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Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini & Brooks, tells Daniel Evans about his lifelong love affair with the sparkling tipple

The venue – The Library at the Café Royal on Regent Street – was suitably opulent. The quality of champagne on offer – from Dom Perignon 2009 to Bollinger, La Grande Annee 2007 – equally splendid. But the standout performer on the night was Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini & Brooks who provided just the right amount of expert guidance to give his audience the insight and understanding they needed to get the most out of their champagne-tasting experience.

As we sat and chatted over what I think was the third champagne on the list – a Ruinart, Blanc de Blanc, NV – Giles told me what he thought it was about the sparkling tipple which particularly appealed to so many people. “Ever since the times of King George III in 1761 [to whom Justerini & Brooks would make regular deliveries], champagne has been associated with fun and celebration,” he said.

“Perhaps it was, at first, an appreciation of the time and craftsmanship invested in making champagne that sparked its popularity, or maybe it was just the pop and the bubbles! But, as much as life and champagne have changed over the years, there is as much skill going into the making of champagne as ever. It has been cherished throughout the ages, from Dickens to Wilde, and from Churchill to James Bond.

“The UK has been one of the world’s top markets for champagne for some time now. Our passion for bubbles and brands has seen extraordinary growth in consumption which, combined with our great curiosity, has seen an expansion in the variety of champagne being offered. There is a wider and more diverse range of champagnes available in the UK than ever before and quality is at an all-time high. Rosé, vintage, luxury cuvees, single vineyards, extra brut or even bone dry nondosage styles have all been penetrating the market.”

Justerini & Brooks is the oldest continuous royal warrant holding fine wine and spirits merchants in the UK. Established in 1749 in London, it has a portfolio over 3,500 wines from the finest estates, domaines and chateaux. Particular strengths are Burgundy, Bordeaux, the Rhone, the Loire, champagne, Italy and Germany Giles adds: “We cellar over £200 million of wine on behalf of our clients in our storage facility – Cellarers Wines Ltd – and have a broking platform where we value clients’ bottles or entire cellars and sell them on their behalf.

“As buying director, I run a team of six. We scour the world tasting wines from well over 300 wine growers a year, the aim being to check up on our existing sources and discover any hidden new winemaking talent out there. We divide and conquer. I personally look after some of our key regions across Europe, including Burgundy, the Rhone and Italy. Travelling throughout the year, I spend much of my time in vineyards and cellars, tasting over 30,000 wines in the last five years alone. We share our finds with the teams in London, Edinburgh and Hong Kong, working jointly with them on marketing strategies to sell directly to the customer.”

I ask Giles what he would recommend to someone if they came to him and said they were not a regular champagne drinker but would like to try some. “I would suggest our Justerini & Brooks 250th Anniversary Cuvee,” he said. “It was created for our 250th anniversary in 1999 it is made from excellent quality Pinot Noir fruit from the Bar region. It’s opulent, fruity and smooth – delicious from magnum [and won’t break the bank]. We serve this at our St James’s Street lunches and dinners and it always goes down well. It’s a crowd-pleaser, popular at weddings and parties. For something more cerebral, I would suggest one of the Philipponnat Champagnes – be it their brut tradition, Blanc de Noirs or the jewel in their crown Clos des Goisses, the 2007 being the current release. There are also some truly wonderful growers’ champagnes out there, Egly Ouriet being one to look out for if you like champagnes with rich, toasty, red fruit flavours. His old vines Les Crayeres blend is memorable.”

Giles knew from quite a young age that he wanted to work in the wine trade. “I have been fascinated by wines ever since my father, a barrister, starting sharing wonderful old bottles of claret and burgundy with me,” he said. “Not only were they delicious but they all tasted different and each had a story to tell. I find the skill, their understanding of nature and determination of fine wine growers completely inspiring.

“I was lucky enough to begin at Justerini & Brooks in 1997 as a cellar hand. Our spiritual home has always been Piccadilly – for more than 200 years we had a shop in this area before moving everything to Justerinis.com – so, when I began, I was selling from our office in St James’s Street. I was always spell-bound by the amazing aromas while decanting wines for the lunches that took place in the dining room at St James’s Street and now, 20 years later, I still have a great passion for the job.”

