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That fine Australian wine house Penfolds teamed up with the Royal Opera House to put on an evening of quite sensual pleasure at Somerset House, that grand old building beside the Thames.

Penfolds must be credited as one of the great wine makers that ensured respect for New World wines and helped open up the world wine market to a wider public.

Hard now to believe that just a short while ago in the scheme of wine, France so dominated the market that, with the rare exception of a few Italian and the odd German white, restaurant wine lists were composed entirely of French varieties.

New World wines changed all that. Admittedly, there was also a resurgence of wine production in other old wine regions. But it was the get-up-and-go, determination and willingness to adopt modern developments on the part of New World producers that helped promote and encourage wine drinking on a much wider scale.

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And right at the forefront of that movement was the Australian house of Penfolds. Given that it was established in 1844, just eight years after South Australia was founded, it can hardly be lumped in with many other New World wines. Yet such has been its influence and its success in developing fine wines, and promoting them world wide, that it undoubtedly ensured New World wines arrived at the top table.

It provided its own top table at this splendid dinner at Somerset House, where a privileged gathering of some 80 guests enjoyed a tasting of a galaxy of Penfolds wines. Having savoured more than was perhaps wise of these fine whites and delicious reds, we then adjoined to an upper room, where a long table gleaming with silver and fine glassware gave promise of good fare.

We were not disappointed. With introductions from Samuel Stephens, brand ambassador of Penfolds, and John Fulljames, associate director of the Royal Opera House, a dish of burrata, beetroot quenelle and truffle dressing was served with a 2012 Yattarna, a 1998 Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, and a 1996 Kalimna Bin 28 Shiraz.

Next came foie gras teamed with the 1980 Grange. The main dish of rare beef fillet came with a 2001 St Henri Shiraz and 1999 RWT Barossa Valley Shiraz. And finally, a dark chocolate concoction emerged, smoking, from under a glass cloche, to go with the Great Grandfather Rare Tawny NV.

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Grange is the wine that if not exactly responsible for making Australia famous certainly established it as a country making fine wine. Its inception is the stuff of legend in the wine trade. In the 1950s, Penfolds chief winemaker, Max Schubert, presented a newly created wine to his top management and a circle of leading wine buffs. It was rejected, even scorned. Yet despite this set-back, Schubert persisted, continuing to experiment on the wine in secret, in cellars well away from management.

Finally, revealing his results at another tasting by the board, his efforts were recognised and the go-ahead for production was given. That was in 1960. The Grange went on to success with Aussie drinkers and to international acclaim. It continues to win international awards and has been acknowledged as one of the great reds of the 20th century. And we were privileged to have a taste of it at Somerset House.

As if this abundance of fine food and good wines was not enough sensual pleasure for one evening, singers from the Royal Opera House gave performances. Dr Johnson is credited with saying that music was the only sensual pleasure without vice, and given his own bibulous predilection, the good doctor would surely have approved of this combination of wine and song.

In recent years, the opera house has stepped up its promotional activities, cooperating with many in the arts world and working in partnership with others. Earlier this year, it launched a collaboration with the Royal College of Art. All these activities and others around the world have upped its profile and established its brand over a wide range of products.

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Its presence at Somerset House did not mark a move into wine producing, however, but provided sublime singing and music during the course of a very grand dinner. Given the general bonhomie and hubbub engendered by wine, food and good company, it says much for the excellence of the musicians that they still commanded our attention.

Replete with wine, food and song at the end of this evening, we stepped out onto the elegant terrace of Somerset House, overlooking the Thames, with all the lights of London twinkling about us, and felt filled with seasonal goodwill towards all men and women – and especially to Penfolds.

That fine Australian wine house Penfolds teamed

Orient Express saving

The Orient Express continues to have pulling power, its iconic status undoubtedly boosted by Agatha Christie. Now known now as the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, it poses an expensive train ride to Venice, given that only one night is spent aboard. But for those keen to sample its luxury, the Italian travel firm of Citalia is offering a four night luxury break to Venice that includes a night on the train and three at the Londra Hotel in la Serenissima, with a saving of £1,435 on its usual price.

