Wine Times Podcast is back for series 2

We’re back! Spring has arrived and as the vines begin their journey towards the new vintage, it’s time for us to pull some corks, twist some screwcaps and start pouring a selection of the club’s most delicious wines for a raft of lively and interesting guests.

Yes, you guessed it – series two of Wine Times is here! Not only that, we have a new venue, new co-host and of course some fascinating new wines to sip and enjoy!

As we say goodbye and a huge thank you to Miquita for expertly guiding us through our wine journey so far, we say a big hello and welcome to the brilliant comedian and broadcaster Suzi Ruffell, who has taken up the mantle of ‘apprentice in wine’ to guide us through our second series.

Joining Suzi and myself in our new home in London Bridge will be a raft of exciting and interesting guests including broadcaster and restaurant critic Grace Dent, celebrity chef and Masterchef judge Marcus Wareing and the king of political commentary Matt Chorley. And that’s not all, we’ll be joined by a raft of others who will be popping in to enjoy some still, sparkling, white and rosé with us.

Oh, and did I mention we are up for an award? Very exciting! Series 1 caught the attention of the judges at the British Media Awards and Wine Times is up for ‘Podcast of the Year,’ we’ll be crossing our fingers that we’re successful when it is announced in May.

So please do join us for some good company, good wines and lively conversation as we go live on April 26th. And remember, you can listen to us through your usual podcast provider.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

Wine Times: Episode 8 – Ian Rankin

We met in the sumptuous surroundings of Edinburgh’s spectacular Prestonfield hotel for our episode with the best-selling crime writer Ian Rankin.

Although his lead character, Inspector Rebus, is better known for enjoying a pint of real ale in his beloved Oxford Bar (or a dram of whisky for that matter) his creator has a passion for wine.

With Ian having ‘trod the grapes’ in arguably the most famous post-war vintage in Bordeaux, 1982, nor far from Château La Clarière in Castillon, we did of course enjoy a glass of red Bordeaux.

As Ian pointed out, Edinburgh has a rich history of drinking claret. We know from the memoirs of Scottish judge and literary figure Lord Cockburn, expertly summarised in Billy Kay’s vinous history “Knee Deep in Claret” that in the 18th century a cargo of claret would arrive in the port of Leith to the north of the City. A hogshead would then be carried through the town in a cart with a horn. Anyone who wanted to have a little taste could stop the cart and fill up their jug for sixpence.

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But our vinous journey began across the border, in Oxfordshire with a Club favourite – Wyfold rosé, which we agreed would be absolutely ideal with a simple plate of smoked salmon and buttered bread on Christmas morning.

Throughout it’s nearly 50-year history the Club has always been good at sniffing out interesting new wines from undiscovered wine regions. In that vein, we journeyed to Moldova for the perfumed and summery Viorica from Château Vartely.  As Tony once said, many club members would be forgiven for not knowing where Moldova is, let alone that it made wine. And good wine too!

We ended with a brief discussion on blind wine tasting and wine clubs. Ian once joined me for the 20th anniversary of the Edinburgh v St Andrews match. I did think he might be a crack blind wine taster as on the Edinburgh street on which Ian used to live, there was a wine circle, where they would meet and sample various wines. However they didn’t learn much – after years, Ian admitted they were no further forward in trying to discern what the wines were. Somebody would host it and at the end they would say: ‘more research needed.’ Which was a bit cheeky as I gave them a tasting a few years ago!

Will Lyons

The Wine List

Wine Times: Episode 7 – Emily Dean

The broadcaster and author Emily Dean has a request. Emily, who has a hugely successful podcast series called ‘Walking the Dog’ where she takes her canine companion Ray out for a walk with a raft of well-known celebrities (and their dogs of course), has refined her tastes in recent years.

Emily’s looking for lighter styles of wine or even wines with no alcohol at all. The latter was a little too challenging and this is a wine podcast after all so I opted for an exploration of lighter styles.

I have some sympathy with Emily’s plight. When I began my wine studies, nearly 25 years ago now, we had a tutor who always used to say wouldn’t it be nice if the alcohol of all wine was around 5-9%? Back then I never understood the appeal but now I see that you don’t always want a huge slug of alcohol in your glass.

Traditionally, the place to look for lighter style wines was of course the steep sided valleys of Germany’s Mosel river where the Riesling grape variety is glorious at 9%. As a rule of thumb I would extend that to cooler climates such as England, parts of Canada, Tasmania and the upper reaches of France.

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So our journey began in the Loire Valley with a retro choice – a Muscadet that was gloriously fresh and tangy made by Domaine Gadais.

After a brief discussion on the merits of corks v screwcaps we headed down to Provence for a wine that can’t fail to lift the mood – the PS Pétillant Rosé NV, France – which Emily loved.

