The Art of Lunch

There were several Brown Derby restaurants in Los Angeles in the 1930s. Perhaps the most famous was the second in the chain, opened on Valentine’s Day in 1929 at 1628 North Vine Street.

Taking its inspiration from Spanish colonial architecture it quickly became a favourite with the Hollywood ‘set.’ Being close to the studios it was soon patronised by a roll call of movie stars and celebrities among them Clarke Gable, Groucho Marx, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford and Humphrey Bogart. The golden generation of Hollywood. But it wasn’t until 1937 when its place in culinary history was eventually cemented.

There are many stories as to how the Cobb salad was born but my favourite is one recounted in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. The story goes that one night Bob Cobb, one of the owners of the restaurant, was working late, very late. Midnight was approaching and having not eaten he delved into the restaurant fridge and prepared himself a salad comprised of mainly left overs. Cold roast chicken, hard-boiled eggs, avocadoes, a few slices of bacon, tomatoes and of course mixed leaves and lettuce. He saved the strongest flavour until last – crumbling some Roquefort cheese over the top. That night the Brown Derby restaurant found itself a new signature dish – the Cobb salad.

A mixed salad on a desk with a computer screen in the background
Will Lyons shares his tips for eating and drinking while working from home

Cobb salads are best made at home. It’s a perfect lunch for those of us who are perhaps spending more time in the house than we would normally. Just grab the leftovers from the fridge and throw them all together. It doesn’t have to be lettuce it could be spinach or watercress. If you really want to go posh you can always add some sort of seafood. Why not lobster? If you’re feeling particularly flush and ‘Hollywood’.

You’ll need a glass of something to go with it. Something with plenty of uplifting acidity, vitality and Spring like fruit would be my choice. I know it’s not original but actually a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc would be an ideal foil. The grassy, gooseberry and citrus character, coupled with the lively tension in the wine, works well, particularly if you have dressed the salad with a squeeze of lemon.

I would avoid anything too complex, oaky and creamy. Think in terms of lighter style wines, what the club’s president Hugh Johnson may refer to as ‘fridge door wines.’ I’d be considering anything with zesty acidity. Riesling from Germany, Chablis, Vinho Verde from northern Portugal and the racy Picpoul de Pinet made down in the Languedoc just east of Narbonne. It’s translated as the ‘lip stinger’ and the quality of this wine has never been better.

All of these styles are fairly moderate in alcohol which means you can enjoy a glass and have a productive afternoon, whatever that may entail. In the Golden Age of Hollywood it could involve shooting a few scenes with Clarke Gabel, well we can all dream!

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

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No half measures: why I choose to savour wine rather than abstain

Lent is upon us. A time for reflection, abstinence and preparations for the celebration of Easter.

I don’t know about you but I’m not too fond of giving up anything, let alone wine, or beer for that matter. All things in moderation or not so moderate, depending on your mood is my preference.

When I first started writing about wine, I used to give up alcohol in February on the advice of my first boss, “the shortest month,” he would say. “But beware of the leap years!” These days my tasting schedule is such that I simply can’t find the time for a month without wine and besides I enjoy a glass of wine with my evening meal, who doesn’t? But herein lies my point ‘a glass’ or maybe two.

Since January I have been keeping a watchful eye on how much I consume, nothing drastic just a gentle observation on portion sizes and how many glasses of wine I like to enjoy. I bought a little measuring jug and some weighing scales and as if by magic eight weeks in I’m nearly a stone lighter!

Six glasses in one bottle

One of the new habits I have enjoyed is pouring out a 100ml glass of wine to go with my evening meal. I have come to love this measure, it’s enough to give you a proper taste and experience of the wine you are serving, but it’s not enough to distract from your late evening activities whether that is catching up on writing, emailing friends or whatever. Of course, if you want a second glass or a third by all means pour it!

I recently wrote a column for The Sunday Times on half bottles and wrote that you can get 6 ‘generous’ glasses from a full bottle of wine and four ‘decent’ glasses from a half bottle of wine. This provoked a fair bit of feedback with some enthusiastic imbibers vehemently disagreeing.

A few days after the column was published a story appeared in The Times with the revelation that if you want to cut back on alcohol use smaller glasses. According to researchers from the University of Cambridge when restauranteurs placed 370ml glasses on the table, rather than 250ml, wine lovers drank 17% more!

Two glasses of red wine on a table with the beach in the background
There’s no need to fill those large glasses to the top

I was asked about it on Matthew Wright’s Talkradio ‘Wine Down Friday’ segment which you can listen to here. Over  a glass of the club’s excellent Santo Patrono from Bolivia I explained I’m all in favour of large glasses but small measures.

