For more than a decade, award-winning journalist Will Lyons has been writing about wine, formerly in The Wall Street Journal and now The Sunday Times. His passion has taken him all over the world discovering the very best wines in the world’s top regions. Currently, he is sailing the high seas with Cunard on its latest wine-themed voyage. We catch up with him to talk all things grape.
1. What’s been your most memorable cruise to date?
I was extremely fortunate to sail back from New York on one of the last crossings on board Cunard’s QE2 – what an elegant ship that was! And then again on one of the first crossings of the QM2. I remember on the QM2 we sailed out of New York harbour and hit a tremendous storm in the north Atlantic. The captain came over on the ship’s intercom and said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re on board the largest and most advanced passenger liner in the world’. It was very comforting.
2. What do you like about cruise holidays?
Quite simply, there’s something for everybody. Whether you want to taste Grand Cru wine, sit in the library all afternoon and read (or in my case write), listen to some classical music or simply sit on deck, breathing in the fresh, sea air – whatever your niche you’ll find it.
3. Tell us more about working on Cunard’s Voyage du Vin tour.
I’m on board to explain and open up the mysterious, magical and fascinating world of wine. Whether it’s through hosting a wine tasting dinner, delivering a wine-themed lecture or taking a few passengers on a wine-themed shore excursion, I’m the guide that can offer a little bit of advice, steer someone to an interesting bottle they perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise tasted or explain the intricacies of a wine region. But above all we’re there to have fun.
Wherever you are on the wine journey, whether you are just beginning and know nothing about wine, are beginning to take an interest or a serious collector with a deep knowledge, we’ll have something for you.
4. What are some of your favourite wines Cunard offers?
The real strength of Cunard is the breadth of its wine offering. If you had all the money in the world you can explore and taste some of the most sought after and classic wines in the world. There are also wines from some fascinating countries such as Lebanon, Israel, India and Uruguay. One of my favourites from the last voyage was Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia in South Africa. This is a sensational sweet wine and was a favourite of Napoleon. It’s hard to find on land so it was a real treat to taste it at sea.
5. What do you love most about travelling on a Cunard ship?
Call me old-fashioned, but I love the formality of Cunard. When we crossed the Atlantic on the QE2, many of the French passengers were outstandingly well dressed. Evenings are when the ship comes alive and on that crossing the bar was set very high; it was like a little glimpse of Edwardian high society.
6. Where would you most like to travel to on a cruise?
My father-in-law was in the Royal Navy and always talks about the magic of sailing into Hong Kong harbour with a fleet of ships. I would love to do that one day.
7. When did your passion for wine begin?
I was incredibly lucky in that in my last year at school one of my teachers, a lively Scotsman, ran a pretty serious wine tasting course, La Confriere. But my passion really began at Edinburgh University Wine Society. It was while here that I had my first revelatory wine experience tasting a very old bottle of red Bordeaux. I think it was at that moment that my eyes were fully opened to the incredible flavours of fine wine.
8. What are the latest trends in wine in the UK? Anything that surprises you?
We’ve had years of wine becoming more alcoholic. When I first started tasting wine it was a rarity to see wines over 14.5 per cent alcohol and you never saw one at 16 per cent alcohol, unless it was a sherry. Then in Bordeaux the style changed and everyone was trying to make riper, more alcoholic reds. Suddenly we were seeing wines above 15 per cent alcohol! Fortunately, this trend seems to be coming to an end and we have a new generation of winemakers who are making wines with freshness, elegance and purity. Long may it continue!
I’ve been surprised and delighted by the continued success of English wine. Who would have thought in the mid 1980s, we would now have more wineries in England than the Napa Valley?
9. Which, in your opinion, is the best European port region and why?
Porto, in northern Portugal, perched on the steep sided banks of the river Douro, is charming and easy to fall in love with. It’s bustling, ancient cobbled back streets, riverside cafes, historic port wine lodges and medieval streets have their own, very special atmosphere. If you want to go wine tasting, you can venture up the Douro valley; it’s close to the Atlantic so the seafood’s incredible. I’ve been visiting for more than 20 years and love strolling down by the river, having a glass of wine and watching the world go by.
10. If you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, which would it be and why?
My first and true love is red Bordeaux. It’s the wine I collect the most, drink the most and enjoy the most.
11. What’s been your most memorable travel experience?
It would have to be spending the day in Burgundy with Sir Sean Connery. I was living in Scotland at the time and I was taking a flight with then owner of Glasgow Rangers, Sir David Murray, and visited his estate in the village of Santenay in Burgundy. It was a memorable trip for all sorts of reasons, but standing behind Sean Connery as he entered an airport full of hundreds of people who recognised him gave me some insight into what it must be like to play James Bond.
12. What would be your advice to someone looking to learn more about wine?
Taste, read and visit. Taste as much and as widely as you can, read as many reference books as you can digest and visit the regions. You will learn more in one week tramping the vineyards in a wine region than you will through a year of book learning.
Get on Board
Will Lyons is currently headlining Cunard’s ‘Voyage du Vin’ cruise on board Queen Victoria. He will also be travelling next year on Cunard’s ‘Festival of Food and Wine’ cruise, from 7 to 14 June 2020, a Transatlantic Crossing (Southampton to New York) on board Queen Mary 2. For more information, visit cunard.com.