Swapping sin for sin we ended with a sweet wine where you replace the alcohol with residual sugar, with Seifried’s heavenly Sweet Agnes Riesling, which Emily said she loved almost as much as Jeremy Paxman’s dog – Derek.

Will Lyons

The Wine List

Wine Times Podcast: Episode 6 – Gregory Porter

‘Wine is analogue, not digital. It’s you putting the record on the record player, dropping the needle, sitting back and slowly enjoying the wine.’

We’re at Universal Music Studios in London and the Grammy award-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter is sharing his love of wine with us on Wine Times.

Out of all the guests we’ve enjoyed sharing a glass with, Gregory Porter has the most thoughtful approach.

Perhaps it’s because in Germany his tour manager was for many years a sommelier, or that the presidents of the record companies he is signed to have shared with him some of the world’s greatest wines, toasting his many successes. Or maybe because as a hugely successful artist he has enjoyed meals and wines across Europe in Spain, Portugal, Italy and France.

‘I always want my family to have the experience as well,’ he says and so when he returns from his travels he buys wine and prepares a meal at home. Quite what he serves depends on where he has been and what he has tasted as ‘wine is about exploration,’ he says ‘because you never know what you are going to get.’

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We started in Champagne with a glass of Bollinger where we discussed the importance of the social aspect of food and wine. I was reminded of the Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith who writes that ‘wine is something which involves fellowship, shared interest and conviviality.’

From Champagne we dropped down to the Rhône Valley and perhaps to the most famous of all its wines – Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where we discussed its flavour not in terms of fruit but in reference to the savoury notes you can sometimes pick up on in wine such as vegetal, oaky and ‘farmyardy.’ Like smelly cheese, although to some the aroma can seem unattractive, within the right context it is heavenly. What might be the perfect food pairing with Châteauneuf-du-Pape? Andouillette perhaps?

And with that thought we emptied our glass with a brief discussion on whether listening to great music can make the wine taste better. In the case of Gregory Porter – certainly.

Will Lyons

Club Vice-President

Listen to Wine Times Podcast with Will Lyons and Miquita Oliver here.

The Wine List

Bollinger Special Cuvée, Aÿ, Champagne, France

2019 Le Prince de Courthézon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhône Valley, France

Wine Times Podcast: Episode 5 – Giovanna Fletcher

We started where else but in Italy for Giovanna Fletcher.

The actress and author of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ enjoyed childhood summers with red wine always on the table, a legacy from her Italian father.

Our journey began in the north west on the hauntingly beautiful slopes of Piedmont, where, sandwiched between Genova and Milan  lies the small city of Alessandria.  Just south of here the Cortese grapes produce the crisp white wine, Gavi, which we imagined pairing with a fresh Bruschetta or a table laden with delights from Southern Italy.

As conversation meandered from Strictly Come Dancing (Giovanna’s husband Tom from the band McFly is competing) to tearing up the wine rules and trusting your own judgement, we headed west to Spain to perhaps their most famous region – Rioja. But I couldn’t resist pouring, not the most well-known wine from that region, but a glass of the insider’s choice – white Rioja from Los Hermanos which seduced Giovanna with its oaky, creamy character.

Completing our travels we headed back over the Pyreenes for our final wine, the 2018 Carignan Vieilles Vignes from a region within the northern foothills of the Pyreenes.

Here in the Agly valley to the West of Perpignan the landscape is wild and empty with many vineyards planted at high altitude. It is this combination of poor granite soil, dry heat and altitude which imparts in the wine a pleasing purity of fruit. From the top of Château de Quéribus, which is more than 600 metres above sea level, you get a spectacular view of the region, if of course you are brave enough to drive!

Listen to this week’s episode of Wine Times with Will Lyons and Miquita Oliver here.

The Wine List

2020 Gavi, Broglia Gavi di Gavi, Italy

2020 Los Hermanos Manzanos, Rioja, Spain

2018 Carignan Vieilles Vignes, Vallée des Aigles, Côtes Catalanes, France

Wine Times Podcast: Episode 3 – Isa Guha

There is a natural synergy between the Summer game of cricket and a glass of wine. A Test Match is played over the course of a day invariably against a background of popping corks and chilled glasses of white as any number of amateur wine lovers seek refreshment. Many cricket playing countries from Australia to South Africa boast some of the most beautiful spots in the world to play the game and also produce wines of outstanding quality. Think of the Adelaide Oval and the Barossa Valley, just an hour’s drive away. Or Newlands in Cape Town and its proximity to the vineyards of the Western Cape. In England, we now have vineyards in the three traditional cricket playing counties of Hampshire, Kent and Sussex whereas India also has a burgeoning wine industry clustered around Mumbai.

