Renowned furniture designer Lord Linley, twelfth in line to the throne, has long had access to the best wines. Adam Lechmere checks out his tastes.
Lord Linley, in an effortlessly smart shirt, well-cut dark suit and suede laceless loafers, is as stylishly upholstered as the £6,000 sofa he’s sitting on.
Lord Linley is a celebrated figure in the rarefied world of British high society. Firstly as the Queen’s nephew (son of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon) he pops up regularly in the pages of Hello! magazine in rich but modest morning suit at one Euro wedding or another. Then he is feted as one of the only members of the royal inner circle to make a decent living for himself. Linley, his hugely successful bespoke furniture business, has shops in Mayfair and Pimlico, and clients including Claridges, the Goring Hotel (for which he fits out entire suites), Oprah Winfrey, Michael Parkinson, Joseph Ettedgui and others. In addition, Lord Linley recently became chairman of auction house Christie’s.
Linley’s creations (he started his first workshop in the early 1980s, just after leaving school) are elegant, restrained and intricate. Desks and tables have secret compartments, drawers have hidden triggers that cause other drawers to ‘ooze’ (his word) open.
I wonder which of his parents gave him his aesthetic sense – his father Lord Snowdon, or his late mother, the stylish, tragic Princess Margaret?
‘Both of them. They exposed me very early to the arts and the theatre and to design. I have memories of being backstage at Covent Garden, or eating bananas off Zandra Rhodes’ workbench.’
Snowdon, the celebrated photographer, ‘was all cameras and Gauloises and wild Sardinian wine. My parents’ generation were always drinking. There was the fairly robust stuff we would have in the cottage in Sussex, and then in London we drank the stuff that had been laid down…’
If Linley’s sense of style was instilled at an early age, so was his love of wine. His sister’s godfather is none other than Anthony Barton of Léoville-Barton (‘I’ve got some magnums of the 1982 winking at me in the cellar’), the Antinoris are ‘friends of ours’ first, ‘who own Solaia and Tignanello’ second, while Ann Colgin of cult Napa winery Colgin Cellars is among the other wine celebrities with whom he is acquainted.
There’s no hint of grandiosity to any of this. Lord Linley is a most approachable chap, though the shutters snap down when I quiz him about his aunt’s legendary frugality. Doesn’t that side of the family have a reputation for parsimony? What’s the browsing and sluicing like when he dines with the Queen? ‘They’ve always had good wine as far as I’m concerned,’ he mutters in a tone that discourages further questioning.
One thing is clear: he doesn’t stint at home. His conversation is peppered with, ‘I had three double magnums of Winston Churchill the other day’, and ‘the first wine I ever really tasted was a Lafite with my grandmother, and I had a glass of the 1989 the other day – it took me right back.’ At home he drinks what comes to hand. Recently he has been working through a case of Talbot 1986, ‘and La Mission Haut-Brion’.
He relies on two merchants – Justerini & Brooks and Andrew Bruce of Piccadilly. They are happy to fill me in on their client’s purchases, but both have the royal servant’s natural discretion.
‘I got a severe bollocking once,’ Robert Gordon of Justerinis tells me from his Edinburgh office. ‘I sent him a case of American and Australian stuff, and he was on the phone first thing Monday – “Don’t send me any of that rubbish”. He won’t mind me telling you this. We go back years. ’
The strongest impression that comes from conversations with Bruce and Gordon is the intensely conservative nature of their client. ‘We skitter around Alsace and Rhône, but it’s all France. Definitely no New World,’ says Gordon.
Bruce is the same: ‘It’s 80% classed growth Bordeaux, 20% Burgundy.’
The Bordeaux is modest in price terms: Grand Mayne, Petit Bocq, Pagodes de Cos. The Burgundy is classic: Chassagne from Gagnard, Puligny from Leflaive, Meursault from Morey.
But while he’s conservative when he deals with his merchants, he seems dangerously radical when left to his own devices: ‘What I love about eating out is the opportunity it gives me to try new things. I was at Tom Aikens’ new restaurant, Tom’s Kitchen, and had Mosel Riesling – delicious – and I had Gavi di Gavi from Villa Sparina at L’Incontro over the road. I never have the same wine twice.’
His tastes are quite homely – for example, when he is at his house in the Côtes de Luberon in the south of France he explores the local wines. ‘There is a rosé that we always have for lunch, from Domaine de la Figuière. We don’t go out to tastings but we often get the local wine shop in…’
Actually there’s something endearingly democratic about this scion of a family which still believes in its hereditary right to rule. His shop, with its handsome furnishings and beautiful young female assistants, may radiate opulence and privilege, but his stuff isn’t ludicrously expensive – and he’s now thinking of ways to make it ‘more accessible’.
Lord Linley indicates the coffee table in front of us. ‘This is a Linley classic, burr walnut. I want to make it smaller, more relevant to smaller houses with smaller rooms. I’ve always been democratic.’
His wine tastes are pretty straightforward as well. ‘I like good solid classy wine – there’s a parallel with furniture somewhere.’
What did you drink last night?
1988 Latour, supplied by my host
What’s your desert island wine?
A magnum of 1982 Léoville Barton
Who would you drink it with, and where? Well, obviously I’d be on my own, sitting on my desert island
What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a wine? Ask my wine merchant