Tasting T2.4 English Pinot Noir

After tasting T2.3 English Chardonnay, I was feeling a little trepidatious of this tasting. Whilst the Chardonnays were interesting they were also quite expensive compared with their French equivalents and did not offer the depth and quality that the French wines offered at often a much cheaper price point.

Pinot Noir is also not an easy vine to grow and to transfer its beauty into the wine glass from young vines has proven to be an extremely difficult task around the world. A task that has taken many areas many years to get to grips with. New Zealand, Oregon and South Africa all produce some great quality wines now, but it did take time. 

So why is Pinot Noir such a difficult grape to cultivate?

As its name translates to ‘Pine’ and ‘Black’, our first clue is in the first word ‘Pine’ which is descriptive and alludes to the tight clusters of pinecone-shaped bunches of grapes that hang on the vine.  

This then makes the fruit susceptible to a variety of issues mainly around rot. This in turn will be mitigated by good and often intensive canopy management, i.e. the clearing of leaves to get enough air circulation around the fruit.

Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape which also makes it susceptible to bunch rot and similar fungal diseases and the vines themselves are susceptible to mildew, leaf roll and fanleaf viruses.

In the vineyard it is also sensitive to wind and frost and cropping levels, as it must be low yielding to make quality wines. Further it is sensitive to soil types and to different pruning techniques.

In the winery, it is sensitive to fermentation methods and yeast strains.

So why on earth would you bother to plant it?

Well quite apart from all these issues, it is also highly reflective of its terroir thus expressing itself wonderfully from the different areas in which it is grown.

Its thin skin enables it to ripen, albeit slowly in the cooler climates where those power houses of red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo and Malbec, for example, simply cannot. Yet it can still manage to produce deep powerful and deeply age-worthy wines of intense finesse and a fantastic ability to develop in the bottle.

Quite simply when shown anywhere near its best it is a hedonist’s dream of a wine. It has been said that Bordeaux drinkers (slim like their bottles) enjoy collecting labels and Burgundy (the best iteration of the Pinot Noir grape) drinkers are more rounded (like their bottles) and lovers of good food, wine and company. I tend to lean towards the latter… quite heavily.

Having therefore watched the New Zealand, Oregon and South African wine regions of expert growers with years of experience of their vineyards and wine making skills, spend many years slowly getting to a really nice (yet still local) version of Pinot Noir. I was not expecting a lot from this tasting, especially when I read in a few vineyards information that their vines were planted under 10 years ago.

Whilst I do not want you to get over-excited, I was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps I had not given enough thought to the knowledge that Pinot Noir is a major grape of the very successful and much awarded English Sparkling Wine revolution.

The growers already had a good working knowledge of many of their sites and had at least understood the many difficulties in growing the Pinot Noir vines and handling it in the cellar.

It is fair that producing a drinkable red Pinot Noir wine is very different to the more acidic version produced for the Sparkling wine industry but knowledge has been gained and it is good to see.

I love Pinot Noir, and I look forward to further developments in this grape variety right here at home!

The wineries are:

The Bolney Estate

In 1972 Janet and Rodney Pratt established some acres of land where they looked to plant vines. By 1973 the land was ready and 1,000 vines were planted. This created what was then the sixth commercial vineyard in England. Muller Thurgau was the first variety with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir following on in the 1980's. Over the decades they have won some prestigious awards, most notably UK Wine Producer of the Year in 2012. In the same year their Blanc de Blanc 2007 won Gold at the International Wine and Spirit Competition. 

Balfour Winery

Richard and Leslie Balfour-Lynn planted the first vines in 2002 on the Hush Heath Estate. In 2007 their 2004 Balfour Brut Rose won a gold medal and trophy at the International Wine Challenge. Balfour was firmly an English favourite on the wine map. Since their early success they have continued to produce great wines and were the only English winery to be served at the London Olympics in 2012. 

Simpsons Wine Estate

Charles and Ruth Simpson purchased Domaine de Sainte Rose in the Languedoc region of France in 2002. They have produced some fantastic wines there which have won many awards. When the opportunity to come back to England and produce wine in Kent arrived they could hardly turn it down. In 2012 they decided to open Simpsons Wine Estate where they planted Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. Both white, red and sparkling wines are made here with huge success. They have 30 hectares of production now and are producing some beautiful wines. 

Danbury Ridge Wine Estate

Michael and Heather Bunker founded Danbury Ridge with their daughters Janine and Sophie where the first vines were planted in 2014. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were planted here at Danbury Ridge just southeast of the village of Danbury in Essex. The Estate only makes two wines from the two grape varieties planted and great accolades have been pouring through ever since.

