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While this year’s grape harvest in France’s Champagne wine region may have had its challenges thanks to late frost and biblical hail, there have been some outstanding releases from some top producers. Helena Nicklin, pictured below, picks five of the best for us to toast the end of another tricky year.

One thing I have loved about my job over the years has been really getting to know the personalities of some of Champagne’s most famous sparkling wines. Fizz was always the final frontier for me when I was learning to taste as it’s so much harder to understand the nuances of what makes a bottle of bubbles exceptional than it is for still wine. Here are five producers who have released champagnes that have really shone this year, and all for different reasons. Everyone deserves to raise a glass of something special this season and with these fantastic bottles, you will not be disappointed.

Dom Pérignon 2003 Plénitude 2

Dom Pérignon is globally recognised as the benchmark for an elegant, pure and precise style of “Grande Marque”, champagne. Made only in the best vintage years where the weather is ideal, Dom Pérignon is always an almost equal blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay and as it ages, it takes on a haunting complexity that seems to change with every sip. Lees ageing is very important to the cellar masters here and they like to keep some of their vintage releases back to give them a new lease of life several years later under the name “Plénitude”. Normally, a champagne from DP will age on its lees (the dead yeast cells left over after fermentation) for eight or so years before being “disgorged”. When Dom Pérignon releases a wine in its second Plénitude (also known as P2) however, the time on its lees before disgorgement will have been in between 12 and 15 years, keeping the wine fresh and adding even more body and complexity. There is even a third Plénitude (P3), where the ageing is between 30 and 40 years! The wines are constantly tasted over time to find the exact moment when they start to shine again in their second and third iterations.

The 2003 vintage of Plénitude 2 is quite special in that it is from a particularly warm vintage, which gives the wine more body and tropical fruit character than other years. Quietly opulent with a creaminess from the extra time on lees, you’ll also find notes of hazelnut, apricot and toast. It’s a fantastic wine to have with food. Try roast quail or even guinea fowl served with nuts or dried fruit.

Stockists:, Berry Bros & Rudd, Jeroboams, Hedonism Wines The Finest Bubble, The Champagne Company, Harrods, Selfridges. RRP £335

Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2009

Benedictine monk Dom Thierry Ruinart was a contemporary of Dom Pérignon around the time of Louis XI in France but was a lot more worldly wise and well-travelled. He discovered the famous “wine with bubbles” while galivanting around Paris at parties with young aristocrats and eventually came home to Champagne with his new-found interest and worked, strangely enough, with Dom Pérignon to improve the bottling process of sparkling wines. Dom Ruinart passed his passion onto his nephew Nicolas who managed to realise his uncle’s dream, founding Maison Ruinart in 1729.

Today, the house has a strong focus on the Chardonnay grape and, while they produce three non-vintage wines – the Brut NV, a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) and a rosé NV, which uses both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – at the top of their tree sits their finest wines labelled Dom Ruinart.

The white is always a vintage wine made only in the very best years and solely from grapes grown in their top, Grand Cru vineyards. Dom Ruinart is also always a blanc de blancs, i.e. made from 100% Chardonnay. Named in homage to the monk who brought back his Parisian passion to the region, the first release of this wine was from the 1959 vintage. The 2009 therefore, 50 years later, celebrates a rather special milestone. Think candied pineapple, a squeeze of lime, honey on toast and Brazil nut. Another foodie champagne, try this with scallops or poultry or hard cheeses with a touch of truffle. Fabulous.

Stockists:, Master of Malt. RRP about £150

Henri Giraud Argonne 2013

Champagne Henri Giraud is a true wine lover’s champagne. Lesser known than the bigger brands but prized equally highly by those in the know, Giraud has been a family-run business for 12 generations. Located in Aÿ and currently headed up by Claude Giraud, it is a champagne house that has a close relationship with the oak forests of Argonne that lie some 60 kilometres north-east of the house. The wood from Argonne trees is particularly dense and so barrels made with it require a very slow process of toasting. While fermentation in oak hasn’t traditionally been a huge part of champagne production in the region, Champagne Henri Giraud have always found that this particular wood complements their finest vintages and blends in a deliciously opulent, unique way.

