Michael Broadbent had just released his Wine Tasting book. At the time, I was running the wine society of a rural British university and we invited him to speak and teach us how to taste (I still have my first copy of the book). He graciously accepted to come down, stayed for dinner, missed the last train back to London and ended up staying the night in a rather scruffy student cottage—all with the greatest of glee and good humor. He then put me on the mailing list for tastings at Christie’s in London; I managed to attend a few for a first taste of some fabulous, legendary bottles.
Michael’s sense of fun, curiosity and that twinkle in his eye stayed with him right to the end of his long life. For many of us, we last saw him a year ago, to celebrate the republishing of his iconic Wine Tasting by the Académie du Vin Library, updated with wonderful anecdotes, memories and drawings—Broadbent was a great draftsman and a great lover of music.
Born in Yorkshire in 1927, Michael trained as an architect. Then, after the interruption of national service at the end of the Second World War, his career took a turn into the London wine trade, landing at Harvey’s of Bristol. He went on to earn his Master of Wine credential in 1960 and, later, to start the Wine Department of Christie’s in 1966.
His role at Christie’s, and the books that he wrote while there, would make Michael Broadbent one of the most famous wine personalities in the world. More decorated, fêted and honored than any other wine person I know—thanks to his charm, good looks, precision and hard work—he also had a magnificent tasting ability. I was lucky when I was working at Seagram Château & Estates Wines in New York to attend one or two blind tastings of great Bordeaux in his presence. Michael’s judgements and inspired guesses (because blind tastings are just that) were always spot on. Towards the end of his career, he and Jancis Robinson would put together a group of tasters to tour the great domaines of Bordeaux during En Primeur week; as a very junior member, I was allowed to be part of the group. His pronouncements about the quality and aging potential of the wines was always so confident and lucid—as anyone who has ever tasted with Michael knows—that we all learned by his example. Whenever he visited his beloved Lafite, he was given a hero’s welcome.
Above all, the wine trade has lost one of its great treasures: a renaissance man who seems to have belonged to a past world where high culture, courteousness and commercial acumen could be mixed with great wit, the occasional salacious, off-the-cuff remark, outrageous flirtatiousness and a wonderful sense of fun. What a life and how proud he was of his children, Emma and Bartholomew (Bollew), and his grandchildren, of all he had achieved and that after his beloved Daphne had died, he caught a second wind and fell in love with Valerie Smallwood, the widow of a great friend and fellow MW, Simon Smallwood; Michael and Valerie married a year before he died. What great wine parties he and all his friends will be having in heaven! We raise our glasses to you Michael, you will be much missed.
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