Three of the best: Philipponnat Close des Goisses (left), Egly Oriet (middle), Philipponnat 1552 (right)

Over time, Giles honed his palate – “With great enthusiasm,” he admits – and wine knowledge under the tutelage of the-then buying director (now chairman) Hew Blair, before taking on the role himself in 2012. “However the learning never stops, there is always something new to discover,” he adds. “Our customer base is such a broad spectrum. It is such a wide-ranging list of people from entrepreneurs, city folk and lawyers, to actors & actresses and sports people, particularly polo players.” (The company’s headline sponsorship of British Polo Day might explain that one.)

As the evening comes to a close and with only time for one more glass – a Philipponnat, Cuvee 1522, 2007 – I wonder whether I have chosen the wrong career, I ask Giles whether his job, which seems to revolve around travelling the world drinking and talking about champagne, has a downside. “Very few,” he admits. “You get bored of airports and missing out on family time is a potential pitfall but I love it.”

Giles Burke-Gaffney, buying director at Justerini &

It’s always a win-win with gin, says Robin Dutt

THIS IS NOT A LIE. MY first alcoholic drink was gin. Those who know me are apt to see a vodka martini or a flute of champagne in my hand. But it was gin that seduced me. No tonic was involved at that time. It was the occasion of a school trip to the National Theatre and my dear friend (still is) insisted on buying me something to drink. I thanked him for his kindness and opted for a Coca-Cola. “No, Robin. A drink.” I knew what he meant and, pretty soon, two rocks glasses of gin and fizzy bitter lemon were bejewelling the plain table top in almost Art Deco tones of soapy blue. As we were both only 16 or so, it felt grown up and mischievous.

Gin is a taste you don’t easily forget and, unlike many drinks, most have a clear opinion about it which runs predictably from loving to loathing. Originally created as a herbal medicine (in the way that vodka can be resorted to as an almost first aid for a minor cut) its origins can be traced to the Middle Ages and based on an older Dutch liquor called jenever, deriving from the Latin, “Juniperus”, for Juniper. The essence of this essential berry is omnipresent in the drink and the first whiff as you open a bottle is this. It was a concoction which was apparently drunk before battle to calm the nerves and perhaps that is where the still-used term, “Dutch Courage” comes from. The other popular phrase “Going Dutch” doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

Although not an English invention, it didn’t take the English long to adopt it as the go-to, must have slurp of the day, night and any time in between and, indeed, between 1695 and 1735 literally thousands (around 7,500 in London alone) of gin-shops existed, a period typified as that of the “Gin Craze”. And craze is a good word to use. William Hogarth’s Gin Lane shows gin sodden denizens in a slice of desultory 18th century life displaying the effects of imbibing too much. It also features a baby about to take a headlong plunge from its drunken mother’s arms into an external stairwell, the ominous skeletal man hard by, a crumbling building and the only person prospering, the undertaker. But all this at a time when it was safer not to drink the water. And it is as well to remember gin’s seductive but slow powers in the popular drinkers’ mantra (often ignored, of course, when ordering a gin martini) ‘One Martini, two Martini, three Martini…Floor!’

The sheer variety of gins available is staggering and it seems that, at this very moment, we are enjoying another “Gin Craze” revival. And, while there may not be thousands of specific gin shops, the ancient, classic, modern and explosively contemporary varieties are jostling for centre stage and their time in the bar spotlight or, indeed, the must-have drinks at the openings of fashion boutiques and art gallery evenings. Despite the incalculable varieties, the various ingredients (the botanicals) are responsible for crafting the character for every taste, every style. These, and the liquid’s mercurial clarity, ensure that each gin has legions of fans but then some, a select cognoscenti few. And, despite its foreign origins, the appellation, “London Dry Gin” has a defined meaning and provenance the world over.