The Henri Giraud Argonne is champagne you cannot ignore thanks to its unapologetic, striking oak presence. The top cuvée in the range, it is always a blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay and the 2013 presents itself as luminous gold, voluptuous and voluminous. Despite being vinified and aged in new oak barrels, the wood flavour is not overbearing. Instead, it adds an intensity of flavour to the wine where notes of nutmeg, vanilla and spiced incense intertwine with flavours of exotic fruits, both fresh and dried. The bottle, with its unusual shape and flash of gold leafing, is just as memorable as the liquid inside too. A very special drop.

Stockists: The Finest Bubble, Hedonism, Woodwinters, The Whisky Exchange. RRP about £370

Rare 2008

Rare Champagne was the prestige cuvée champagne of the house Piper-Heidsieck until it separated to become a brand or marque in its own right – and deservedly so. Originally created to celebrate 100 years of Heidsieck Champagnes, Rare was presented to the French queen, which is why its presentation boasts a rather fabulous tiara (that you can remove and wear, should you so wish). Now its very own entity, Rare goes from strength to strength under the watchful eye of cellar master Régis Camus.

As the name would suggest, it is not every year that we see a new release of Rare. Only 12 vintages have been deemed worthy of producing a Rare since its first vintage in 1976. Pinot Noir dominant always, Camus manages to strike that incredible balance between body, fruit, complexity, texture and perfume in every vintage he produces, each a true labour of love and a work of vinous art. The 2008 is another example of this impressive balance, bringing a softness and youthful freshness together with brioche, red apple skin, perfume and spice. It’s a wine that would work well with meaty, white fish dishes but equally, it’s a champagne to sip and to savour on its own to let every playful, complex element show itself. Glorious.

Stockists: The Finest Bubble, Hedonism, Harrods, Selfridges. RRP £180

Bollinger PN V16

A brand-new style of wine from the iconic house of Bollinger, the PN V16 is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes that come specifically from their plot in Verzenay (hence the V) and largely from the 2016 vintage. Bollinger has long favoured Pinot Noir for its famously rich style, so with these new terroir-focused editions, they are taking things a step further and showcasing the grape from several of its terroirs separately to show what they bring to the wine. The majority of juice that makes up the base for the PN V16 comes from the 2016 vintage and it is blended with older “reserve” wines to maintain the house style.

What the Verzenay terroir brings here is depth of flavour and a sense of tension. There is also a touch of Pinot from Avenay and Tauxières, which add aromatics and complete the effect. Think creamy hazelnut paste, baked fruit, exotic spice and a touch of smoke all rounded off with a moreish, saline finish. It’s a sultry and serious champagne that needs a little time to open up but, once it has, it makes a fantastic match for smoked meats or grilled poultry. A little hard cheese works wonders with it too. Cin cin!

Stockists: House of Malt, Harvey Nichols, The Whisky Exchange, The Finest Bubble. RRP about £80

Helena Nicklin is an award-winning drinks writer and broadcaster. See more about her at or follow her on social media @HelenaSips.

While this year’s grape harvest in France’s

Christmas Gift Ideas

The work of the painter, Andrew Flint Shipman is known around the world, writes Robin Dutt. Famed for his technicolour expressions of flowers, esoteric symbols and occasional ‘landscape nudes’, his sense of bright hues has seen him transfer his expressions on canvas onto a host of functional and purely decorative objects. His Useable and Wearable art features aprons, T-shirts, candles and bags emblazoned with blooms and skulls and often accompanied by what has come to be his signature motif, a glossy apple used either as a centre stage emblem or more often, a deliberate pointe finale. It is something of a stamp or seal. And some four decades of creativity later, it is chiefly associated with him.

His paintings make fine presents and most of these are realised in Acrylic and liquid metal on canvas, linen or wood and his use of gold leaf or fluorescents inform the whole image and make it punchy and almost cinematic or stage-referential. So there is no surprise in learning that theatre was in this creator’s blood from a very early age.

