Toasts of the town

Image of Jancis Robinson

What to give a wine lover? It can be difficult to choose a bottle for a fanatic. How can an outsider judge a connoisseur’s taste or identify the holes in their cellar? I can say, however, that for wine insiders, bottles of deluxe champagne are the gift currency of choice. Krug Grande Cuvée or Dom Pérignon are standard issue, but if you would rather favour a family-owned enterprise then consider Roederer Cristal, Bollinger Grande Année or one of Selosse’s winey champagnes.

Those shopping in London could take advantage of the special offer in Selfridges’ wine department on Fridays and Saturdays up to Christmas Eve. You can buy Moët’s new, drier, considerably improved, standard non-vintage blend (called Brut Impérial; the old White Star bottling that used to be sold in the US is no more) in bottles, magnums (containing the equivalent of two bottles), jeroboams (four bottles’ worth) or methusalehs (eight) and have them “personalised with a festive illustration and message written in gold calligraphy and accented with Swarovski crystals”.

But you may wish to give something more durable than a bottle of wine, however sparkling its accent. The new toy of the season for serious wine collectors is a Pourvin Light (, a battery-powered gadget designed by an Australian couple that you hang round a bottle neck to provide a strong light under the bottle to highlight the sediment during the decanting process. (Or, you could buy them a candle, and save yourself £50 for the silicone version and £130 for the stainless steel model, though this is unlikely to satisfy the gadget lover.)

If all that decanting malarkey seems just too 19th century, there’s a neutral stainless steel filter from the corkscrew specialists Screwpull (stocked widely in the UK) that will simply filter out the sediment. Be warned though that if it’s anything like the earlier model I have, the mesh can rapidly become blocked so you need to pour very slowly.

I’m distinctly vieux jeu myself, so what would make my heart beat faster would be yet another antique decanter to add to my collection. (I have never forgotten the entirely correct advice that the ideal present for someone with a dozen chess sets is a 13th.) Those specialising in such things include Susan Antiques of Portobello Market, Jeanette Hayhurst in Tetbury, Laurie Leigh in Stow-on-the-Wold and Delomosne near Devizes.

An alternative would be to buy a well-designed modern decanter. I have always liked Berry Bros’ ( simple bottle (£43) and, especially, magnum (£53) decanters with handsome flat stoppers (shipped to UK only). These seem rather better value than their new The Wine Merchant’s range of glasses (also UK only) – attractive, but at about £50 a pair and designed for hand washing (but dishwasher safe), I find myself preferring Zalto’s Denk’Art Bordeaux ones, even at £30 each, partly because they are so explicitly dishwasher-friendly as well as exceptionally thin.

You could personalise a decanter by having it engraved. Tracey Sheppard of Winchester is a very highly regarded Fellow of the Guild of Glass Engravers and might just be able to engrave a fine initial or two in time for Christmas. The problem with decanters though is that they do not identify the wine inside them. You can always scrawl something on them with felt-tip pen but it is hardly an elegant solution. Some arch traditionalists like to hang the relevant cork round the decanter neck, skewering it on prongs on the end of a chain, typically decorated with vine leaves. You can order such a thing from London’s specialist store for wine accoutrements, Around Wine (, and the various models cost between £20 and £30 each.

Design devotees would probably prefer ZeBag (, a carrier for six bottles on their side with a smart aluminium handle. This thoroughly 21st-century item folds flat when empty and is a sort of Conran-esque alternative to the more cumbersome, and potentially tights-snagging, six-bottle wicker basket. But, at £50, ZeBag is dearer than most of its wicker counterparts.

Much more reasonable at about £20, and just the right shape for a stocking filler, is the brand new, cleverly designed and cunningly marketed Corkcicle ( It looks like an icicle attached to a cork in a range of designs and apparently, via the freeze gel inside the plastic icicle, cools your wine – either keeping a white cool or chilling a red that is a little too warm (a cardinal sin). It’s certainly more compact than those jackets you also prepare by putting in the deep freeze, and much less messy than an ice bucket. And it’s a novelty that the whole family can play with. It was one of Oprah’s “Favorite Things” of 2012. Need I say more?

Corkscrews are some of the most popular wine hardware gifts. Screwpull was the prototype model for those looking for something that would reliably extract a series of corks with minimal effort. (The oil engineer who designed them meant them to be of use to us feeble women.) The standard model costs about £50, the fancy one closer to £130, and they come with a guarantee – which is just as well for those who pull as many corks as I do. I should point out however that the lever action of the Screwpull can be too forceful for very old corks, for which I usually revert to a simple antique corkscrew with a hollow helix and a particularly sharp point.

An alternative recently designed expressly for old corks however, which may easily crumble or be too damp for a more vigorous instrument, is The Durand at a cool £125 ( This is a combination of a classic screw with, at right angles to it, the two-pronged instrument commonly known in the US as an Ah So or butler’s friend, which you insert either side of a cork and wiggle it out without piercing it at all.

The one bit of equipment that can on occasion seem absolutely vital is Screwpull’s champagne star (also from Around Wine), a strong, simple four-pronged twister that fits into the grooves of a recalcitrant champagne cork. It can spell all the difference between frustration and celebration.

Useful addresses

Around Wine

57 Chiltern Street, London W1U 6ND

020 7935 4679,

Susan Antiques

117 Portobello Road, London W11 2DY

Jeanette Hayhurst

Long Street Antiques, 14 Long Street, Tetbury

07831 209814

Laurie Leigh

Church Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire

01451 833693

Tim Osborne

Court Close, North Wraxall, Chippenham, Wiltshire

01225 891505,

Tracey Sheppard


01962 860024,

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