Sharpham is a specialist producer of both Wine & Cheese. Winemaker Duncan Schwab has been with Sharpham since 1992.

One of the most expensive wine in the whole line-up, but also a significant step up in quality and complexity from the Sharpham Red.

This wine had a very mature nose, with less red fruit focus and more of a stewed black fruit and plums character, savoury complexity and hints of raisined fruit.

The flavour profile was deep and dark. Brighter notes of raspberry partner beautifully with tobacco spice. This wine really stands out and has an unrivalled depth and complexity.

Where to Buy: Sharpham


REGION: Worcestershire/Herefordshire   RRP: £15.49

About the Winemaker: Sixteen Ridges has vineyards in Worcestershire & Herefordshire and is headed by winemaker Simon Day.

This wine has a really bright nose, with clean raspberry and cherry aromas, a slight floral character and light vanilla notes.

The palate is similarly light and playful: ultra ripe red berry flavours with a smooth silky mouthfeel with slight vanilla and earthy mocha notes. It has bright acidity on the finish.

This is a very accessible and enjoyable English red wine.

Where to Buy: Once Upon a Tree


REGION: Wales   RRP: £20.00

About the Winemaker: Husband and wife team Robb & Nicola Merchant are based in beautiful Monmouthshire. They exhibit a passion and commitment to viticulture and winemaking which shows in their distinctive Welsh wines.

It was great to include a Welsh Pinot in our line-up, and whilst this one split opinion, it was clearly a well-produced and distinctive wine.

It's dark in colour, almost inky with a deep nose: it had aromas of blueberry, dark chocolate and damp earth, with an unusual slightly fortified note.

The palate was similarly intense with its dark fruit and plummy flavours with underlying flavours of red fruit, raisin and woody spice notes. This was dark, moody and diverse!

Where to Buy: Viader Vintners


Much in the vein of last year’s Bacchus tasting, the collective quality of the wines we tasted, outside of a couple of disappointments, was superb. It’s clear that Pinot Noir can produce excellent quality wines in England (and Wales).

Of the 14 wines we tasted, there were six that stood out as the Pinot Noir's to try. These six wines were all either significantly distinctive or capable of competing with internationally produced Pinot Noir. In all, a truly educational journey through English Pinot, and one that demonstrated the continued maturity and evolution in still English winemaking.

Posted in Spotlight Tasting.