Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Great One
In hockey, it was Gretzky. He stood head and shoulders above the rest. In wine writing, it is Jancis. Yesterday in her Financial Times column she wrote about Steven Spurrer, the man behind the CA vs. France tasting in Paris in 1976, and its sort-of rerun this past week. Here's a taste of the piece:

Perhaps every area of activity has its puzzlingly under-celebrated pioneer and
Steven Spurrier is certainly an unsung hero of wine. He has quite exceptional
wine knowledge, particularly but not exclusively of France, has fingers in
vinous pies in six countries, and has had all manner of brilliant wine ideas
that other people, never him, have managed to spin into gold.

Fortunately, he began life with a fortune, was wise enough to marry
another, and seems to be happy enough to have spent his 42 years in the wine
business gently frittering them away in various agreeable wine-related

Not that he is indolent. Far from it. At the Christie's Wine Course, which
he set up in 1982, it is more often than not Spurrier who carries the boxes and
opens the bottles. His prolific wine writing output includes three very solid
books, of which only Clarke &Spurrier'sFine Wine Guide is still in

When a group of us British wine writers needs to fix up its programme of
visits to taste the Bordeaux primeurs each spring, it is Steven who does all the
hard work of writing to the châteaux and co-ordinating our split-second
timetable. But when Steven counselled me to invest in Vinopolis, the wine-based
tourist attraction that opened just south of the Thames in 1999, assuring me
that he was putting everything he could into it, I did the opposite and have not
regretted it.

But to call him the man with the tin touch would be deeply unfair because
he has enriched the wine world considerably and played a key part in the wine
education of such luminaries as Michel Bettane, France's top wine writer, Tim
Johnston and Mark Williamson of Willi's Wine Bar in Paris, Roy Richards of
Richards Walford, Britain's most fastidious wine importer, Charles Lea of Lea
& Sandeman fine wine shops around London, Paul Bowker (who was so cute he
was known as le petit'ange by Caves de la Madeleine customers and went on to run
Christie's wine department) and Jenny Dobson, whom Spurrier met when she was an
au pair for the Seysses family at Burgundy's Domaine Dujac and, touchpaper lit
by Spurrier, has gone on to make great wine at Ch Sénéjac in Bordeaux and Te Awa
in New Zealand.

If Spurrier has a fault, it is hardly the most serious: an excess of
enthusiasm about the most humdrum of wines.....