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.

Also on the blog

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.

Also on the blog:

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