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A compehensive and invaluable reference work
on 14 December 2002
Although I suspect Mr Broadbent would shudder at the thought, comparions will inevitably be made between this book and those of Robert Parker, probably the broadest and certainly the most famous (or infamous) body of tasting notes by one individual available in print.
Perhaps the most fundamental difference is one of style. Parker's notes on any given wine tend to be of the order of two or three times longer than Broadbent's. By his own admission Broadbent is not "a great taster, merely a fairly conscientious one". As such his notes are pithy, concentrating the quality of the wine and its state of development rather than ransacking the vocabulary for different terms to describe, in minute detail, essentially similar smell and taste sensations.
Another important difference is the context, Broadbent's notes covering the full gamut from cask tastings at various Chateaux, through various formal tastings at auctions and wine societies to private dinners and, even in some cases family meals. This contrasts with Parker's notes, all written in the context of "professional tastings". While this arguably provides a more consistent basis upon which to compare the wines, it makes for much more clinical, and in my opinion, monotonous reading.
A particular feature of the Broadbent book is its depth, i.e. the range of vintages covered. Whereas Parker's books tend to cover wines recently released (or in the context of his regionally specific works, released in the last forty-or-so years), Broadbent's covers, uniquely as far as I know, vintages stretching back to the 19th and even late 18th centuries. This can be an invaluable aid in selecting older bottles for birthdays and anniversaries, as well as for buying or selling older wines at auction.
Broadbent's experience, knowledge and passion for the subject are all well documented, and all shine through equally in the book. Less expected, perhaps, are the warmth and humour which punctuate his entries: "I propose to leave my children Emma and Bartholomew two magnums each - if Daphne hasn't drunk them" . These show a down-to-earth, human side which I find reinforces my confidence in the soundness of his judgement.
There are of course eccentricities, such as his disdain for Spainish wines and his penchant for using "generous" (when describing his various hosts) as a synonym of "wealthy". However, these can be easily forgiven as there is also an honesty and humility to the work that is so patently missing in Parker. Who can imagine the latter admitting on the record that when presented with the Leoville Barton 1982 in bottle and double magnum at a "single blind" tasting, he guessed them to be the '59 and '61 respectively?