As an aside, preferably the wine glass should be made from very thin glass which doesn’t interfere with one’s enjoyment of the wine, Zalto and Riedel are my choice at home.

The traditional 125ml is a much-maligned serving of wine and shouldn’t be sniffed at. To prove my point at a recent dinner I asked the Sommelier to pour out 125ml in a large Zalto Bordeaux glass, my guests were quite surprised just how much it was. Like listening to a beautiful piece of music or faced with a wonderful natural landscape great wine can intoxicate both the senses and be an intoxicant. It is savouring the former which we should try and achieve in Lent. Far better than abstinence which makes it a very long time to Easter indeed!

P.S. I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter? Do you agree? What size do you feel is the ideal pour? Post a comment below and I shall reply.

Will Lyons

Sunday Times Wine Club Vice-President

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How our winemakers are coping with Australian bushfires – and how you can help

Amidst the worst Australian bushfire crisis seen in decades, many of our fantastic customers have been in touch to ask how they can help.

Turn on the news or open up a paper and it’s clear to see the country is in trouble. At least 28 people have lost their lives, thousands more have lost their homes and huge swathes of land have been destroyed.

It’s easy to feel helpless, especially from the other side of the world, so we’ve sent on your messages to our buyer Dan Parrott in Melbourne.

“It’s been very tense,” he told us. “If you’re not in the fire yourself, you know someone who is. It has touched everybody.

“Right now it’s raining which is great. Even before the fires we had drought, so it’s brought a sense of relief which we haven’t had for a long time.

“But we’re only halfway through the summer. We’re definitely not out of danger yet … no one would dare to say that.”

How has the wine industry been affected by the bushfires?

The extent of the damage caused by the Australian bushfire crisis to the wine industry as a whole is not yet known.

Wineries might have lost stock they’d been storing from previous vintages, and if that’s the case their insurance may well cover it. Others may have lost vineyards, although it’s far too early to know how many have been affected. And we won’t know if surviving vines have been too badly damaged by smoke to create wine for another month or so.

But one thing vineyards, wineries and many other businesses across the country are struggling with is a lack of tourism.

“People from all over the world come to Australia at Christmas time,” Dan said.

Laithwaite's Wine buyer Dan Parrott is based in Melbourne
Dan Parrott has been reaching out to our Australian winemakers to offer help to anyone affected by the bushfires

“They visit the vineyards, they stay in hotels, they eat at the restaurants. But we’ve lost a lot of tourist trade for months now.

“So the best thing people in the UK can do to help those struggling regions is to buy products from those places which have been affected.

“I’ve reached out to our winemakers to see if they’re okay. As we speak, all of their partners, families and loved ones are all safe. We have very good relationships with them so it’s more personally sympathetic than business conversations at the minute. All we can do is tell them we’re thinking of them and let them know we’re here if they need us.”

How can you help the Bushfire Appeal?

In terms of practical support our customers can offer right now, Dan says the best way to help is to donate money to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal. Clothes donations and food drives are great, but have been well covered locally.

But donating to the Red Cross will ensure victims of the Australian bushfire crisis who have lost their homes are housed, clothed and fed.

“In Australia we have a saying … ‘everything can be replaced but people’.

“Every region has a fire plan, and that’s to leave. So people in affected areas won’t have packed anything up, they just get out of there. And that’s who the Bushfire Appeal helps.”

To donate go to https://www.redcross.org.au/campaigns/disaster-relief-and-recovery-donate.

Join Will Lyons for an evening of Rothschild wines

For those fortunate enough to have made the journey from Beirut, crossing Mount Lebanon and the fertile soils of the Beqaa valley, the Temple of Bacchus is one of the most extraordinary and impressive temples of the Ancient world.

It’s the scale that hits you first, more than 100 feet rising above the ruins of Baalbeck. Constructed by the Romans, around the time of Nero, in the 1st century AD, walking underneath its ancient stone columns one cannot fail to be humbled by the sheer scale of this celebrated sanctuary to the God of Wine.

There are many ways in which you can appreciate the complex world of wine: geography, science, viticulture even the intricacies of taste. But history has always been close to my heart and it is through this particular lens that I gain my most enjoyment. And in wine there is a lot of it.

Will Lyons will host an evening of Rothschild Wine at Waddesdon Manor
The Waddesdon Manor cellar where Will Lyons will host an evening of Rothschild wines

It was the celebrated American wine writer, Matt Kramer, who pointed out earlier this year at the Sauvignon Blanc Symposium in Marlborough, that in the context of ‘vinous history’ New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is barely a day old. He’s right. Leaving aside the birth of commercial wine production in New Zealand (which stretches back around 40 years) and looking to some of the first plantings in the Victorian era in the early 1800s even this pales when placed aside the vineyards of Burgundy, the Rhône valley and Bordeaux. Regions which can chronicle their history in terms of centuries as opposed to decades.