Somehow, there is a surreal element to his work but the viewer is invited to interpret the different messages, almost like reading lush hieroglyphics of a secret world. Just as when we read Egyptian hieroglyphics we are unaware of how these shapes exactly sounded. We can approximate but not completely know. So it is with Flint Shipman’s fruits and flowers, esoteric symbols of life in mind, such as the Ankh or the Eye of Horus and indeed, thoughtful depictions of say, an insect pushing a miniature sand timer like a scarab beetle or a mystical triangle accompanied by three emerald green sentinel apples and a black feather, that he invites us into his world.

It is tempting to imagine the word-sounds of these motifs or even how they might be translated into musical notes. Obviously, there is a sense of magic and esoteric lore in what the artist is conveying and his titles such as, ‘Don’t just look, see’, ‘The Unknown just got more mysterious’ and ‘The sun disk and Om’ and in the main devoid of humanity, he paints the sorts of images and symbols human kind has been enthralled by for thousands of years in a continuum which is constant despite whatever new technology and developments emerge to challenge our feeling of the power of mystery and imagination. Flint Shipman will always be a painter first but his works are so adaptable onto a myriad of other affairs that he spends a good deal of time coming up with ideas for the home too.

Especially for Christmas, revel in his selection of attractive trivets (£50 each) made of toughened, recycled glass. he is often asked by his customers how they are supposed to go on a wall as there are no fittings. They aren’t! Although they look as if they could easily pass as unique works for display, seen either singly or in a massed conglomeration or simple set of rows. No, these are trivets for the table with large central blooms providing splashes of colour and tactility to any setting. Choose from Christmas Lily, Orchid, Fig, Oranges and Lemons among the fifty designs in the range and look far more magnetic when mixed than matched – particularly at this season. But for a more formal setting, six white lilies or deep purple agapanthus motifs add a sense of chic and propriety.

The table mat and coaster collection (£100 for a set of six or £35 for a set of six, respectively) will add more than a splash of colour whether you choose backgrounds of festive gold or acid Pop Art hues, with a central contrast bloom. Scented candles (£45) made in the UK with natural wax infused with essential oils will provide that welcome olfactory backdrop.

If you’re looking for the unusual when it comes to gifts this Christmas, Flint Shipman invites you to luxuriate in his art.

Paintings –
Useable & Wearable Art –

Christmas Gift Ideas The work of the painter,

Recently, Houseplant Appreciation Day was celebrated reminding all about the positive influence that plants can have in a domestic environ, writes Robin Dutt. Some might say that they’d be lost without their giant cheese-plant or that winding, trailing Ivy. Prince Charles is known to talk to his green friends and George Orwell reminded us of practically every Victorian and Edwardian musty hallway with his, ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’. I recall my Mama’s love of vibrant and vast blooms of red and white Geraniums, reminiscent of the Houses of York and Lancaster and a little similar since, apparently, the red hates the white – and vice versa!

This year we learn that Orchids have been identified as the most popular houseplant to include in an interior scheme. And as everyone knows, you can pay top dollar for a spindly example lavished with premium wrap from some joint in Chelsea or try your luck at Marks & Spencer where regularly, you can buy a pair of statuesque examples which will cost just over £15.

For readers of Savile Row Style, it might be worth remembering that whilst our little strip is universally, reassuringly expensive, they might find a little inspiration in surrounding themselves with plants that seem linked to all things monetary – Rubber plants (financial luck), the Lucky Bamboo (no explanation needed) and then why not consider a Pachira Money Tree. Who said that money and trees don’t go together?

It’s a quick hop, skip and a jump to your nearest nursery, my friend…

Recently, Houseplant Appreciation Day was celebrated reminding

ART – A Festival of Light and Stone by Nicolas Moreton

Nicolas Moreton is one of those truly gifted sculptors who revels in his love of past giants who wielded the chisel, writes Robin Dutt. ‘Making a Mark’ is a fine retrospective show of the creator’s signature style – whether gargantuan figures, cosmic or mythical symbolism, experiments in pure shape – or stone, bleeding halogen light. He began stone carving in 1985 but his output is so prodigious and ambitious that he made up for what anyone might call ‘other pursuits’. Purposefully sensual and sexual in content, these large male and female forms are suffused with a brooding, primeval energy and when, in some rarer cases he utilizes silk, paint, gold leaf, metal or Cedar Cones, he explores what is possible when conveying expression in unusual ways. The silk and stone are immediately evocative, for instance helped by the vividness of the chosen blood red hue of the silk. This piece is purposefully called, ‘Transition’.

