Will Lyons, a delightful companion, is not only a friend of mine. He has one of the finest palates in these islands, and has already been immortalised by Alexander McCall Smith in the 44 Scotland Street series. Those books feature another character, an appalling man called Bruce Anderson, who in no way resembles this columnist. For one thing, he is less than half my age. He also spends much of his time breaking girls’ hearts throughout the New Town. Chance would be a fine thing.
Anyway, Sandy McCall Smith’s fictional Bruce Anderson decides at one stage that he might like to become a wine merchant, so consults the real Will Lyons, who remains as courteous as ever — almost implausibly so — while the no-resemblance Anderson makes a complete pillock of himself. Will Lyons did join the wine trade, although ‘trade’ might not seem an appropriate way to describe Berry Bros & Rudd, who recruited him. You have to be formidable to play for that team. He is. Yet again, Berry’s proved that as they approach middle life after more than 300 years in the business, longevity has bred cunning.
Knowledgeable though he be, Will is anything but a monoglot oenophile. He reminds me of an admirable fellow called Roger Holloway, alas now departed. Roger was a wine merchant, a successful businessman in Hong Kong and the father of a Tory MP, Adam, whose awkward-squad integrity has thus far come between him and preferment. Roger was also a clergyman. Will too is drawn to God. He enjoys climbing in the Scottish uplands, sometimes with his father-in-law, Martin Wemyss, a retired rear admiral. Walking round Iona, or on high places overlooking sea lochs with long vistas of distant islands, longer still of the Atlantic’s vastness, Will says that he has felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, which persists after the holiday gives way to the train journey south and there are no longer any hills summoning him to lift his eyes. God is not to be shaken off even among the banalities of townscape. Discussing this, we were both reminded of Caravaggio’s ‘Calling of St Matthew’. Matthew is in a tavern with his mates, no doubt intending to make an evening of it, when Our Lord appears and he is transfigured, to make an eternal life of it. I suspect that in the long fullness, Will Lyons will surrender to his vocation.
Which should still allow him many long years to provide the raw material for the Miracle at Cana and similar events, including a forthcoming Italian wine evening in honour of Sandy McCall Smith’s latest book (the man is inexhaustible) featuring Brunello. Will often organises gently tutored wine tastings, and they are always fun.
The other evening, while wandering around faith, Scotland, Caravaggio and Sandy McCall Smith, Will and I presided over a couple of bottles. The first was a white Le Soula, 2011. Although Le Soula’s wines have been praised here before, there is every excuse for returning to the subject. They keep improving. There are greater French whites, from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône. But they are several times the price. Berry’s are flogging the ’11 at £25. That is a bargain. We needed something special to follow and we found it: a Grand-Puy-Lacoste ’96. It was a perfect example of harmonious claret. Recently, I have helped to drink a number of useful bottles which were approaching maturity. A 2000 Langoa-Barton was excellent, though not yet at its peak. Nor was a Calon Ségur from the same year. In its case, we also wondered whether there was enough fruit. The 2000 Sarget de Gruaud Larose, en magnum, drank easily. But it is a second wine. That Grand-Puy-Lacoste had reached maturity. Although it did fall short of greatness, it was jolly good.