Litmus Wine

John Worontschak came from Australia in the 1980’s where he established a contract winemaking company. He received grapes from all over the country and made award winning wines. He then proceeded to consult on wines all over the world and returned to the UK just as the sparkling wine industry was taking off. John however was much more interested in the ability of producing still wine and thus in 2010 the first Litmus Element 20 was made. From then on he has pioneered to create exquisite, different wines with large success.


Andrew Weeber planted the first vines in 2004 at Gusbourne. They have 60 hectares in Appledore, Kent and 30 hectares next to the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex. Predominantly Burgundian clones of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay were planted. Since 2010 they have won many prestigious awards and continue to win accolades every year since.

Tonight’s wines will be tasted by David, Harry, Kim and Jen.

1st up is…

The Bolney Estate Estate Pinot Noir 2020

Cold soaked prior to fermentation. After fermentation the wine then underwent malolactic fermentation. A small quantity of the wine was transferred to oak and matured before blending and filtration.

Note: Very vegetal and herbaceous on the nose, lots of mushrooms and forest floor. Light body and extremely smooth. Good embedded tannins with nice acidity, quite sour on the end with cherries coming through. Overall a very nice and easy wine.

Balfour Hush Heath Estate Luke’s Pinot Noir 2020

Lightly oaked with both French and American oak barrels playing a part.

Note: Cherries, raspberries and vegetation opens up a lovely nose. This is very close to a Burgundian Pinot. Really good acidity and the body has lovely embedded tannins. Really good depth of fruit with leather and herbaceous notes bringing round a really nice medium length finish.

Simpsons Wine Estate Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2020

Grapes were gently pumped over once a day for two weeks. Once fermentation was complete the wine was drained and put into 2 year old French oak barrels, then malolactic fermentation took place. Four months of ageing in barrels.

Note: Forest floor with strong red fruit aromas nicely coming to the forefront. An extremely smooth body again with lovely integrated tannins. Cherries and strawberries very much dominant on the palate with leather, soil and forest floor prominent. Good high acidity and a lovely long finish. A really great Pinot Noir.

Danbury Ridge Wine Estate Pinot Noir 2019

Destemmed and gravity fed into open-top oak fermenters for 3-5 days. Wine was then transferred to French oak barrels for malolactic fermentation, battonage and 10 months of ageing.

Note: Kirsch, cherries and raspberries, a very good fruit profile here. Nice forest floor coming through with vegetal notes as well. Firm tannins present here but developing nicely, medium bodied with great acidity running through. Leather and dried fruits complimenting the lovely long finish. A really good wine from this estate.

Litmus Red Pinot 2018

Cold soaked prior to fermentation and spent 19 months in one to five year old barriques before bottling.

Note: Gorgeous red fruits, strawberries, cherries and blue raspberries. Intense fruit aromas and forest floor nicely giving some depth of flavour. A good medium body with fine integrated tannins. This is a very well made wine. Really good depth with fine structure and good balance between all characteristics. Absolutely cracking.

Gusbourne Boot Hill Pinot Noir 2018

100% destemmed and cold soaked for 5 days. Fermentation takes place on the skins for 14 days in stainless steel tanks. 

Note: Intense dried red fruits, with leather and herbaceous notes. Really smooth and luscious body, good fine integrated tannins. This is drinking beautifully. Some good notes of forest floor and leather fleshing out the body and this is the best example of a Burgundian Pinot Noir that we have tried in this tasting. Absolutely great structure and the depth of flavour is fantastic. A gorgeously long finish to round out a very good (and surprising) tasting!


This was a great surprise and I was extremely impressed. The fact that we managed to taste some wines that reminded us of Burgundian Pinot Noirs was really amazing. I will certainly be looking at more offerings from the UK still wine market as time moves forward. I think we can only get better wines being made with more time and certainly more producers will look to come here. Definitely watch this space!!

The scores:

Estate Pinot Noir 2020 – 85 Points

Luke’s Pinot Noir 2020 – 88 Points

Rabbit Hole Pinot Noir 2020 – 92 Points

Danbury Ridge Pinot Noir 2019 – 92 Points

Red Pinot 2018 – 93 Points

Boot Hill Pinot Noir 2018 – 95 Points

Thank you all for reading dears! We shall sadly not be back next week but in two weeks’ time we’ll have a lovely Riesling article for you to read!

See you soon 😉

David & Harry

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