Enjoying the character of Bolney’s pinot noir

Peter Ranscombe gets a rare chance to compare four vintages of English pinot noir from the Bolney Estate in Sussex.

DRINKING the same bottle of supermarket wine week after week can sometimes make it easy to forget how much the taste of a wine can vary from year to year.

Big producers will blend wine from different vineyards – and sometimes from different regions or even from different vintages – to create the same taste and appearance bottle-after-bottle.

It’s for the same reason that most Scotch whisky producers add distillers’ caramel to their bottles – consumers expect the same appearance each time they buy a specific brand.

Yet, when winemaking is conducted on a smaller scale, the nuances of each year or vintage can come shining through.

Sometimes making wine isn’t just about capturing a sense of place, but also about capturing a sense of time; creating a wine that reflects the weather and other growing conditions during a particular vintage.

In relatively-cool French climates like Bordeaux and the Bourgogne, vintage variation can be a big factor for the best wines produced from specific vineyards or even specific plots within vineyards.

Village or regional wines can be blended to give consistency from vintage to vintage, but there’s nowhere to hide when you have a single site – and those characterful elements are what fans and collectors celebrate.

Back in Blighty

The same is true south of the Border in England; the cool climate and changeable weather means not only the size and the quality of the harvest can vary from year-to-year, but also the characteristics of the grapes can be transformed by spells of differing weather patterns.

Those vintage variations were highlighted at a recent tasting organised by the Bolney Estate in the Wine Pantry at Borough market in London, which offered a rare chance to try bottles of pinot noir stretching back over four years.

The newly-released 2016 (£18.99, bolneywineestate.com) had fields full of the classic cool-climate pinot noir stinky damp earth, wet leaves and wood smoke aromas, leading onto much fresher raspberry and strawberry fruity flavours on the palate.

My favourite from the quartet was the 2015, with a much fruiter nose featuring raspberry and strawberry jam, along with subtle spun sugar. The flavours carried through to the mouth, with a great balance between the fruit and the acidity.

Lighter cranberry, strawberry and raspberry flavours were the order of the day in the 2014 (£17.99, T Wright Wine) – which featured in my article earlier this year about English still wines – with much fresher acidity standing out from the fruity elements.

The fruit was much more concentrated again in the 2013 (£19.13, Find Me That Wine), with raspberry and red cherry flavours wrapped in spun sugar and transforming into jammier strawberry and raspberry on the tongue.

Getting the chance to explore the variations in aromas, flavours, fruit concentration and acidity from vintage to vintage was fascinating – such diversity is one of the factors that makes pinot noir my favourite red grape variety.