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wine: Wine's Encyclopedic Mind

Michael Broadbent, wine's foremost expert, sat down with Style to talk tasting, collecting and American drinking habits.


His book, "Michael Broadbent's Vintage Wine: Fifty Years of Tasting, Three Centuries of Wines" (Harcourt Inc., 2002, $50), has just been published. The masterful introduction begins with him recounting his climb up the career ladder, starting at the bottom stocking bins and eventually becoming head auctioneer for a top firm. What makes this book so extraordinary is both its wisdom and its candor. Holding a copy in his hands, he takes me through his intricate system, beginning with the introduction. It lays out all of his beliefs about wine tasting.

"There is no such thing as an objective tasting. Tasting wine is subjective. What I think and what you think is important," he says. He believes that a wine can't have a once and for all rating, that it changes with time. Things shift, mature and change. This is a very well thought-out introduction, written by a man who has spent 50 years tasting and thinking about wine.

The book can be consulted for specific references, beginning with the most current vintages and going back in time. Try 200 years in time. You can follow the course of a Bordeaux chateau or a port to their beginning. Also, this is a useful guide on what makes a good and poor vintage. "This book offers entertainment, fascination and advice," he said while thumbing through a few pages.

So what about the wines? What do you think is good? What isn't?

"Too many modern wines are becoming homogenized in flavor. They are produced with the sole purpose of winning gold medals and little else," he says. Classic Bordeaux and wines with elegance and finesse are his preference. Chardonnay doesn't score high on his chart because, as he says, "They are beginning to all taste the same."

What about investing in wine?

"Being English and having seen great collections and cellars, the idea of investing in wine is relatively new," he says. "Those families bought wines to pass on to their descendants. Caution in wine investing is a healthy thing. Know the wine's track record. More and more there are limited opportunities in wine investing." He is particularly big on trophy wines, as most have no track record of either aging or investing.

What are the best values in wine?

"The Germans, because no one is speculating in them." It would almost pay to develop a healthy interest in Riesling because they seldom raise the price on you. They don't require expensive oak barrels. His tip was: "Always buy good vintages."

What could we do better as American wine drinkers?

"First, you don't drink enough wine. There is too much production, and the consumer has never been more confused. I wouldn't dream of having dinner without a glass of wine. Also, Americans have a varietal consciousness, usually limited to a few grapes at a time. Take the wines of Bordeaux. Their purpose isn't about grapes; its about harmony. It is best when you just enjoy the end result."

Americans are doing well, he says. "Trust your own palates. When the modern Californian wines move closer to the finesse of Bordeaux, they will be more interesting and have more similarity to each other. In wine, finesse is always better that power."

Michael Broadbent has not only an encyclopedic mind on the subject, but he combines it with passion, conviction and wit. Fortunately for us, he conveys these great qualities through the pages of his book. S

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