Spotlight on Pinot Noir: A Cool Climate Classic
Written by Brian Scott, Hencote’s WSET Level 3 Tour Guide
Pinot Noir is a black grape and one of the most popular and widely planted grape varieties in the world. It is also one of the oldest varieties used in winemaking, dating back to the first century AD and its name is thought to derive from its tightly bunched grape clusters resembling a pinecone. It is also our favourite grape variety, playing a key role in almost all of the wines we produce here at the Hencote Estate in Shropshire.
Pinot Noir is best suited to cool and moderate climates, as it buds and ripens nice and early which certainly helps given our unpredictable English weather. It is very thin skinned (unlike grapes such as Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon) which means it is much harder to extract lots of colour into the wine. This also explains why Pinot Noir wine is usually very pale. But what it loses in colour it gains in flavour and complexity, giving lovely soft, subtle flavours of red fruit, cherries and cranberries. Although a delicate wine, it can age really well as the tannins soften and deepen, more complex flavours emerge.
While delicious on its own, it also pairs really well with food, especially lighter red meats such as duck, lamb and game but also makes an excellent companion to turkey on Christmas day. In fact, the perfect wines to serve on this special day are a Chardonnay for those who prefer white meat and a Pinot Noir for those who prefer dark meat.
However, Pinot Noir is much more than just a red wine grape, being found in all types of wines, sparkling, white, rosé and red. In particular it is one of only three grape varieties permitted for use in the production of Champagne, alongside Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.
In fact, here at Hencote it plays a starring role in six of the eight estate wines we produce, including all three of our sparkling wines.
In our 2020 Evolution, a light pink ‘blush’ wine it is blended with Pinot Meunier, Seyval Blanc and Solaris to give a light, refreshing sparkling wine with lots of red fruit flavour.
Our 2018 Isadora is a rosé sparkling wine made from the three traditional Champagne grape varieties of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Aged for at least 18 months in the bottle, on the lees, this wine gives us those traditional champagne flavours but adds lovely red fruit notes with a hint of sweetness that tempts us to try it alongside a bakewell tart or a cherry pie!
The 2018 LXX is 100% Pinot Noir but is a white sparkling wine, known as a Blanc de Noir, a white wine made from black grapes. That means once the grapes are pressed, the skins are immediately removed from the grape juice to make sure no colour is transferred from the black skins. Aged for a minimum of 36 months in bottle, on the lees, this wine delivers an abundance of those brioche and biscuit flavours so reminiscent of the best champagnes.
Our 3 remaining Pinot Noir wines are all still wines, a rosé and two reds. The 2021 Suzanne rosé is also made from 100% Pinot Noir, a small amount of skin contact giving us that lovely salmon pink colour and flavours of red summer berries.
Our 2021 Mark III red wine is a limited-edition blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir Précoce and Rondo. Gavin our winemaker has carefully blended these complimentary varieties to deliver a wine that has all the flavour and subtlety of the Pinot Noir grape but with a perfectly soft and smooth finish unusual for such a young Pinot Noir wine. A few months of maturation in used oak barrels has adding complexity and a hint of spice.
Finally, we come to our 2021 Amphora Pinot Noir, a very special wine fermented and aged in the Amphora, which are beautiful terracotta vessels made in Florence, Italy. Using 100% Pinot Noir grapes, sourced from the mid-slope of the vineyard where the best winemaking grapes are to be found, the wine benefits from the naturally micro-oxygenating properties of the terracotta Amphora which allows the wine to develop its flavour and complexity without the use of oak barrels, thereby retaining the subtle, natural and we believe, unique characteristics of our Shropshire vineyard.
If you want to try any of these wines, we welcome you to experience them on our wine tour and tastings every Thurs-Sun (event dependent). The other tour guides and myself, look forward to meeting you.