I could not have written this article five years ago. While I have been tracking the progress of English and Welsh wines for more than three decades, the advent of balanced, world-class red wine is a very recent phenomenon.
Weedy, pale, raw reds were the norm and while it was clear that every effort was being made to ripen the grapes and to try to bring some semblance of drinkability to their perfumes and palates, successful wines were conspicuous by their absence.
Over the last few years a couple of wines have surged ahead of the pack offering aromas which stir the senses and flavours you can grab hold of. Decent red wine production has somewhat mirrored decent sparkling rosé production and it is no surprise that if you can make a juicy Pinot noir for rosé additions then you stand a good chance of being able to bottle a similar wine as a standalone red.
I am cheered by some of the 100% Pinot Noir successes on the shelves, but I have not given up on the tried-but-failed red grape varieties of the past. In brave, modern blends some of these unfamiliar varieties still soldier on and a few still manage to catch my eye. Rather nostalgically, I am proud to say that both Rondo and Regent appear in my list of wines this month.
The main issues surrounding the production of top red wines are the pitifully small volumes and the prices, which are invariable rather high. While still red wine yields will inevitably be encouraged, and prices might soften a touch, this style of wine is never going to be a mainstay in our industry until climate change takes a much stronger grip on our viticulture.
As with great reds from anywhere in the world, I applaud ripe fruit, confident aromatics and complete palates and I think it is worth noting down a few wines, which could easily have sat alongside my chosen three on the page opposite.
Chapel Down’s 2014 Pinot Noir (£15.99) was the oldest vintage wine to pass muster, and this alone dates the transition vintage, in my mind, when we moved from wines to avoid, to new style red wines to embrace. The colour is a little dull and the nose a little vegetal but, all in all, this is a thoroughly respectable red wine.
The 2017 Foxhole Vineyard Pinot Noir from Bolney Estate (£22.99) is a young beauty, a little pale to be a fully-fledged red wine, but balanced, smooth and with accurate, kindly Pinot fruit.
Lyme Bay’s 2016 Pinot noir (£21.99) ramps up the drama a notch with honed, mulberry-tinged fruit, a silky finish and also a welcome grip of acid to add a ‘full stop’ to the experience.
The NV Aldwick Estate, Flying Pig (£14.50) shows just how delicious Pinot noir can be when it is boosted with 30% Regent. A self-confessed, vin de soif, it reminds me of an old-fashioned Parisian bistro jug wine which might have been a vibrant Chinon, or indeed a cheeky Fleurie, but customers didn’t really care because it tasted so refreshing and rewarding.
A new dawn has signaled not just one or two, but a goodly crop of terrific red wines on our shelves this autumn and we should support their pioneering efforts.
2016 Gusbourne Pinot Noir
Boot Hill Vineyard
I know that this is an expensive wine (£4 dearer than last year’s vintage!) and I hold my hands up and say that I would only ever consider shelling out this much cash for special occasions. Having said this, Boot Hill Vineyard has given us yet another superlative wine. Unlike virtually all other Pinots in the country, this wine can support genuine tannins and this is because it is built of robust raw materials. Thanks to largely decent weather conditions in 2016, 50% of the fruit was dropped in an effort to intensify the flavour and concentration of this wine. It has worked a treat. Fortunate to have a long hanging time on the vine, the harvest was 100% destemmed and the eight months spent in barrique doesn’t seemed to have dampened its ardour too much either. With a swarthy, confident air, this is one of the first Pinots to show classical structure as opposed to just gratifying immediacy and for this I applaud it. More please – wine, not price hikes!
2017 Pinot Noir
Sharpham’s wines often turn out to be oddly guilty pleasures. The prices are never too dear, expectation is always set at a reasonable, not challenging level, the labels are a little homemade and the flavours have one quaint foot in the past and one or two toes in the present, preferring to leave the future to others. I could bully them unfairly in my write-ups if I felt like it but for some reason I always end up nodding my head in approval, smiling, going back for another sip and writing a discreetly commendatory note. Not so with the 2017 Sharpham Pinot. The new label is eye-catching and edgy, the screwcap is welcomed with open arms and the aromatics leap out of the glass and actively seek you out. The flavour is vibrant, cherry-soaked, the definition of its variety no less, and the finish is crunchy and modern with tension and excitement. Everything has changed here including the price – it has come down a pound! The exchange rate between Gusbourne and Sharpham is virtually two to one. I will never look at this vineyard through rose tinted spectacles again – they now mean business and with wines like this they have locked horns with the big boys. I expect customers to be queuing down the street for this wine.
2017 Tytherton Red
Maud Heath Vineyard
Released for sale on 31 October, this is without doubt the most successful red blend I have ever tasted from within our shores. Made from 56% Rondo and 44% Pinot noir and gently aged in three to five-year-old French oak barrels for five months, this wine has been born with perfect balance. Rondo is the star here, adding some depth and muscle to its pretty Pinot partner and this extra level of richness and spice brings a faint Syrah-esque attraction to the whole. While many wines are proud of their Pinot component, rightly prizing its rarity and efforts in the glass, this wine parades Rondo’s largesse and gentility and other wineries should take note. No matter how much I personally adore the Pinot noir grape, I crave other varieties with alarming regularity. Tytherton Red gives us all a chance to taste something a little different and I have a feeling that it will blaze a trail for many to follow.