Dermot Sugrue, pictured with his dog Nooles is the winemaker for the Wiston Estate Winery, among others (Rob Scott)
Dermot Sugrue, pictured with his dog Nooles is the winemaker for the Wiston Estate Winery, among others (Rob Scott)

Meet the winemaker: Dermot Sugrue, the man who put English sparkling wine on the map

The winemaker shares his favourite wines and how to drink them

Nuria Stylianou
Friday 05 August 2016 11:42
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Dermot Sugrue’s journey to making alcoholic beverages began at the tender age of 15 in Co. Limerick, Ireland. Starting with beer, he swiftly moved onto wine just a year later.

With his passion sparked, fate encouraged him further along the way, when his local archdeacon, the late Brian Snow, gave him a copy of the 1989 book Vintage: The Story of Wine by best-selling wine writer Hugh Johnson. “I digested it ravenously, like fine Claret,” says Sugrue. “I knew I had found my raison d’être... I can still recite entire paragraphs of it by heart today, I read it so many times.”

After completing his degree in viticulture and oenology at the prestigious Plumpton College in East Sussex, Sugrue went on to spend two vintages in the vineyards of Bordeaux – Château L’Eglise-Clinet, in Pomerol and Château Leoville-Barton, in St Julien – followed by a vintage in Champagne some years later at Jacquinot & Fils, and has now staked his claim as one of the top sparkling winemakers in the UK.

We are not talking just any old fizz here. Sugrue is the winemaker for the acclaimed Wiston Estate and Sugrue Pierre, in West Sussex, and for Jenkyn Place vineyard in Hampshire. He played an integral role in putting English sparkling wine on the map, most noticeably in his role as winemaker at Nyetimber, in 2003, which went on to become the benchmark for premium sparkling wines, regularly garnering Gold awards in the Champagne and Sparkling Wine World Championships.

In 2006, he met husband-and-wife team Harry and Pip Goring of Wiston Estate and together, they established a vineyard and winery near the Gorings’ West Sussex home. “It’s an amazing place to make sparkling wine – the chalk soils on the South Downs are perfectly suited [for it].” This is also the spot where, at the foot of the Downs, Sugrue planted a small vineyard to make his own label, Sugrue Pierre. The first vintage, The Trouble with Dreams 2009, was released in 2013 to huge accolades and the 2010 subsequently scored the highest rating ever awarded by Decanter magazine for an English sparkler.

Dermot Sugrue sampling the wine at Wiston Estate Winery in Sussex 

The truth of the saying, “what grows together, goes together” could not be more apparent than in Sugrue's love of food and wine. “The sparkling wines [at Wiston] are unbelievably good with our abundant local coastal seafood treasures – think Wiston Rosé 2011 with grilled lobster – it makes me weak at the knees just contemplating this marriage made in Shoreham. Or our Blanc de Blanc 2010 with oysters – so fresh and saline, you don’t know when to stop.”

And from his own label, Sugrue Pierre, “The Trouble with Dreams 2013, paired with the fattest seared scallops.”

Sugrue clearly has the Midas touch – all of these wines have recently won Gold and Silver awards at this year’s International Wine Challenge and Decanter Awards, respectively. “They each have such different personalities, they stop me thinking of Bordeaux – sometimes, for several minutes at a time...”

With such an unbridled joy in the partnership of food and wine, his pairings for this week are certainly something to get stuck into:

“Who needs bubbles when white wine is this good? With Selsey crab or Cromer… I love them both.”

Taylor’s 10-year-old Tawny Port, £25, Majestic

“Reblochon cows cheese from the Savoie, nutty and creamy with a slightly wild character. I had this recently with a chilled 10-year-old tawny port from the Douro and it was sensational.”

Jenkyn Place, Blanc de Noirs, 2010, RRP £35.50, Jenkyn Place

“More great English fizz but this time from Hampshire – tried with owner Simon Bladon’s home-smoked trout – such powerful flavours but the wine copes, no problem.”

Château les Cruzelles 2011, £19.95, Four Walls Wine Co

“How to feel like a king when you eat a simple roast chicken – an affordable Bordeaux that tastes many times its price – a current favourite.”

Sugrue Pierre, The Trouble with Dreams, 2013,  £35, EeBria

We couldn’t leave out Sugrue’s own label – The Trouble with Dreams is an elegant delight. A limited production of only 100 cases, and a blend of 55 per cent Chardonnay, 40 per cent Pinot Noir and five per cent Pinot Meunier. Very fruity on the nose with citrus, green and apricot stone fruit, plus a touch of biscuit and a fresh acidity on the palate.

Nuria Stylianou is our WSET-qualified wine and spirits columnist. Email her on nuria.stylianou@gmail.com and follow her on Instagram @nu_on_the_vine

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