Botanicals is a word which in itself is responsible for carving any gin’s identity. For the old school imbibers it cannot be anything but, for example, Gordon’s and, for those who find the presence of dancing herbs on the tongue to their liking, Bombay Sapphire may spring to mind. The Botanist is made with 31 botanicals (22 native to the island of Islay). Hendrick’s has long charmed cocktail fanciers with its cucumber and rose, the garnish – always a slice of the former as long as the high ball, emerging triumphantly through the ice. Sipsmith is from the first copper distillery in London since around the beginning of George IV’s reign. Horse Guards is quite new and the word that is used to describe it is “smooth”. That is its only necessary credential. And you will discover countries of origin as diverse as Canada to Uganda, New Zealand to Germany, the Philippines to America. There are notable gins from France, Italy and Belgium too. And, once again, England, of course.

But, even in the gin-soaked glory days of the past, presentation and public perception of a product was really not even thought about. An earthenware jar with a single curved handle was indistinguishable from another such vessel. Now, as with all drinks, the identity has to be announced from the bar shelves to the bar guests. Shape of bottle, size of bottle (to fit most bar shelves although some are purposefully over-sized), magnetic label colour – red somewhere is often employed, the authority of mono or duo chrome wording, the colour (or not) of the bottle itself, an engaging hand script, the visibility or invisibility of the liquid within and of course, perhaps most importantly, the name. One that becomes generic. And then there is the huge importance of a cocktail name – that sticks, in the way that a Bloody Mary for vodka does. By the by, if using gin instead of vodka it is known as a Red Snapper. But, Fallen Angel, French 75, Moon River, Old Etonian, Satan’s Whiskers, Vesper, Gibson and The Last Word are all, of course, individual, each moniker conjuring a sense of taste, space, time and idea, long before glass has reached lip. Arguably, gin cocktails have the most enigmatic of all alcoholic beverage names. Often they sound like sensory or historical or mischievous adventures.

The gin arena is vast and competitive. But, because of the choice available, with more on the way, almost seemingly every day, there is room for all. But they do stand or fall ultimately. Fashion, while fickle, is a factor. Those brands that can equate with a lifestyle or time or provenance, treat these aspects as preciously guarded hallmarks. Gin is the liquid heart. What exactly characterises it? Sometimes, gins come back from the brink of near extinction because of fashion or companies being bought. New ones are often readily welcomed and give the enthusiastic barman more tools for his alchemy making.

While the definition of a spirit in gin’s case is the prosaic, “a strong, alcoholic drink”, it may be well to look at the other meanings of spirit – not usually applied. “Something’s characteristic quality”, “a person’s mood”, “courage and determination”.

Somehow there is something of a flow between the same word, used for two completely different things.

It’s always a win-win with gin, says

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s as the fashionable centre of London was guided by Henry Jermyn who was given the task of transforming the area still scared with battlements from the Civil War by Charles II upon his restoration in 1660. Jermyn was made the 1st Duke of Albans in thanks and became known as the Father of the West End

The area’s links to bespoke tailoring can be traced back to 1622 when the freehold of this parcel of land was purchased by William Maddox, merchant tailor of the City of London, but it would be another century before his dream of creating a tailoring utopia would be realised when Dorothy Savile come to prominence. Savile Street – which became Savile Row in 1810 after it was cut off by Regent Street – was Dorothy’s personal vision.

The Daily Post reported on 12 March 1733 that “new buildings were about to be built on Savile Street in Mayfair.” It was in 1735 after the Countess of Suffolk, mistress of George II, took up residence at No 15 Savile Street – now Henry Poole & Co – that Savile Row became famous. Another famous tenant who made his home on the street in 1735 was future prime minister William Pitt. Not all existing houses were knocked down but were, instead, cosmetically “Palladianised”, in keeping with Dorothy’s plans.

The British Archives refers to Dorothy’s clever street design to ensure the area was quiet and free of through traffic such as dust carts. “The limitation of space tended to the conspicuous closing of each street by a cross street which permitted each vista to be closed with neatness and effect and prevented through traffic.” It goes on to note that, in 1751, “Savile Street was home to artists such as playwright. Sheridan and at least three gentleman’s tailors were operating.”

