An interesting pair of vintages…!
From £39.99, HK$411, 580 Norwegian kroner, SG$81, 405 Chinese yuan, 62 Swiss francs, €75
'I cannot lead you into battle. I do not give you laws or administer justice. But I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.'
It may be one of the most over-quoted quotes of the last 10 days, but the late Queen Elizabeth II's declaration in 1957, even 65 years later, is moving.
Yet law, justice, brotherhood, devotion? Not words that would easily describe the United Kingdom of today, or, indeed, our world. Battle is a word that resonates: for those in the Ukraine waking up to another day of more than 200 days of war; for households having to choose between food and warmth; for those seeking answers from authorities in charge of administering justice. Perhaps, in this wine of the week, I can speak to 'heart'.
People familiar with this website will know that I write without the discipline of British reserve. I grew up in the grubby, dusty, unrefined rebel colony of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Shrugging off the reins of British rule was the tattoo of my childhood culture. I'm much more African than I am British. Yet, irrationally, the most momentous occasion of my life was getting my British citizenship (at the age of 26). I paid five years of taxes and national insurance, a hefty fee, and delivered, to the Home Office, 10 kg (22 lb) of paperwork to prove my worthiness, upstanding citizenship, capacity for hard work, English (Essex) and Scottish (Caithness) ancestry, the latter which includes a master distiller at Auchentoshan, no less. Welling up with tears, I stood taller than my five foot five and a half, my shaking hand on a large, old black Bible while I swore allegiance to Queen Elizabeth the Second. At the conclusion of which, the fusty old lawyer from his Tudor-creaking office in Dorking, Surrey, cleared his throat and loudly declared to his neatly obeisant secretary: 'I've never in my life seen anyone so bloody proud to be British. Waive the fee!'. In those days, the £350 fee was enormous. It's the only time in my life that my capacity for what my mother calls OTTness has proved to be economically viable.
I jumped in my beat-up car and sped to the office. Walked in, and declared with a deliriously excited whoop to the 35-strong company, 'I'm a British citizen!!!!' My laconic English boss came to the door of his office, leaned against the jamb with the entire length of his taciturnity, and once the hubbub of congratulations died down, said, in an unusually loud voice, 'Now you'd better start behaving like one.'
Everyone else ignored him. We headed to the pub at 11 am and didn't get back to work that day. (Amazingly, I wasn't fired… maybe because the entire company was at the pub?)
This week, I found myself weirdly paralysed, reading the news and Twitter comments with a kind of hunger for answers, trying to make sense of things. The death of Chris Kaba, the spiralling cost of energy while oil and gas giants make their biggest profits ever, households in wealthy countries facing genuine poverty, a political circus that seems to be growing ever more fantastical by the day, global heatwaves and drought without precedence, the war in Ukraine that goes on and on while MPs take yet another two weeks of holiday… We're at a crossroads – as a country, a nation, even globally – where lives, places and the future seem very close to the brink of flames.
I'm not a royalist, but I gave up my former citizenship to swear allegiance to the late Queen and even I, deeply cynical about the entitlement of birthright, sense something connective, disruptive, era-changing in this week of national and even international mourning for an iconic woman. Having failed at British diffidence and decorum for the intervening 22 years, it's perhaps not surprising that I gravitate toward emotional winemakers and emotion-invoking wines, while feeling an ever-present sense of admiration for those who write with precision and restraint – the quality of steady grace is compelling (Julia Harding, I'm looking at you).
But it seemed to me that there could be no more fitting wine with which to stop and contemplate the madness, the hope, the grief, the beauty, the bewildering state of humankind today, than a powerful, complex English sparkling wine made by a deep-feeling, red-headed Irishman – someone who could arguably be described as one of Britain's greatest winemakers.
Dermot Sugrue was born and grew up in Ireland. He studied environmental science at the University of Norwich, and then, a little later, viti and oenology at Plumpton College in the UK. He's worked at Ch L'Église-Clinet and Ch Léoville Barton in Bordeaux and Jacquinot in Champagne. In 2003 he joined Nyetimber as winemaker and became head winemaker at Wiston in 2006. He started making his own wine in 2014 but it wasn't until this year, 2022, that he stepped back from Wiston to run Sugrue South Downs, with his wife Ana, as a full-time project.
This wine celebrates the often-conflicting puzzle of passion, restraint; patriotism, rebellion; tradition, modernity; innovation, classicism of this country. Made from grapes grown on the cold soils of England, ripened in the small-white light of English skies, the first vintage set a new benchmark for English sparkling wine, pushed the boundaries, crossed the boundaries, reset the boundaries. It is heartbreakingly beautiful. And it's called The Trouble With Dreams.
Few English wines encapsulate the power of Bollinger, the burnished-metal and density of Krug, the anger and angst of Selosse. But I am wrong to compare this with French wines. It's etched by its own land, defined by its own existential angst. It's a wine weighted by the gilt-guilt-gold-patina of memory. It's not a wine to drink young. Every time I have tasted the 2014, it has become more fluid, more complex, made more sense, fitted into its own skin. It's a dense, pewter-metal-boned, smoke-angry, stunning wine.
For once it seems irrelevant to write about winemaking and such things – you'll find it here. But I've tasted the 2014 vintage of this wine twice in the last week, once with close friends at a birthday, and once tonight, opening our last bottle from a case of 12. I'm almost sorry we opened it – I will miss this wine.
However, there is the equally beautiful 2017, the latest release, which is a wine to buy by the case and put away if you can (or open just a couple of bottles a year). Both wines are available from Sugrue direct, as well as various merchants around the UK. You can also find the wine (sometimes sold only by the case) in Singapore and Hong Kong (although Fine+Rare ship it from the UK on purchase, so there is a wait between order and delivery), China, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland. It's imported into the USA by DNS Wines.
Please join me in lifting a glass of The Trouble With Dreams to the past, the present and the future.
English wines, not just sparkling, become more exciting every year. We're leading the way with coverage on this game-changing important wine region.
All the photos have been kindly provided with permission to use by Dermot Sugrue @sugruesouthdowns.