To explore this happy marriage this week me and Miquita caught up with the former England cricket player turned commentator Isa Guha. We began, where else? Just 40 miles west of the home of cricket, Lord’s Cricket Ground, with one of the club’s favourites – a glass of sparkling Rosé from Harrow & Hope. Test Match Special may have changed since the days when John Arlott would enjoy an occasional glass of claret on air but Isa did let slip that during commentary at the Oval a generous wine lover passed them a glass of fizz through the window of the commentary box.

From the slopes of England we headed to the Southern hemisphere for a taste of Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc, whose green pyrazine aromatics of freshly cut grass can evoke in our olfactory bulb long term memories of Spring, which is of course the beginning of the cricket season.

As conversation meandered to the future of the game and the success of Women’s cricket we poured our final wine from just over the Tasman Sea, with a look ahead towards the forthcoming Ashes series. The RedHeads MC1R, is made in the Barossa Valley but tastes almost like a ‘Southern Hemisphere Beaujolais,’ – you could enjoy that at the cricket, might taste even better if England are winning.

Which wine did Isa enjoy the most? Tune in to find out here.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

The Wine List

Harrow & Hope Brut Rosé 2018

2020 Sauvignon Blanc, Hunter’s, Marlborough, New Zealand – Back in stock mid November

2018 MC1R: Rouge, Red Heads, Barossa, Australia  

Wine Times Podcast: Episode 2 – Nat Parker

Sharing a chilled glass of wonderfully crisp dry Furmint, a rich, almost waxy Chardonnay from New Zealand and a luscious red made deep in the heart of the Mediterranean’s largest island, this week we sat down with award winning actor Nat Parker.

Nat, who is in the middle of a run in the West End in ‘The Mirror and The Light’ at the Gielgud, was terrifically entertaining company.

He admitted to Miquita that after coming off stage, playing Henry VIII, there was nothing he craved more than a small glass of something cool, crisp and refreshing. A Dry Furmint Special Reserve from Royal Tokaji in Hungary () perhaps? Or maybe something a little more full bodied such as the Hunter’s Chardonnay from New Zealand. Just to make sure, we tried them both.

I suspected Nat knew a little more about wine then he let on and after a few glasses, and some outlandish name dropping of the cast of his latest Ridley Scott film The Last Duel, he declared his love of all things Italian describing himself as a ‘Puglian Bunny.’ So we took a short ride across the Ionian Sea to Sicily for an old club favourite the Nero d’Avola from Tenuta Fenice which rounded off a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Ciao!

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

Which wine did Nat enjoy the most? Tune in to find out here.

The Wine List

2020 Dry Furmint Special Reserve, Royal Tokaji, Hungary

2019 Hunter’s Chardonnay, Marlborough, New Zealand

2020 Tenuta Fenice Nero d’Avola, Sicily

Wine Times Podcast: Episode 1 – Ed Gamble

Over a small glass of Aligoté, a taste of Pinot Noir and a fairly large glass of South African red, Miquita and I caught up with stand-up comedian and wine lover, Ed Gamble.

Like many of us, Ed’s formative years on the wine route were consigned to those curious few bottles on the lower shelves of his local newsagent until a few wine loving friends introduced him to the competitive world of wine tasting and the delights of Italy’s Barolo. I had an inkling that Ed knew a little about wine so I wanted to show him something he might not have tasted before and a wine he could perhaps impress his more knowledgeable friends with. Perhaps.

So, we travelled to Burgundy, vicariously from our studio in London and explored the region’s lesser known and third grape variety – Aligoté. 2020 Bourgogne Aligoté, L’Étrangère. The insiders’ choice? Maybe. It’s mainly grown on the highest and lowest slopes in Burgundy and produces a light white wine full of vitality, citrus fruit and taught, nervous energy.

From there are journey took us to one of the most beautiful regions in the world on the South Island of New Zealand for the 2019 Invivo Pinot Noir made in Central Otago, New Zealand. Delicate and early-ripening, its natural home is alongside Aligoté in Burgundy but in other pockets of the world such as California, Germany and New Zealand it can produce a wine that shines with approachable notes of dark cherry and spice. I mention the latter because conversation veered towards wine speak – just how do you describe wine?