Travellers will fly BA to Venice, stay B & B at the Londra, then board the train to enjoy a new champagne bar, and dinner in the gilded 1920s restaurant car, before retiring to their deluxe cabin at bedtime. Prices from £2,249, restricted to August 2016. www.citalia.com

Golfing by the sea

Golfers may be swayed by a recommendation from Paul McGinley – he who led Europe to win the Ryder Cup last year – that rates the Quinta do Lago golf courses, and other facilities there, as “the best in Europe”. He may, perhaps, be prejudiced given that there is a Paul McGinley Academy on site, but others have also rated it highly, particularly the new North Course.

This Portuguese resort in the Algarve has no less than three 18-hole courses. There are plenty of other attractions for non-golfers that make it family-friendly, with all kinds of sporting activities, a variety of restaurants, beachside location, plus shops. www.quintadolago.com

Peru for 2016

Peruvian food is the latest foodie fad, boosted by a spate of restaurants in London and elsewhere serving up what is claimed to be authentic Peruvian dishes. To check out that they are, it will soon be possible to take a direct flight from Gatwick to Lima, when British Airways launches a new service next May. In the summer months, it will fly three times a week, in winter twice a week, prices from £765 up to £2,549 for Club World fully-flat seats. www.britishairways.com

It is a timely introduction, given increasing interest in Peru, and its efforts to attract more tourists. A major site of pre-Inca ruins at Kuelap is set to be opened up with a new cable car, and a new route for tourists at the El Brujo archaeological complex in northern Peru will give easier access. There are new and revamped museums, and next year the World Forum on Food Tourism should further promote Peruvian gastronomy. Peru is likely to be the top spot for 2016.

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Tahiti bargains

Following the feature on Tahiti in the preceding issue of Savile Row Style, there are some attractive package deals on offer. Turquoise Holidays is a leading specialist for the region, and has a 10 night two island holiday, taking in Moorea and Bora Bora, including flights, from £3,245 per person – a saving of over £1,000 per couple (turquoiseholidays.co.uk). A family trip for a couple and one child, seven nights to the same islands, also bed and breakfast, is from £6,299, giving a 35% saving on the usual price. It is, we think, a very long flight for a child! www.luxuryholidaysdirect.com

Luxury ski chalet

Anyone still looking to book a ski holiday and seeking a luxury chalet may be tempted by the Chalet Jejalp in Morzine, recently added to Consensio’s portfolio.

A short drive from Geneva, this has been nominated as the ‘World’s Best New Ski Chalet’ at the World Ski Awards. It will take up to 10 adults and four children, and is booked on an inclusive basis, which means all meals, facilities and an in-resort chauffeur. From £19,170. www.consensiochalets.co.uk

Orient Express saving The Orient Express continues to

By Peter Dean

Having a wine epiphany is the surest way of starting a wine portfolio. It’s a Eureka moment where you suddenly realise that the reason that people have wine caves, cellars and the like is not because they are fabulously wealthy (although to be fair that does help) but because it makes blinding sense. If you want to get your hands on great wine, then buying it when it is first available means that you can actually get hold of some, you should be able to afford it, and can squirrel it away so that it can be drunk when it should be drunk.

A general rule of thumb is that we all drink wine that is way too young. If you buy your wine from a supermarket then it’s guaranteed that this is the case. Most wines not only benefit from ageing but are made so that the flavours, tannins and acidity will only work together in harmony after a given set number of years in the bottle. And we are not talking mega-bucks here – drinking say a Bordeaux blend from South Africa that costs £15 today will drink like a £100 bottle of claret in ten years time, and as for a £100 bottle of claret bought now, well…

My wine epiphany came a decade ago at a dinner party when, as bottle after bottle of perfectly aged and stored wine came and went, I suddenly realised that I knew far less about wine than I had previously thought. There was vintage Billecart Salmon demi-sec champagne, a 20 year-old Riesling from the Mosel, all honeyed and unctuous, a Barolo and a Brunello di Montalcino from the same year so we could compare and contrast, there were Bordeauxs and dessert wines. All of them were drinking like wines I had never tried before.

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I decided there and then that from that moment on I would buy and drink much, much more wine (always responsibly of course).

Ten years on I have some 200 or so cases, and drink delicious wine on a regular basis. Some might say too regular! Not only does it mean I can drink superb aged wines but it is great fun collecting and I can easily subsidise the hobby by selling off a few cases that have risen in value, should I ever want or need to. That last bit will never happen of course.