Wine, history and the Rothschild’s

It is a little of this history that I would like to share with you at Waddesdon Manor. In October the club will be hosting a very special evening in the cellars of Waddesdon, a nineteenth century estate surrounded by history and home to one of the largest collections of Rothschild wines outside of France.

As wine dynasties go Rothschild is almost as impressive as the ancient sand coloured columns of the Temple of Bacchus. Boasting not just one but two Bordeaux First Growths in Châteaux Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild the dynasty also owns properties in Argentina and Chile which we will be tasting alongside their more famous cousins from France.

Will Lyons will host an evening of Rothschild Wine at Waddesdon Manor
Joana Vasconceleos created these candlesticks with bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild

To explain the wines we’ll be joined by Rothschild wine expert, Peter Tompkins, who will lead us on a tasting of eight different examples before we ascend upstairs for an autumnal three-course dinner with ingredients sourced from the estate.

Of course there will also be time to explore the grounds and gardens; home to two spectacular giant candlesticks made by Joana Vasconceleos with bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. And there is even an exclusive opportunity to see the first major exhibition of British painter Eliot Hodgkin. Then there are the cellars themselves where there is an eighteenth-century figure of Bacchus himself – the God of Wine. I do hope you can come and join us. It should be a magical evening.

An evening of Rothschild wine on Saturday 12th October

Arrive at Waddesdon Manor from 6pm to enjoy the gardens, the Eliot Hodgkin exhibition and visit the aviary.

At 7pm enjoy a tasting in the Wine Cellars where Peter Tompkins (Rothschild Wine specialist) and Will Lyons will introduce a selection of eight Rothschild wines, followed by a three-course dinner served in the Manor Restaurant which will be inspired by autumn produce from Waddesdon Estate and Eythrope Garden. Rothschild Wines will be specially selected to suit each course during dinner.

For an additional fee hotel accommodation is available at Five Arrows Hotel, on Waddesdon Estate.

Waddesdon’s wine shop, stocking more than 129 Rothschild lines will be open and all sales on the night will be discounted by 10%.

See full details and book your tickets here.

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So you want to learn about wine?

It doesn’t matter where you are along the wine route there is always the opportunity to learn more. I’ve been tasting wine for more than 20 years and I’m still learning.

Part of the attraction of wine is that it can be drunk for both pleasure and conviviality, as part of a gathering of friends or family, or it can be gustatory. The focus of an intellectual discussion on its merits or faults. I happen to prefer the former but that’s probably because the day job requires me to don my analytical hat and form an informed opinion on a particular wine or wines. But knowledge is power and the more you taste, the more natural it is to want to learn more.

Will Lyons, Vice-President of Sunday Times Wine Club
Will Lyons, Vice-President of Sunday Times Wine Club

But where to start? Believe it or not my journey began in my last year at school where (going on 18) we had a particularly enthusiastic Geography master who taught us the early principles of wine tasting. Looking back it was a surprisingly serious course. But you don’t have to begin so early!

The obvious place to begin is with book learning, which will teach you the basics. The World Atlas of Wine now co-written by our President Hugh Johnson with Jancis Robinson will provide a solid foundation and clear grasp of where most of the world’s wines come from. I learned to taste through the lens of the classic wine regions of France and Europe. This gave me a good understanding of the benchmark styles that have now become internationally successful. But I wouldn’t say that was the right or wrong way. If you mastered the regions and styles of Australia that would be a fitting start.

Taste, taste, taste

The key is to develop your palate and taste, taste, taste. By this I mean learn to understand what you like and learn to understand the different taste and flavours of the major wine producing regions and grape varieties. There are shortcuts but it can be a long journey. I like to use the analogy of an old record shop, browsing through the racks of CDs and vinyls. If you haven’t listened to Mozart or Beethoven, the Beatles or The Rolling Stones you have no idea what they sound like, until you buy an album, take it home and play it. It is the same with wine. If you want to understand the difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy or Margaux and Pauillac you’ll need to buy a bottle to taste as well as read the textbooks.

In Britain, we are really spoilt for choice. London is home to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. Their courses offer a very good technical basis. I completed my WSET exams in a cold lecture hall in Edinburgh when I was at University. It’s quite an academic approach, and can lead onto the Master of Wine – a self taught course for the fully committed.