We finished where else, but in the sunny climes of the Western Cape with the rich and velvety 2020 Excelsior Heritage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Which wine did Ed enjoy the most? Tune in to find out here.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

The Wine List

2020 Bourgogne Aligoté, L’Étrangère, Burgundy, France

2019 Invivo Pinot Noir, Central Otago, New Zealand

2020 Cabernet Sauvignon Excelsior Heritage Reserve, Robertson, South Africa

English Wine – the New, New World

The excitement surrounding English sparkling wine is palpable. In the last five years alone more than eight million vines have been planted, an astonishing increase of 70% giving us a total of nearly 4,000 hectares of vineyards. The English wine industry may still be very small, just 7.1 million bottles were sold in 2020, but it is growing – fast. Despite all the challenges and disruption caused by the pandemic, recently published figures from WineGB, the trade organisation that represents British winemakers, show that exports have climbed 51% in the last year with British wine now being shipped to 30 markets across the world. And we’re not just drinking it, we’re visiting the vineyards too. WineGB say that domestic wine tourism was up 57% last year as wine lovers hit the English wine route to explore the numerous cellar doors and tasting rooms we now have on our shores.

It’s all come a long way since the days of the mid-seventies when the likes of Bernard Theobald were producing red wine on the banks of the Thames and comparing the climate of Reading to Bordeaux. These days the British wine industry employs nearly 5,000 people with around 800 vineyards and 178 wineries.

Flowers blooming in English vineyard

As I said in The Sunday Times recently English wine is now entering its third chapter. The first chapter was loosely speaking post war to the late 1980s when a small group of hobby farmers, joined by a handful of commercial enterprises, began planting vineyards. Often these were with German grape varieties such as Müller Thurgau, Schönburger and Ehrenfelser, inspired by our then thirst for easy drinking white wine like Liebfraumilch and a belief that England enjoyed a similar cool climate to the slopes of Germany.

The second phase began in the mid 1990s with the emergence of high quality, internationally recognised sparkling wine made with the same grape varieties as Champagne: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier and by the same method – with a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The third phase is now – where not only has England established itself as a serious producer of high quality sparkling wine but there is also a growing enthusiasm for still wines as well.

England now has more vineyards than there are grape growers in the Napa valley and here at the Club we certainly haven’t missed the great English wine boom of the 21st century. We have our very own trio of vineyards: Windsor Great Park; the high and stony Wyfold vineyard located down a country lane in Oxfordshire, expertly cultivated by Barbara Laithwaite and on the slopes above the town of Marlow, Henry and Kaye Laithwaite’s Harrow & Hope continues its ascent recently winning a slew of medals at the WineGB awards in London. Henry’s Blanc de Noir is a stunning wine with a vibrant concentration of acidity and crisp, white fruit.

Winemaker, Henry Laithwaite

Next month Wyfold’s new 2016 Brut will be released and having tasted it I can confirm it’s a thrilling, complex wine with layers of flavour. Pop the cork and it falls into the glass with a classic golden hue, take a sniff and immediately there is a hint of creamy, toasty notes. But make no mistake this is an English wine to its core and when you sip it, a burst of citrus and summer fruits dance across your tongue before finishing with a burst of thrilling acidity. It’s exciting to witness the genesis of a new wine region, right here in our backyard – and enjoy a few glasses of British bubbly too.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President

Thinking Pink

It feels as if we are a month behind. After a chilly April and an unseasonably wet and stormy May, suddenly June has arrived and with it Summer. I was beginning to think it may never come as some days in May were almost as cold as January! June is a glorious time of year when everything in the garden is out and the countryside is a sea of green. The other night we enjoyed our first balmy evening when at dusk the smell of warm grass hangs heavy in the muggy air.

Midsummer is also rosé time; although there is a recent fashion to drink this pale, tangy pink wine all year round now and not just from Provence. As I wrote in The Sunday Times recently, the quality of rosé has been climbing steadily in recent years and you will find interesting examples from California, Italy and further afield. But sometimes you taste a wine from Provence which just hits the spot (such as the club’s 2020 Seraphin Rosé (Organic), Provence, France) and you remember why it is you look to the Mediterranean for your inspiration. Namely, that area of vines fanning out north of Toulon towards Saint Tropez and Cannes. The wild hills of the Côtes de Provence where the vines are enveloped with the smell of lavender, thyme and pine. Of course at this time of year, it is blisteringly hot, in different times when we were there for June, by midday we would find ourselves somewhere in the shade, preferably with a view of the sea and a glass of something that has been made from at least two grape varieties: Grenache and Cinsault – the two building blocks to creating a dry, savoury and crisp rosé.

Although we like to drink rosé on its own, I’m always impressed at how well it goes with food. In Provence they enjoy it with Bourride, a simple, light stew made with white fish. Serve it with warm vegetables, a torn baguette and smudge of aioli, the butter of Provence made with parsley, mayonnaise and crushed garlic. Yum. But you can also enjoy it with delicate Asian curries, all sorts of salads and one of my favourites, grilled fish or anchovies on toast. With travel restrictions in place this year, it is a summer for travelling vicariously through our imagination. Pour yourself a glass and think of the golden age of the Côte d’Azur when the best of Hollywood would decant to the coast for a glamorous rosé filled Summer.

Will Lyons

Club Vice President