There are a number of key lessons I’ve learned. First one is that collecting wine should be enjoyable. If you’d rather get trashed on a wine box then fine but maybe save serious wine buying for a few years yet.

So what wine should you buy?

It seems very obvious but you need to start by working out what wine you like to drink. And this is where the fun starts… you need to start drinking more. If you already have a wide knowledge and have a very clear idea then fine, but if you don’t I recommend you start by buying a few mixed cases. Also worth bearing in mind is will the wine that you currently like be the wines that you want to drink in 10-20 years time? It is why it’s advisable to buy a range of New World and Old World, white, red, fizzy, stickies. Oh, and don’t plan your cellar so that all your wine is ready to drink at the same time.

I would also recommend you start buying wine from specialists. There are decent wines to be bought on the high street but as a general rule you will get better wine, more guidance and often better value in the long run by buying from a specialist merchant or wine club. Think pret-a-porter versus bespoke tailoring.

I rang up a few wine merchants and chatted to their sales team about what I wanted to achieve. You would be surprised how little you need to spend and how much guidance you can get. I started out with Lay & Wheeler, a traditional wine specialist (who have since been bought by Majestic). I met up with a sales guy who bought along a few bottles of wine and we drank and started talking about them. I then bought a mixed case and continued talking to him about which wines I liked and didn’t care for. From then I started going to some of their tastings and he would recommend wines.

Start with one merchant and then branch out. I now also buy from Justerini & Brooks, Fine & Rare, Cru and Berry Bros and they all have their specialities, meaning that they have allocations from the wine-makers and can get you the good stuff as it becomes clearer what good stuff you are actually after. They also all do tastings of newly- released wines so you can be sure that you like what you are buying. Try and avoid wines that come with a lot of hype.

Buying from merchants means that you can elect to buy wine ‘in bond’ so you only pay the VAT and duty when you decide to ‘draw it down’ and drink it – the price is 20% ‘cheaper’ until that point. They or you can store it in a bonded warehouse that will cost about £10 a case per annum. Don’t try and store wine at home for any length of time, unless you have a cellar or a refrigerated cave.

Merchants also will have cellar-buying schemes so that you can give them a monthly budget and they can start building a cellar for you, again with plenty of guidance. This is an excellent method if you are young, have less disposable income but years ‘in the bank’. Expect supermarkets to start this – Waitrose started its own scheme this month.

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An alternative, or extra string to your bow, is to join the Wine Society. This club regularly wins wine retailer of the year and for good reason. It is a non-profit making wine society that sources excellent wine and is very customer-focused. You can buy wines for £5 or £500 a bottle, it matters not. What is important is that you can try mixed cases and start honing down what it is you are after. Its range of own label wines come from great wineries and their storage rates are the cheapest in the business.

Another place to buy wine from, and a way to realise why it is worth buying wines young and on release, is to buy aged wines from a wine auction. These are brilliant fun but it is advisable to go with someone who knows what they are doing or take advice before you bid on an online auction. You can get some great bargains, although you cannot be 100% sure how the wine has been kept. A toe-in-the-water approach is best.

Places to avoid – merchants that are too small, less established and promise wine as a good investment. On the whole wine is not a good investment unless you are going to drink it. True, you can make money from wines going up in value but don’t make this your primary aim. Like all good small print, investments can go down in value just as much as they can go up. There’s nothing that some merchants love telling you more than a bottle of Lafite 1982 went up in value by 12,000%. This is very rare!

Going on a wine course, be that a one-off session or a weekly event is also time well spent. The Wine Society does events, as does wine magazine Decanter, and there are more general bashes such as London Wine Week where you can broaden your tasting horizons. Another great way to broaden your knowledge is to use Winesearcher.com. which allows you to track prices of any wine in the world. This is brilliant if you drink something in a restaurant, say, and want to get hold of a bottle. The Pro version is worth the subscription but try the free portal and see how you get on.

If you start small, stay focused and put a bit of effort in, you will be rewarded handsomely. I think it is one insurance policy that will always pay dividends in the future, and just hearing the cave humming away at night is a sure way to get some sound sleep.

