Michael Broadbent MW, the English wine critic, writer and auctioneer died March 17th at home. He is described by the British trade magazine The Drinks Business as “a towering and influential figure in the wine trade.”
Broadbent was born in Yorkshire in 1927 and entered the wine trade in 1952, starting at Layton’s and moving to Harvey’s of Bristol in 1955. He received his Master of Wine degree in 1960, then moved to auction house Christie’s in 1966 where he pioneered fine wine sales when none of the major auctioneers had a wine department. This gave him access to an unprecedented range of old and rare wines including some reportedly dating back to the 17th century.
The many tasting notes he compiled during his long career led to a carefully organized compilation of them in The Great Vintage Wine Book (1980), which contained over 6,000 tasting notes in regional sections. Many went back to the 19th and even 18th centuries, with one entry on a German wine tasted from a cask from the 1653 vintage, topped up with younger wine; “Ten stars for a rare experience.” This book was followed 20 years later with a second, updated edition including wines up to the 1999 vintage, subtitled “Fifty years of tasting three centuries of wine.”
Broadbent also published Wine Tasting (1968) which was recently reprinted by the Academie du Vin Library Press, and was a monthly columnist for the British consumer wine magazine Decanter from 1977 to 2012. His works were considered standard texts for the wine industry and his column interested both professionals and amateurs for decades. The purchase of the first edition of The Great Vintage Wine Book was instrumental in putting this writer on a path to a career in wine.
Broadbent was drawn into the scandal of the German wine collector, tasting party-thrower and counterfeiter Hardy Rodenstock, as detailed in the book The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace. The title derives from the sale at auction by Christie’s of alleged bottles of Chateau Lafite discovered by Rodenstock and supposedly stenciled with Thomas Jefferson’s initials. Broadbent successfully sued the publisher Random House for defamation, in claiming that several passages alleged that he knew the wine was fraudulent when he auctioned them (the purchaser of one bottle, William Koch, hired a retired FBI agent who used forensics to prove that the stenciling on the bottle could not have been done with 18th century tools.) The publisher apologized to Broadbent, paid an undisclosed settlement and the book was withdrawn from the U.K. market.
He remained at Christie’s until 1992 and was a senior consultant there until 2009. He also spoke and lectured widely on wine well into later life and was chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, Master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers’, president of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and chairman of The Benevolent.
Broadbent was appointed Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite in 1979 and made an honorary member of the Académie du Vin de Bordeaux. He was married to Daphne Broadbent for many years, with whom he had two children, Bartholomew and Emma.
He was known for his love of bicycling and hats, and for his impeccable dress. During his tenure as a columnist for Decanter, his photo was of him on a bicycle with a woven basket on the handlebars. He was also an enthusiastic fan of Virginia wines, and wrote in Decanter about how he enjoyed a visit and tasting to Barboursville Vineyards, and remarked on the fresh, clean character of Virginia Cabernet Francs.
The Drinks Business summed up their obituary by concluding, “Generous with his cellar, his knowledge and his time, the outpouring of memories from writers and merchants today who looked up to him, is a testament to his stature and the respect, esteem and admiration in which he was held by aspiring and now flourishing generation.”