John Michael Broadbent, who died in early March, was a distinguished Master of Wine, an unerring wine taster, an author and the former managing director of Christie's of London wine department. And those were just a few of his many accomplishments. He was 92.
In 1960, just five years after the Institute of Masters of Wine was formed in London, Michael Broadbent sat for the five written papers and five practical tastings, passing all to become a Master of Wine. He went on to become chairman of the Institute in 1970. Currently, there are 394 MWs living in 30 different countries.
To the casual wine drinker, the name Michael Broadbent doesn't mean much. To the serious wine collector and those of us who write about wine, he was an astute wine authority, particularly on the wines of France and Port. Besides writing the notes for Christie's wine auction catalogs, many of which are still consulted for their wealth of information, Michael was the author of a number of wine books.
When wine lovers first began collecting wines, a common practice was to record their notes on every wine tasted. It was a way of remembering what you tasted and when and with whom. And if you had multiples of the same wine, you had a record of the wine's progress with every bottle tasted.
Unfortunately, most of us stopped with the record keeping, but not Michael Broadbent. He is reported to have amassed tasting notes on about 120,000 wines in 150 tasting books. Such a remarkable achievement produced an invaluable record of most, if not all, of the best (and possibly the worst) wines ever bottled.
I first met Michael Broadbent in the late 1970s when I was editor of the Wine Spectator. Marvin Shanken and I had traveled to Europe to meet a few movers and shakers in the wine business, including Michael.
Anyone even remotely close to the wine business in those days knew the Broadbent name. He was a contributor to Britain's Wine magazine (the predecessor of Decanter), then the most widely read wine publication, as well as one of a number of English writers that were recognized then as authorities on European wines.
Michael received us in his office at Christie's and I remember thinking at the time how much he looked like a banker in his conservative bespoke three-piece suit, shined brogues and combed back salt and pepper hair. Although I sensed that our appointment was one of a number Michael had that day, he was gracious and welcoming, offering a coffee to his American visitors.
The second time I met Michael was just by chance. Janet and I were flying from France to California, with a stop in England to see our eldest son who lives there. As we wandered through the busy British Airways boarding lounge in Charles de Gaulle, looking for an open seat, I noticed Michael, seated with his long stretched-out legs crossed at the ankles, intently reading the Financial Times. My American-accented greeting must have momentarily caught him off guard, but ever the gentleman, he rose to greet us with a smile and nod of recognition. Following a few minutes of wine small talk, our flight departure was announced. We three were on the same British Airways flight to Heathrow, but after boarding, I didn't see Michael in England.
In the late 1980s and into the '90s, Michael Broadbent was a busy man. For a number of years, he was the auctioneer for the Napa Valley Wine Auction. It was there, a few years after the de Gaulle meeting that Michael and I met again. It was a hot and sticky June, especially for someone not used to high summer heat in England. We chatted for a few minutes during a break in the auction proceedings, then Michael returned to his seat at a table above the perspiring crowd. While taking bids on a wine, a slight breeze came up lifting the table skirt enough to show Michael, legs stretched out, shoe less and displaying a pair of very colorful socks. It was a light humorous moment for a man with a reputation for being formal.
Michael Broadbent was a constant presence in the world wine business, a fame that worked for and against him. In public settings like the Napa auction, he met the most fawning people with a gracious smile and a friendly word or two. Even the most jaded wine consumer, after meeting Michael Broadbent, was impressed by his gentlemanly attitude. The wine industry, especially in Great Britain, has yet to measure the impact of a future without him.
A change of gears now to a different topic that is an important part of wine writing and consumer education, as well as subjects, I believe, that were of interest to Michael Broadbent throughout his career.
Wine writing often contains numerous acronyms, those lettered abbreviations of a wine term or wine organization, that while they are important to the text, are not always explained. So, here is the first partial list, from A to N:
ABC -- Anything but Chardonnay (or Cabernet).
AOC -- Appellation d'Origine Controlee, French designation for its best wines.
AVA -- American Viticultural Area, the U.S. system of permitted geographical areas.
BA -- Common abbreviation for the German sweet wine, beerenauslese.
CAVA -- Although CAVA is often thought of as an acronym for Spanish sparkling wine, the word means "cellar" in the Catalan language.
CIVC --Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne. The governing organization of Champagne wines.
DAC -- Districtus Austria Controllatus, Austrian appellation system.
DO -- Denominacion de Origen, Spain's protected appellation system; now known as DOP see below).
DOC -- Denominazione di Origine Controllada, Italian appellation system; Denominacao de Origem Controlada, Portuguese appellation system.
DOCa -- Denominacion de Origen Calificada, highest designation for Spain's Rioja and Priorat wines.
DOCG -- Denominazione di Origine Controllado e Garantia, highest quality Italian wines.
DOP -- Denominacion de Origen Protegida, Spain's equivalent of Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the EU superior wine category.
DOQ -- Denominacion d'Origen Qualificada, Catalan equivalent of Spain's DOCa.
DRC -- Domaine de la Romanee Conti, prestigious Burgundy estate.
GDC -- Geneva Double Curtain, popular grapevine trellis training system.
GI -- Geographical Indication, Australian appellation system.
GSM -- Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre red blend.
IGP -- Indication Geographique Protegee, French term for what was Vin de Pays.
IGT -- Indicazione Geographica Tipica, Italian term for the equivalent of IGP.
MOG -- Material Other than Grapes, leaves, canes, other debris.
MW -- Master of Wine.
NV -- Non vintage.
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