Michael Broadbent, MW, 1927-2020

Michael Broadbent, a world-famous wine connoisseur who founded the fine wine department at Christie’s auction house in 1966 and went on to write an unmatched series of books about wine, passed away at his home in London earlier today, according to a Facebook post by his son, the wine merchant Bartholomew Broadbent. He was 92 years old.

In addition to Bartholomew, Mr. Broadbent is survived by a daughter, Lady Emma Arbuthnot (the Senior Magistrate of England & Wales). His wife of many decades, Daphne, died in 2015; and last year he married Valerie Smallwood, the widow of his colleague Simon Smallwood.

Michael Broadbent was an artist with a gift for drawing who had originally trained as an architect. He found his calling, however, as a tireless taster of fine wines, often brushing aside cobwebs in the cellars of English country houses whose owners were seeking valuations of their musty collections of claret. Mr. Broadbent’s uncanny taste memory was acknowledged with his induction at the age of 33 into the exclusive Institute of Masters of Wine, a London-based organization for wine professionals. Alongside his meticulous tasting notes, the prestigious title (there were fewer than 100 MWs at the time) persuaded Christie’s to hire him to create a new fine wine department. Michael Broadbent’s rising fame as an authority on fine wine and his skill as an auctioneer propelled Christie’s to the forefront of auction houses that quickly recognized the value of wine as more than a beverage but as a category of collectible items. It also formed the basis for an unparalleled series of books of his notes, advice, and opinions.

His introduction to wine tasting, a program he developed for Christie’s, involved a sophisticated yet disciplined method of approaching (and ultimately understanding) an unknown wine: color, appearance, aroma, taste. His pocket wine guides were classics.

Mr. Broadbent was recognized by his peers in the wine industry and in publishing. He was, over the span of his career, Decanter’s “Man of the Year,” chairman of the Institute of Masters of Wine, master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers, president of The International Wine and Food Society, and president of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust.

I first met Michael Broadbent one year at Vinexpo in Bordeaux and later called on him in London, in his office at Christie’s (where he was sipping his usual late-morning glass of Madeira. For several years, he anchored “Christie’s Wine Weekends” in London for my tour company, France In Your Glass, and kicked off tours of Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, Provence, and Champagne.

Although he was humble and self-deprecating, he treated all wines with respect and insisted on personal decorum. He once sent a seminar participant in shorts back to his room to change clothes.

His early training as an architect resulted in a lifelong fascination with the lines and shapes of old buildings. He was also a more than passable pianist, which he would practice daily at his home in the countryside, often with a glass of Spätlese perched delicately above the keyboard.