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A Tale of Two Fizzes

by Tom Cannavan, 05/14

Dermot Last year I attended a tasting organised by UK wine importer and distributor Corney & Barrow, and amongst the winemakers in attendance was former Nyetimber winemaker, Dermot Sugrue (right). Dermot is undoubtedly a star of the English winemaking fraternity. Born in Ireland, Dermot came to the UK to study, and eventually completed a degree in Viticulture and Oenology at Plumpton College in Sussex. Dermot completed two vintages working in Bordeaux, first at Château l'Eglise-Clinet in Pomerol and then at Château Léoville-Barton in St Julien, before returning to the UK where he joined Nyetimber in 2003. He stayed there until 2006, also fitting in a vintage with Jacquinot & Fils during that time.

Meanwhile, in West Sussex, farmers Harry and Pip Goring dreamed of turning their estate into a top sparkling wine vineyard. The Wiston Estate had been owned by the Goring family since 1743, its 6000 acres straddling the chalky slopes of the South Downs and the flat clay soils of the weald. They farmed beef, sheep and arable crops, but it was Pip Goring who had the initial idea of creating their own vineyard "No one seemed particularly interested in hundreds of acres of barley and wheat, but plant 16 acres of vineyard and people are fascinated," says Harry Goring. The Gorings met with Dermot Sugrue in 2006 and the perfect partnership was born: the creation of Wiston Estate sparkling wines. For Sugrue, it was the fulfilment of a dream to be in from the ground up on a new English sparkling wine operation.

My first tasting of Wiston's wines was at that Corney & Barrow tasting and it was hugely positive, both their rosé and blanc de blancs scoring well into the 90s. So at a recent tasting of English wines, when the latest releases from both Wiston and Nyetimber were lined up alongside each other, it seemed like a very good idea to taste them side by side. The estates are neighbours in West Sussex, and current winemaker at Nyetimber, Cherie Spriggs, is every bit as focused and determined as Dermot Sugrue at Wiston. It was time to see if the young pretender to the throne of King of English Sparkling Wine really could take on the long-established and widely respected flagship estate of Nyetimber.

Wiston Estate's wines

Wiston Estate, Blanc de Blancs NV, England
100% Chardonnay and 12% abv. Nicely yeasty and developed, a touch of bready elegance over the good orchard and lemon fruit. A touch of glace fruit. Delicious palate, the depth of the orangey flavour, the crisp, taut grapefruity acidity and the core of bright apple, all brimming with finesse, elegance too in the fine and persistent mousse. 91-92/100. £24.95

wiston Wiston Estate, Blanc de Noirs NV, England
A blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Meunier with 12% abv. Nice foamy mousse gets the party started. Tiny cheese rind (Camembert) note that is authentic and appealing. A hint of nuttiness too in quite a complex picture. Lovely palate, just glittering with fruit and pert acidity, in a lovely wine from Wiston at a very good price. Punchy, vibrant, and lemon zest sharp. 92-93/100. £24.95

Wiston Estate, Cuvée Brut 2010, England
This is 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 22% Pinot Meunier with 12% abv. What a nice hint of toffee or caramel here (is there any barrel component?), just a little touch of mint and very inviting. Sharp as a tack on the palate, delightful fruit bouncing through the mid-palate, never losing its sherbetty bright acidity and attack. Delightful. 93/100. £32.95 (Dermot has since confirmed that the wine was 100% fermented in old oak barrels).

Wiston Estate, Rosé NV, England
57% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier and 12% abv. Much brighter, fresher, fruitier but less complex than the 2011 vintage rosé tasted alongside, but this has fruitiness, elegance and freshness, the small red berry hints of the palate ending in crisp citrus. Racy mousse and very well done. 90/100. £24.95

Wiston Estate, Rosé 2011, England
The blend for the vintage rosé is two-thirds Pinot Noir and Meunier, one-third Chardonnay, and also with 12% abv. A very nicely fresh nose. A touch of nettle and of green herbs, a touch of sourness. The palate has a complex, sour cherry note as well as some mint and sweetness coming through, notes of vanilla. Deliciously fresh, but so full of flavour and elegantly pitched fruit, acid and yeastiness. 92/100. £35.95

Nyetimber's wines

Nyetimber Nyetimber, Blanc de Blancs 2007, England
100% Chardonnay with 12% abv. Lovely nose: a touch of nutty and biscuit development, tiny floral and nettle notes, just rounded out with a hint of lychee exoticism. The palate has delicious fruity punch, plenty of citrus and pure, ripe pear and apple flavours, into a long, perfectly balanced finish. Classy. 92-93/100. £39.95

Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée 2009, England
The blend here is 55% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier, with an abv of 12%. A finely-tuned biscuit and yeast note, with very refined apple fruit behind, little spicy touches and floral notes of complexity. The palate has delightful purity, but that fine sour, bruised apple fruit and acidity is very appealing, very classy into a long, shimmering finish. 93/100. £31.99

Nyetimber, DemiSec NV, England
Also a Blanc de Blancs, all-Chardonnay cuvée, with 12% abv. Lots of nettle and autumnal, dried leaves character here, orchard fruits and quite inviting. On the palate the soft sweetness of the mousse is delightful, not at all cloying or unbalanced, the wine has plenty of fruit directness and sweetness, balanced by very good acidity. 90/100. £32.99

Conclusion...

Well that's easy really: both of these estates were amongst the cream of over a dozen of England's top sparkling wine estates represented at this tasting event, right up there amongst the very best the region and style has to offer. It's all subject to the vagaries of our marginal growing climate of course, but year on year the quality of English sparkling wine certainly seems to be improving - as beautifully represented by both of these estates.