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But for me wine is so much more than about the technicalities. It’s always nice to learn about what’s in the bottle, how it is made and what makes a good vintage. But I want to share some of the magic of the wine regions I have been luckily enough to visit. History, food, travel tips and the story behind the bottle always make their way into any of my wine tastings. Before that though I always teach people how to taste and develop their palate. The aim is to give you enough confidence to trust what you like and form your own opinion.

Before long you’ll be challenging my preconceptions and tasting like a professional. But don’t get too confident as, when it comes to wine we’re learning all the time.

Just keep on tasting!
Just keep on tasting!

Immerse yourself in the world of wine and join Sunday Times Wine Columnist and Vice President of The Sunday Times Wine Club, Will Lyons, as he shares his expert knowledge in his new evening and one-day wine masterclasses: thetimes.co.uk/winemasterclasses

The best photos from The Vintage Festival 2019

Thousands of guests came to join us at The Vintage Festival this year, trying hundreds of wines from around the world.

We had great fun celebrating with our customers, producers and staff, at what was the 40th event since it was first was launched back in 1980.

Hosts Tony Laithwaite, Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke and Will Lyons loved meetings our guests and talking to them about their favourite wines when they joined us at Old Billingsgate on Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May.

Sunday Times wine columnist Will led tasting sessions focusing on The Rhône, Tuscany, New Zealand and Argentina, while cheesemongers from Paxton & Whitfield ran classes on how to pair wine with cheese.

What’s more, we launched the first ever Vintage Festival Wine Awards to give guests a glimpse of the festival highlights, with Oz leading tours around the festival to introduce our customers to the winemakers behind the trophy winners.

Customers also voted for their favourite wines, crowning Harrow & Hope Blanc de Noirs 2013, Karl May Riesling Gutswein Trocken 2017, Riechsrat Von Buhl Riesling Brut Sekt 2016 and Royal Tokaji Blue Label 5 Puttonyos 2013 the Wines of the Show over the weekend.

Above are just a few of our favourite photos from the two days, but we’d love to see yours.

You can follow us on Facebook at The Sunday Times Wine Club or on Instagram by searching @sundaytimeswineclub to share your pictures with us, or use the #VintFest19 hashtag when you post them.

To find out about more events in the future go to www.sundaytimeswineclub.co.uk/events.

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It’s time for The Vintage Festival 2019

It’s festival time! In just a few weeks’ hundreds of us will gather in the halls of Old Billingsgate on the banks of the Thames to celebrate 40 years of the Sunday Times Wine Club’s Vintage Festival(Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May).

And I can’t wait. Glass in hand, note book ready, catalogue safely tucked into my jacket pocket, I love the thrill of walking through the halls, not knowing what I will discover next. And there’s always a lot to get around. I think it’s 95 stands this year with more than 380 wines, beers and spirits.

Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May see’s Europe’s largest private wine tasting

Where does one start? Well, it could be with a glass of English sparkling wine, something slick and polished from Spain perhaps or just a decent sip of Beaujolais-Villages. What I particularly love about the Vintage Festival is that not only do we have the privilege of meeting the people that make the wine, but I also get to meet you as well, the Club members, who buy and enjoy the wines every week. If you see me in the halls, scribbling notes, please do come and say hello, it would be good to share discoveries and enjoy a glass together. I like nothing better than talking about wine with fellow enthusiasts, whether you’re an expert collector or simply new to the whole thing come and have a chat. I’m here for you.

But I’ll also be hosting my own tastings in the ‘Times Expert Traveller Tasting Theatre’ which you’ll find at the back of the halls. We’ll be focusing on four key regions: the Rhône, Tuscany, Argentina and New Zealand. In every session, I’ll be serving some sumptuous wines from those countries and sharing my inside tips from the Wine Route: where to stay, what are the best places to visit, who has the best wine list and where do the winemakers eat? Do come and join us.

I’ll also be in conversation with our President, Hugh Johnson OBE, discussing 40 years of the Club and the Vintage Festival. From its beginnings in Kensington Town Hall, to championing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in the early days and looking at the future. England is now on its way to being an established wine producing nation. Where next? Perhaps China? Come and find out.

But above all enjoy it. Whether you’re upstairs in the fine wine room or enjoying a glass of Chianti, the Vintage festival is a time to simply enjoy the sheer pleasure and endless personality of wine. When I was writing a weekly wine column for The Wall Street Journal Tony once told me that all he really wanted to do was to ‘bring back to Britain a little of the passion for wine he experienced as a young man in the southwest of France.’ Well I think we can all agree he’s done that and we’re very lucky to have that passion under one roof. I look forward to seeing you all there!

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

Friday 10th and Saturday 11th May
Order your tickets here