Berry Bros & Rudd – www.bbr.com; Fine + Rare Wines – www.frw.co.uk;

Justerini & Brooks – www.justerinis.com; Lay & Wheeler – www.laywheeler.com

Wine Society – www.thewinesociety.com

By Peter Dean Having a wine epiphany is

By Marie Scott

Way down south, at the very tip of Greece that dangles into the blue depths of the Mediterranean Sea, lies the Pelopponese peninsula. Remote and starkly beautiful, it exudes a quiet tranquillity, but those who remember their history will know that this is where the Greek War of Independence raged in the 1800s, where Lord Byron joined the Greek forces against the Ottoman Empire, and where Admiral Codrington led a mighty sea battle that sealed the fate of Europe.

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. It also jogs the memory, bringing back vague recollections of half learned lessons about far-away places with strange sounding names that suddenly are brought vividly to life in situ. No more so than here, where the combination of stunning scenery, our most romantic poet, a legendary British sea hero, and a worthy cause provide a scenario that fires the imagination.

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Unhappily, the British have largely forgotten this particular battle – there were so many, after all – but it is very much remembered in the region, with annual celebrations on the date of the battle. Victory freed Greece from Ottoman rule and effectively safeguarded the rest of Europe from Ottoman expansion. So this decisive battle of 1827 is marked each October 20 in the small local town of Pyros, on the shores of the Bay of Navarino, and each year the allied forces of France, Russia and Briton send representatives to honour the occasion.

It is one excuse for visiting this part of Greece, very much off the beaten track of tourism but undoubtedly going to become more popular as the local airport at Kalamata extends its international flights. This will bring greater numbers to one of Europe’s important environmental developments at the impressive Costa Navarino.

Encompassing 130 hectares (some 320 acres) to date. this is the on-going manifestation of one man’s dream. The man was Vassilis Constantakopoulos, a local lad made extremely good in the world of shipping containers. He had worked his way up to become a master mariner, founding his own container shipping company, Costamare Shipping, in 1974, which grew into one of largest in the business.

Whilst building this major operation, he kept the dream of one day creating a special place in his homeland of Messinai on the Peleponnes, a place to be built entirely to environmental standards. And this is now manifold in Costa Navarino, still a work in progress, that is epic in size and aspiration.

From landscaping and plant diversity to living roofs and water sustainability, energy efficient window panes and recycling of waste, everything aims to reduce the resort’s carbon footprint and to be in harmony with the locality. It is awesome.

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I was particularly delighted at one aspect of this concern, which extends naturally to the creatures of the area. Logger head sea turtles have come here to lay their eggs for millennia and Costa Navarino nurtures them, protecting the beach where they make that laborious treck to lay their eggs in the sand, and monitoring them, in partnership with the Sea Turtle Protection Society.

For humans, it seemed the nurturing is just as good, with facilities that combine pleasing design with natural elements, at a level of luxury that under other circumstances might prompt some sneaking feelings of guilt. Here, not only can one rest easy in knowing that everything is provided to the highest environmental standards but that it are also bringing much needed employment to the region.

Cut off from the mainland by the Corinithian Canal, the Peloponnese, once the seat of power in the country, has slumbered for many years, existing on agriculture and fishing, with the bright lights of Athens and other cities luring locals away. Vassili Contantakopoulos’s vision was not just about building an environmental resort but bringing visitors to the homeland he loved and providing employment and new life to the area.

Referred to as the Captain by staff, he died in 2011 but had lived to see his dream becoming reality. It continues to develop under the stewardship of his sons, and is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most ambitious environmental projects.

 

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It is also a perfectly wonderful place to stay. It encompasses two hotels already, The Romanos and the more family-orientated Westin, each with their own separate facilities, plus some exclusive residences. There is every kind of sport on offer, swimming pools in all directions, loungers beside them and under the trees, walks to take where philosophy is discussed, boats trips out on the bay.

There are no less than 20 restaurants on site, where we enjoyed a variety of fish just in from the sea, and some great steaks, Greek specialities, and seriously extravagant sweets. Be warned, it is all too easy to indulge in the expansive fare that is offered – but the spa and gym may offset the effects.

