One of the most famous names in the global wine trade, Michael Broadbent MW, has died aged 92.

Robert Joseph remembers Michael Broadbent MW, who led an extraordinary life in wine.

He was a man who could draw and paint. After leaving school, he studied for a degree in architecture, and it is easy to imagine him as the creator of a series of elegant buildings with all manner of quirky details designed to raise a smile for anyone who cared to notice them.

In 1952, however, he became an apprentice to the wine merchant Tommy Layton who was then one of the most respected members of the London wine trade. Three years later, he was persuaded to move to Harvey’s of Bristol by an even more influential mentor called Harry Waugh who, like himself, had adopted wine as a career relatively late – at the age of 30. 

Waugh, who went on to write four wine books was notable as the writer of what Broadbent later called “detailed yet unfussy tasting notes”. After being promoted to head up UK sales for Harvey’s, Broadbent, thanks to an introduction by Waugh, moved to an “empty office in King Street” in London’s Mayfair where he was “charged with the job of starting up Christie’s wine auction department”. In 1960, he became one of the early members of the Institute of Masters of Wine.

As wine writer Harry Eyres, who worked for him at Christie’s, recalls, Broadbent, with his urbane charm and ready humour, “brought glamour to wine”, popularising fine wine and, specifically, auctions in Britain and then internationally. Occasionally he did not recognise how far this impact had spread. When a long-haired, casually dressed young man appeared at a sale and began outbidding traditional pinstriped Christie’s customers, Broadbent decided to stop taking any notice of him. His mistake was pointed out in a lawyer’s letter on behalf of a very annoyed Andrew Lloyd Webber, co-creator of the hit musicals Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Lloyd Webber was apparently soothed over a good Christie’s lunch, but it was Sotheby’s who got to sell his wine cellar a few decades later.

Broadbent would also regret becoming part of the controversy over one particular bottle of wine. Sold at Christie's as a 1787 Château Lafite owned by Thomas Jefferson for the record price of $156,000, its authenticity was widely questioned; it became the focus of a book by Benjamin Wallace called The Billionaire’s Vinegar. A lawsuit by Broadbent, who objected to the way he had been portrayed in it followed.  Random House, the publisher, agreed that the passages in question were not true, apologised, paid damages and undertook not to distribute the book in the UK.

The Rodenstock saga, as it was known, after the name of the German vendor, did nothing to dent Broadbent’s reputation as the world’s leading authority on fine wine and wine tasting. His book Vintage Wines drew on over 90,000 tasting notes compiled over the years and became a bible for anyone wanting to know the background to a Bordeaux vintage. There were no scores, merely a star-rating out of five. For Broadbent the description was far more important.

While he was inevitably associated with the kind of fine wine that tended to be sold at auction, Broadbent was as fascinated in tasting new and unfamiliar wines as professionals a third of his age. This passion for the unknown and underappreciated was also exhibited in the choice of music he liked to play on the piano. As Professor Jonathan Freeman Attwood noted in the commemorative edition of Broadbent’s Wine Tasting he was as happy to play works by the “spectacularly out of fashion” Gottschalk as any by Bach or Beethoven. 

The re-publication of Wine Tasting by Academie du Vin in 2019 – it was originally written in 1968 – illustrates how seminal Michael Broadbent has been to the wine world. Half a century on, his advice is still being taken by sommeliers from New York to New Delhi.

No one has better expressed the sense behind what he calls a “tabulated tasting” approach that sees appearance, bouquet and taste as ‘stages’ in a revelation “leading naturally and irrevocably to a logical conclusion”. In useful advice to the would-be wine writer, he goes on to say that “A variety of expressive abstract terms can be used to express degrees of quality. They tend to be subjective and should be chosen with care.”

But the Broadbent of the meticulous tasting note was also the man whose invitation to a ‘Bacchanalian romp’ at his home featured a drawing by him of a fat, old god of wine slumped over a barrel after several glasses too many. He never took himself too seriously and, while he will be remembered for his writing, Broadbent will also be the wine expert who made countless people smile or laugh when they met him in person or heard him speak. He was, quite simply, in his gentlemanly, courteous way, very captivating. 

As Bartholomew Broadbent, his son who has a successful import business in the US wryly recalls, Daphne, his mother “always accompanied my father to tastings… I think the main reason… was to fend off the women, many of whom were attracted to him and vice versa.”

Michael Broadbent may never have got to design any quirkily elegant great buildings, but memories of his quirkily elegant personality will linger and his descriptions of the finest wines of the world will still be read in years to come. 

by Robert Joseph


March 2024

February 2024

January 2024

December 2023

November 2023

August 2023

July 2023

June 2023

April 2023

March 2023

February 2023

December 2022

November 2022

October 2022

August 2022

March 2022

January 2022

December 2021

November 2021

October 2021

September 2021

June 2021

April 2021

February 2021

January 2021

November 2020

October 2020

September 2020

August 2020

May 2020

March 2020

January 2020

December 2019

November 2019

October 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

May 2019

April 2019

February 2019

January 2019

December 2018

November 2018

October 2018

September 2018

August 2018

July 2018

June 2018

April 2018

March 2018

February 2018

December 2017

November 2017

October 2017

September 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

December 2016

November 2016

October 2016

September 2016

August 2016

July 2016

June 2016

May 2016

Register to Tastingbook
Sign up now, it's quick and easy.
We use PayPal, the world's largest payment system, it accepts all credit cards.
Once you've chosen your membership level, you'll go directly to PayPal, where you can sign up for a free 7-day trial period. You can cancel your membership at any time. We wish you a rewarding journey to the world of Fine Wines.

Free 7 days Member trial




Pro Member


Winemerchant Member


Winery Member



You need to login or register to view the info.
You need to login or register to access this functionality.
To write comments you need to login or register.