The creation of Mayfair and St James’s

Irina Worger of Lady Row tells of the inimitable Savile Row style embodied in her bespoke dress collections and the detailing that is making her designs the talk of the town

Who are your clients?
My clients are mainly English ladies who are recommended to me by word of mouth and by ‘friends of friends’.

What types of fabrics do you prefer using?
All fabric are bespoke and offer a range of over 2,000 choices of fabric to suit your personality. Have fun with the finishing options, including the embellishment based on your mood board that will offer you something special over and above anything seen in any other window display.

What occasions may they wish to commission a dress coat?
The effect you will have in a Lady Row Bespoke Dress-Coat is as a head-turner; the same effect you get when people stop and look at a high class car as it purrs down the road.

The ability to turn heads on the high street, to show off the dress coat’s magnificent design and flare with every step that you take, is the main draw. Enhancing your style on another level with its exceptional characteristics is the USP of the Lady Row dress-coat – whether the occasion is a wedding, christening, gala, or for your own day-to-day use.

How does the Savile Row style inspire your pieces?
Mastering British Savile Row trademarks such as precise detail and expert fitting, the ladies dresses take inspiration from the bespoke traditional men’s jacket. The dress-coat will be embellished with your own choice as a creation born out of your mind and desires, hand crafted into a luxurious garment that you can wear and show off to the world.

Lady Row is the only bespoke women’s tailor just for women in Savile Row, London that offers a bespoke design based on your mood board, fabric, lining, buttons, up to the embroidery and hand painting.

Why do hand stitched clothing have such an appeal?
The embellishment the customer will choose may relate to something from their childhood, their dreams, it may be a culture-themed belonging, something which is very personal to them, a one-off special just for them to wear and show off with utter pride, knowing deep in their heart of hearts that this is unique only to them and could only be achieved by hand stitching.

What pieces are you most proud of?
The Lady Row dress-coat has been called a “walking coat”, “an astonishment”, ” a talking point” and “an interactive art work”. These type of compliments make me proud of all my creations.
Also a crown jewel, extremely recognised in the Dormeuil window display are the beetle wings hand embroidery on a Dormeuil woollen fabric dress-coat.

What’s your delivery time?
Lady Row services include Consultation, Fitting, Creation and Delivery, over the 3-4 months.

In first stage, consultation, all the measurements required will be taken and the customer will choose the fabric, lining, design of the embroidery/hand painting, and buttons and create a mood board.
The second stage, fitting, will require 3-4 meetings to ensure that the dress-coat will fit perfectly to your body and also we will discuss your inspiration board and involve you in the designing process.

Third stage, creation, the coat-dress will be based on your mood board which will give you an idea of what the finishing product will look like and allows everyone involved to agree on a direction.
Finally Delivery, in our London Atelier, your one-off creation will be carefully finished with hand stitches. The whole process will take up to 3-4 months to be ready and delivered anywhere you have requested.

Also, all the patterns, ideas, designs will be safely stored for the future.

Irina Worger of Lady Row tells of

Savile Row was built between 1731 and 1735 and is named after Lady Dorothy Savile, wife of the 3rd Earl of Burlington. Here, Mayfair historian Tyne O’Connell tells the story of one of London’s most flamboyant and influential people

Dorothy Savile, adored by the majority of London’s artistic and royal circles, blazed a trail across early 18th-century London as the leading luminary of cultural salon life. Her mother, Lady Mary Finch, was the daughter of the great Earl of Nottingham and Winchelsea while her father was the Marquis of Halifax. Lady Mary was her husband’s second wife but their long running affair provided decades of scandal before the death of his first wife enabled them to marry. Dorothy’s father died the year after her birth, making her one of the wealthiest heiresses of the age. A few men bitterly resented such a young girl having more power and wealth than most, with her own uncle describing her as “the wickedest mischievous jade upon earth”.