The temptation might be to recall the magnificent work of such masters as Epstein or Moore and Moreton, pictured above left, would probably not disagree but he has certainly made a particular brand of sense, sensuality and sexuality his own. Many times, he presents his figures without faces – or if they have ‘faces’ then these might be embellished instead of detailed with eyes, nose, mouth or in one case, ‘Sunflowers (Man and Boy)’ he presents the reality of a guardian generation, the father with his son – both figures sporting the dense seed network of a rough, circular sunflower bloom.

This may not be the weather to want to spend too long outside, instead of dreaming of roasting your nuts by an open fire, but that is exactly what Moreton wants to encourage. The show is at New College, The Cloisters and Ante-chapel where so much of the work has been set in the context of the natural world. It is a harmonic union for the very material he uses can trace its origin to beneath the earth or as outcrops from marble cliffs. These materials such as Kilkenny Fossil Limestone, Ancaster Weatherbed Limestone, Clipsham Blue Limestone, Corremie Pink Granite or Portuguese Marble all have their distinct characters and qualities and Moreton is intimate with all their personalities.What is right for one construct is surely not so suitable for another. He respects and adores what nature has given him to play with but as a very contemporary worker in stone, he has some very contemporary ideas of production, too. As Miles Young, Warden, New College, Oxford points out – lest we do not know or are apt to forget, –

…’Moreton is no slave to tradition. He is a consummate craftsman
with a highly developed skill in direct carving into the stone, but he uses
tungsten carbide reinforced tips for his chisels and polyurethane for
his mallets which gives him the advantage over Michelangelo, and his
diamond sponges enable him to polish the surface of his stone carvings
to a brilliance which Henry Moore would have envied’.

Moreton attracted the attention of such enthusiasts as jazz singer George Melly and strident, brilliant critic, Brian Sewell who both had pieces in their private collections and Lord Archer is also a fan.

And showing his eager hand when it comes to experimentation in this type of sculptural work, he presents in this latest show, a selection of his tactile, almost hypnotic and atmospheric pieces such as ‘Chrysalis’, ‘O Joyous Light’, ‘In the Beginning’ and ‘Catherine Wheel’ where he makes use of lights, whether LED or Halogen. These might certainly take the chill off a winter visit to the show. The latter in particular adds a surprising element to his work where the light appears to mimic trapped molten lava. Or in the case of, specifically, ‘In the Beginning’ the structure is flagrantly sexual in its shaping and meaning, the crack of light, glowing within as an invitation and a reminder from where all life starts. It might of course, be read as a simple shape, an element of space, a potent decoration from a science fiction mansion and more – but knowing Moreton’s touch, the link with creation is too strong to ignore. It looks like an egg cracking open, the beginning of a stellar journey.

And it is back to the fecundity of nature which gives life when Moreton himself says of ‘Catching Nature’s Gift’ (a nude female with hands raised)

‘She sits, waiting, expectant. Her hands are raised ready to
catch the fertile waters of life from the sky. When the rains come, they
cascade down her fertile core and then into the earth beneath her. Her
stone pedestal represents the earth and the rivers of our world’.

Making a Mark – A Retrospective Exhibition of Sculpture by Nicolas Moreton is at New College and Ante-chapel, New College Lane, Oxford, OX1 3BN

ART - A Festival of Light and

BOOK REVIEW – Walk this Way! – ‘A Visual History of Walking Canes and Sticks.’

Anthony Moss is a rabid rabologist, writes Robin Dutt. Now, that word might conjure images of something biological, chemical or certainly dangerously esoteric. It might suggest someone with an expert knowledge. It may also to some minds, convey the idea of the kind of character typified by Hannibal Lecter. But if this might also be a question of passion and voraciousness in general, then one comes close to the mark, for a rabologist is the distinct word, or term for a collector of walking sticks.

