On a damp November evening in 2017, I was privileged to take part in a blind tasting of six Pinot Noir still red wines from around the world, of similar price, from cool climate zones, amongst which were two from Aldwick Court Farm & Vineyard (for present purposes abbreviated to “Aldwick”), from Somerset, England.
The tasting was requested by Sandy Luck and Elizabeth Laver from Aldwick. They sought an impartial objective assessment of their first ever still red wine release made from Pinot Noir grapes. It was arranged by Kelli Coxhead and took place at her wine shop in Winscombe.
Those present included a Master of Wine, and a number of us who are Wine & Spirit Education Trust students at various stages (Levels 1 to 4), as well as regular Wine Shop clientele.
Our task was to assess all six wines blind, and state which were the best and/or our favourites. Once tasted, our tasting notes were collated by Aldwick to maximise the quality of their wines.
I believe it is fair to say that a number of us were out of our comfort zones, being more at home with full bodied reds such as Malbec. Pinot Noir is delicate and needs a great deal of concentration on the part of the taster to appreciate its finer qualities.
For what it is worth, I offer here a summary of my notes on the wines presented:
- Legs on the glass. Typical and inviting Pinot Noir nose of ripe strawberry and farmyard aromas. The palate was of cooked strawberries, the wine lacked body and the finish was short. Acceptable quality.
- No legs on the glass. Light red fruit aromas, especially red cherry and redcurrant. No development aromas, but there was a hint of wood ageing. On the palate the wine was best summarised as summer fruit pudding in a glass. It was very pleasant; although dry, it had a slight tinge of confectionery. The wine had enough body to balance the flavour (unlike 1), and the finish was of medium length. Good quality.
- Legs on the glass. Light aromas of very ripe strawberries, cherry, and leather, the latter evidencing some development. The palate reflected the nose in terms of flavours, and there was balance of body, acidity and tannins. Good with food. However the finish was short. Good quality.
- No legs on the glass. Delicate aromas of strawberry, plum and damson. No development aromas but a hint of wood ageing evident. The palate was fresh, fruity, with an appealing sour cherry edge. This wine had tannic structure and defined flavours balanced by a juicy acidity. The finish was long. The only element lacking was complexity. It found favour with many on my table. Very good quality.
- Legs on the glass. Pronounced strawberry and plum jam aromas, and a floral note, possibly violets. Also a bit cheesy. It reminded me of a Beaujolais in that there was a tinned strawberry profile. The palate reflected the nose in terms of flavours, and there seemed to be high alcohol content and tannins so it was at least medium bodied. The finish was long, but it was a very jammy wine which appealed to some, but which in my view was so jammy that it was a tad too much so not totally balanced. This can be an issue for Pinot Noir grown in warm climates. Good quality.
- Garnet and very leggy on the glass. A delicate developed nose of leather, straw and prune. The palate gave tongue tingling alcohol, cooked strawberry, and and an array of Burgundian developed flavours including leather, farmyard, fig and prune. It evolved and had a long finish. It was a classy glass. By this I mean that the balance of tannins, acidity, body and flavour were spot on, it had a wide flavour profile which was complex and a long evolving finish. The flavours, though delicate, were defined and built up, especially on the second taste. The only element lacking was fresh fruitiness, which meant this wine divided the room. In my opinion, very good quality at the top end of that bracket.
So which were the Aldwicks? I believed that 2 and 4 were English – due mainly to distinctly lower alcohol levels. However, I wasn’t sure whether 4 might instead be from central Europe e.g. south Germany or Austria due to its sour cherry edge, which I always enjoy, and which makes Blaufrankisch wines so appealing to me.
Around the room, wines 4 and 6 were generally thought to be of the highest quality. Wine 1 did not seem to have many fans. Some were very keen on wine 2, with its summer fruit pudding charm and light bodied style. The upfront New World character of wine 5 suited some of us better, and others also enjoyed wine 3 which was a sound fruity and food friendly choice.
What was of note was the fact that only wine 1 seemed to be rather lacking. The rest were generally well received. On my table, no one was heard to pinpoint a wine as obviously English because it wasn’t as good as the others. In short, there was a Pinot Noir for everyone.
So here is a list of where the wines were from (drumroll please….):
- German – 2014
- Aldwick – 2015 (filtered)
- New Zealand (Central Otago) – 2015
- Aldwick – 2015 (unfiltered)
- Chile, cool coastal zone – 2015
- South Africa (Elgin) – 2014
Elizabeth explained the technical details for the Aldwicks, and my blog would be a learned tome indeed were it to include everything she taught us. What I noted in particular was that Elizabeth knew the wines would benefit from some oak ageing, but oak should be “barely there” (my words not hers) lest the fruit be dwarfed by the oak.
In order to find the right barrels for the maturation process, and after much research, our intrepid vineyard heroines enlisted the assistance of Bob & Liz Reeves and set off for the Maconnais. After what sounds like an exercise in diplomacy from which our Government’s Brexit negotiators might learn, one white wine barrel and one red wine barrel (both 228 litres, both 3 years old) made their way back to Somerset – yes, white wine – so the flavours from the barrel would be subtle and not overpower the fruit flavours.
An experiment then began. Some wine was aged in stainless steel (disappointing apparently), some in the white wine barrel, and some in the red wine barrel. Upon receiving additional expert input, the wine from the stainless steel was transferred into the white and red wine barrels and then blended, but this time, upon advice, it was not filtered.
Both the filtered and unfiltered wines were oak aged for 5 months only. Both were blended from wine aged in both the white and red wine barrels. The result – the unfiltered triumphed, a result reflected in our tasting.
Only time will tell whether 9 November 2017 and The Judgement of Winscombe will be viewed by wine historians as an English red wine watershed moment. However, in my view, this tasting demonstrated that Somerset Pinot Noir still red wine production has come of age. I feel a sense of smug satisfaction that we, the wine lovers of Winscombe, were there to bear witness.
Declaration of interest – I am a volunteer picker for Aldwick – but I did not pick these grapes – only the best pickers were allowed anywhere near them!
Post Script: A surprising number of my fellow tasters apparently detected “Christmas spices”, notably cinnamon and nutmeg in the Aldwicks. Their 2017 red wine from Regent grapes apparently has very distinct Christmas spice aromas. Maybe this is a unique reflection of Aldwick’s terroir!