Last week, Sunday Times Wine Club Vice President Will Lyons, took to our Facebook page in another exciting live Q&A as part of the Wine Live with Will Lyons series. In the live, he answered questions from our viewers. This week, it was all about food and wine matches.
In case you couldn’t join us on the night, here’s what you missed…
You can purchase the wines Will enjoyed during the live to try yourself below:
This week on Wine Live with Will Lyons, he was virtually joined by Jane Hunter, known around the world as the First Lady of New Zealand Wine and her nephew the winemaker James Macdonald from Hunter’s Wines in Marlborough, New Zealand.
Here’s what they spoke about in case you missed it …
There is so much to love about Bordeaux it’s almost impossible to know where to begin. An early evening stroll along the Quai des Chartrons in the City perhaps, before finding an outside table at somewhere like Café Gourmand and watching the world go by. A visit to one of the many wine producing villages along the Médoc, that magical, vine covered peninsula which begins on the outskirts of Bordeaux and finishes where the Gironde estuary tips into the Atlantic ocean. Or a quick stop at Saint Emilion’s cosy L’Envers du Décor wine bar for a midday glass of chilled, tangy, leafy white wine, grown on the gravel soils of the nearby Graves.
The wine route is full of many glorious destinations but my first love has always been Bordeaux. In another world, many of us involved professionally with wine would be there now, scurrying around its cellars tasting barrel samples of the new vintage during the hectic en primeur week. The 2019s can wait. As the world stops for this extremely difficult time, and we look out for friends, family and neighbours, many of whom are now isolated, we can take solace in a few moments of reflection on the beauty of this most glorious stop along the wine route.
The scenic route
The heartland of Bordeaux is the Médoc. The Left Bank of the Gironde were the deepest gravel banks are found and communes such as Margaux, St-Julien, Pauillac and St-Estèphe established themselves some two hundred years ago as some of the greatest places in the world to grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Blended together these produce age worthy red wines that have been sought after by collectors for many decades.
If you are driving from the City, there are two ways to reach the vineyards of the Médoc. One involves navigating through the rather uninspiring suburbs of Bordeaux before hitting the auto-route and driving at speed up to your first tasting in the cellars of St Julien or wherever it maybe. This is obviously the quickest route and recommended if time is short. But I like to get up an hour early, turn off the sat nav in my hire car and take the ‘scenic’ route along the more sedate D2 road. Rather like driving out of Melbourne, past the MCG cricket ground, down towards the Mornington Peninsula or leaving San Francisco and crossing the Golden Gate Bridge heading to the Silverado trail in Napa, one cannot fail to feel a pang of excitement as to what lays ahead. The pulse is quickened.
The first wine producing village of note is the commune of Margaux, where the road curves and passes straight in front of Château Palmer. Look right and fluttering above its turrets you’ll notice a Union Jack, a nod to its former proprietor – the Englishman – Colonel Charles Palmer. You are now within yards of perhaps the most famous Château in the world, the grand neo-classical Margaux, its columns standing proud at the end of a plane-tree-lined drive, surrounded by its vineyards which sit on a bed of sandy, limestone gravel. Here the wines are marked by their medium bodied texture and seductive aromatics. There is something unmistakable about the perfume of wines from the commune of Margaux, which at their best can take on notes of violets and rose petals.
My favourite way to end the day
Time is running away with us. Soon the road will snake out of Margaux and after a straight drive through some agricultural land Saint Julien will be upon us. This is what the old British wine trade referred to as the ‘thirsty corner’ as the road takes a sharp turn past Château Beychevelle and Château Ducru Beaucaillou. Beyond lays Château Leoville Barton, flanking either side of the road. From here on in the Château come thick and fast – a roll call of some of the most magical and romantic names in wine. In Pauillac you pass Latour and Lafite before finishing high up in Saint Estephe where the vineyards stretch northwards towards the unsettled Bay of Biscay.
After a busy day of tasting, one of my favourite things to do is to continue towards the ocean to the bay of d’Arcachon where on the sea front you’ll find simple cabins serving oysters with nothing more than buttered bread and a slice of lemon. La Cabane De L’Aiguillon is my choice. Half a dozen oysters with a carafe of chilled, tangy white wine. Heavenly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!