Some only three hundred years ago, gentlemen wore swords at their hips as marques of distinction and choice (not just for street fighting or to defend honour) and of course, were representative of their spending ability. In many ways, the walking stick replaced the sword just as in the 20th century the walking cane would be superseded by the umbrella – a device that provides two functions yet at a push (quite literally sometimes) could still be deemed as a weapon of first defence. Umbrella point and eyes or privates of attacking thief? No contest if it is in the right hands – like someone with some fencing experience. And indeed, the umbrella itself – a relative of the stick – has now been replaced by and large…by nothing. Sartorial justice.

In his very entertaining tome, ‘A Visual History of Walking Sticks and Canes’, Anthony Moss, pictured left, also an esteemed collector of first editions, fine furniture and unusual stationery items, takes us on a fascinating historical journey of this one-time sartorial and purely functional implement which only a hundred years or so ago was a daily feature not to say, a must. The functional stick or cane is one thing, such as a sturdy walking device or something with a curved end held in the hand of a shepherd boy, so to speak and Moss covers some of these examples. But what is most fascinating is the sheer indulgence represented by sticks and canes which were the ‘pointe finale’ when it came to fine dressing for a gentleman or a lady. They really were the finishing touch and betrayed much detail about the wearer (the correct term – for you don’t carry a cane) and also of the quality of the usually commissioned item. In the final analysis, an elegant cane was not simply for the joy of the wearer it was for the admiration of the discerning. And the covetous.

Naturally, a couple of centuries ago there were cane shops, rather like ready to wear clothing stores much later on, where those without the means but with dreams of being, could give a semblance of the elegant look. If they were imaginative and tied a silken ribbon around the stick’s collar, for example, or even go further and apply some sort of paste jewel themselves (it must have happened) well, all to the good. At least it was personalized. But the world of the commissioned cane is quite another affair.

Moss is keen to point out that the stick or cane is far beyond ‘a mobility aid’, unless of course, one thinks of that mobility classic of old, the hooked hospital stick for the injured young or the otherwise healthy old with NHS burned into the handle. Ironically this could look like a person’s initials but quite unlike the curlicue swirls or strident block lettering commissioned by the owners themselves. I recall that it wasn’t so long ago that a certain eccentric of London’s Harrow Road used to appear from time to time with a radio perched on his shoulders blaring a Reggae tune and his battered top hat and long black cane festooned with flashing lights. It was his sceptre, his staff of office. A symbol of sorts. And indeed, what was a pharaoh without his sceptre? Can Parliament itself be called to order, when the occasion demands, without Black Rod?

Moss’ knowledge is devastatingly wide – explosively so – and his passion unbridled. He is probably one of the most important cane collectors in the world and this book surely represents his life’s real work. And it all started when his delightful poetess wife, Deanna presented him with a couple of sticks as a present one day so long ago in their 56-year marriage. Did she know then what she was doing? Probably. For the A&D Collection is one of the finest to be enjoyed and within the covers of this book can be appreciated by all, enthusiasts and the curious. The trouble with curiosity is that it can sometimes lead to collecting. Ask Mr Moss.

Illustrated with over 800 full colour superbly considered photographs by Gayle Bromberg who was, at first meeting with Anthony, ‘bowled over’ by his passion, one might reasonably expect a visual feast. So here we have all types of sticks and canes, from canes with provenance to shooting sticks, rat catching canes to map canes, defence sticks to decorative essentials, hollow structures that conceal folding violins or ones that harbour poisons. Then, there are ‘squirter’ canes – devices filled with water to titillate or annoy ladies in the music hall. Others are set with watches, compasses, matchboxes and so the list races on… Perhaps today we might set one with a Sat Nav or a step counter or a device to keep up with the latest data on the Omicron strain? Mayhap the past had its version of all of these things.

Exquisite carving of exotic heads in wood or in ivory, such as the spectacular example of Napoleon, silver ladies resting leisurely as nymphs on horizontal handles (perfect for a grasped hand) and suggesting poetic verse or pure sex, round balls of smooth marble or glowing amber and the fantastic bejewelled examples from the studios of long gone artists of such rare talent – all will delight and amaze.

Mr Moss has done more than a good job. You can’t take a stick to him.

‘A Visual History of Walking Sticks and Canes’ by Anthony Moss is published by Rowman & Littlefield. £58.

BOOK REVIEW - Walk this Way! -