From an early age as one of the young maids of Queen Anne’s bedchamber, she mixed with some of the most illustrious figures of the era including Anne Finch, the feminist rebel and poet, and Sarah Churchill, wife of the Duke of Marlborough. By the age of 15, Dorothy was the head of the bedchamber of Princess Caroline, wife of the Prince of Wales, later King George II. Caroline and her husband’s power rivalled that of the unpopular German-speaking King George I’s own court.

As hostess of The Burlington Circle in Burlington House (now the Royal Academy), Dorothy became one of the greatest influencer of the age and is best known for her friendships and financial patronage of Handel, Swift, Garrick, Pope, John Gay and William Kent. Her personal wealth included vast estates and an enormous fortune, affording her an unusual degree of independence and self-empowerment for a woman, enabling her to cut a line of her own as an artist and as the principal patroness of the age. It is difficult to exaggerate her influence as the leading salonniere of the first half of the 18th century.

The cultural salons of Britain had begun in 1662 when Queen Catherine of Braganza had made drinking tea fashionable. Before this, women had taken a back seat to men socially as coffee was sold at coffee houses from which women were barred. The increasing popularity of tea, and its ready availability, put the running of social events into the hands of women for the first time. Women began hosting cultural tea salons attended by eccentrics and forward thinking men, without prejudice to class, race or faith. Over cups of tea and saucers of champagne, artists, composers, playwrights, scientists, philosophers, royalty and leaders of commerce discussed the arts and new ideas, and listened to the latest composers and poets.

Women began to compete to host the best salons and would trawl Europe in an attempt to discover new talents to present to their guests but none could compare to Dorothy’s lavish occasions. Her guest list included kings and queens, the leading cultural figures of the day, the head of the Bank of England, the head of The East India company and the head of Coutts. It was the non plus ultra of intellectual and cultural life in Britain. William Kent’s sketch of Dorothy at her easel at Burlington House where he lived with her and her husband for over 30 years, and Dorothy’s sketch of Alexander Pope playing cards, captures the relaxed atmosphere of her salons and her unique friendships with the leading, artistic figures of the day.

Blessed with beauty, Dorothy’s porcelain complexion and dark curls, her sharp intellect and the easy confidence of a natural raconteur, added to her charisma in attracting the key figures of music, science, fashion and royalty to her salons. She could afford to dress in the most exotic textiles and styles. Unfortunately for Dorothy though, her patronage of so many famous artists overshadowed her own achievements as a portrait painter and caricaturist. She had been taught by the Irish artist, Charles Jervas, official portrait painter of King George I and II and another member of her colourful salon. Some 24 of her paintings are at Chatsworth, her youngest daughter Charlotte’s home after her marriage to the 4th Duke of Devonshire in 1748.

Dorothy was not only a fashion icon for women, she wanted the gentlemen in her life to be “distinctively attired” and happily funded their bespoke three-piece suits, shoes, hats and canes. As the gentlemen visiting Burlington House had to walk past an oyster bar and over the shells of discarded oysters, Dorothy built the first Burlington Arcade in 1721 to prevent the sour odour of oysters soaking into slippers and shoes and coming into the house.

This glass-fronted arcade marked the beginning of Dorothy’s development of the 10 acres behind Piccadilly. The first Burlington Arcade was replaced in 1810 by a much larger and grander affair as shopping was transformed from a chore to the popular leisure pastime it became under Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, hence the entwined Cs on the lampposts of the area.

Before Dorothy’s marriage to Richard Boyle in 1721, the impoverished third Earl of Burlington and Cork was facing financial ruin. He had numerous outstanding debts and several court cases in Chancery. When rumours began to swirl that their two friends were to marry, the poet Alexander Pope and the designer William Kent wrote to one another that they, “Hoped that Lord Burlington’s marriage to Lady Dorothy Savile would signal a new period of creativity.” Pope wrote to Lord Burlington, “I hope she paints, I hope you build” while Kent wrote, “I hope that your architecture will flourish.”

Savile Row was built between 1731 and