An amazing Natural Hall, with all manner of film shows and information on environmental issues and nature, will beguile children as well as adults. There are two fine golf courses. And there’s more, there’s more…

If that all makes it sound like some sort of Aston Towers, please be disabused. There is so much space and greenery that it is easy to be secluded, to commune privately with Nature and to enjoy a solitary drink at one of the many bars. But as a desire to commune with fellow guests may develop, a nightcap at the splendid Branco cocktail and oyster bar is worth a try. Who knows, it could even lead to dancing the night away? That’s an environmentally-friendly way of combating all that scrumptious food.

Marie Scott travelled with Aegean Airlines to Athens, and was a guest at Costa Navarino Romanos

www.costanavarino.com

 

By Marie Scott Way down south, at the

Time was when a gentleman might have one dinner jacket, one fountain pen and one watch that would last him if not a lifetime then certainly till he might not feel the need for any of them any more.

The jacket would have been ordered when black tie occasions became part of a man’s lifestyle; the gift of a gold nibbed pen could mark exam success or business promotion; and a good watch would replace the junior league version and be a practical, reliable piece of equipment by which to tell the time. It certainly was not jewellery.

But it is in the realm of watches that the pleasure of acquisition is most rampant. No man with pretensions to style can be without an extensive wardrobe of watches – day watch, evening watch, sports watch, water watch, vintage – there is one for every eventuality, and every bank account.

Whatever the technological advances, a watch remains man’s number one piece of jewellery. And at this year’s annual watch fest in Basel, the watch gnomes of Switzerland and their followers had surpassed themselves in terms of design originality and brilliant technology. Here, we cannot delve into the mysteries of moonphases, chronometers, tourbillons and other intricacies of the watchmaker’s art, but we can drool over a few wonders.

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Take, for example, Blancpain’s impeccably elegant red gold new addition to its Villeret collection. With roman numerals and a clean face, a legible date positioned at the bottom  it reveals not only the time but the wearer’s discerning taste. What’s more, there is no  havering about when the date is changing. This Grand Date Complication model changes  on the dot of midnight. 

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Like a Savile Row suit, Patek Philippe watches have a timeless elegance that sees them  handed on to following generations. Yet, there are plenty of updated designs in their latest  collection, including the new hand-wound Gondolo 8-day in white gold that stands out  from the crowd.

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Graff, that top diamond house, weighs in with its Diamond Master Graff Grand Date Duel Time Tourbillon. This boasts 329 diamonds that add up to a sizeable total of 13.7 carats, the face paved with diamonds, set on rose or white gold. With this on his wrist, a man should be accompanied by a stout friend.

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Lifting a Savile Row cuff to reveal a dazzlingly bling timepiece would once have been considered exceedingly naff but nowadays even the more reserved of British men are prepared to embrace a touch of razzle dazzle here and there. And bejewelled treasures there were aplenty at Basel, designed to please the increasing numbers of men eager to embrace such expensive baubles.

For those who like to be able to see the very guts of their watches there are plenty that will help to while away the time as an alternative to staring at a mobile. Independent specialist in tourbillon complications, Antoine Preziuso provides back and front exposure to show just how complicated is complicated.

The Renaissance Orange Tornado by Aerowatch is another with a view of ‘constant rotation of the various interacting wheels and pinions’ in a black steel case.

If it is over-the-top you are after as an alternative to the classic, seek out Ulysse Nardin, responsible for a collection that tells many a story on its watch faces. The latest shows Hannibal marching over the Alps, complete with elephant and warriors, sculpted in white gold. Lest such art smacks of the vulgar, know that this is a watch of impeccable craftsmanship, priced at well over the £100,000 mark.

Flamboyantly macabre are watches from ArtyA, an independent watch brand that uses skulls and bones throughout its collection. The latest effort has hand sculpted skulls dancing around the dial, with a skull in the centre.

For jazz fans, look to Oris. Their latest clean-faced style, without numerals, takes inspiration from jazz great Thelonius Monk, noted for his avant-garde style and his catch phrase ‘Monk Always Knows’. This phrase is engraved on the back of this limited edition watch, just 1,000 pieces produced.

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For telling the time simply and clearly, Tudor’s North Face is anything but simple in its qualities, a no-nonsense timepiece in black and white. And British brand, Breitling’s Transocean Chronograph 2015 marks the company’s 100th anniversary of inventing an independent pushpiece to separate functions, in a limited edition that is going to be a collector’s item.

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Time was when a gentleman might have