Tag Archives: Steven Spurrier

Wines drunk, friends made, fortunes lost.

I promised a review of  Stevens Spurrier’s book “Wine – A Way of Life”, in a previous post. I was looking forward to wine world gossip and I wasn’t disappointed.  Steven clearly states that the book is not an autobiography but a memoir of his life in wine, and he’s right. The book bounces you about all over the place, following the threads and personalities that have made Steven the wine authority he has become. Those looking for a history of the wine business might find this frustrating but the insights to the people and places, as well as the wines, that have made our wine business what it is today are fascinating.

He is charmingly candid about his adventures, some more successful than others, and about the money spent, lost and occasionally gained. Like a pantomime character, you want to help by shouting ‘look out behind you’ and you see potential disaster looming as he embarks on another brilliant idea – and in hindsight so does he.

For many of his projects he was just too far ahead of his time or just not in the right place at the right time. But goodness me what a lot of places he has been.

His early adventures as an unpaid trainee, going from pillar to post at some of the most prestigious wineries of the world, would make any aspiring cellar rat’s eyes pop today.

But he certainly was in the right place at the right time in 1976 when he organised what has become known as ‘The Judgement of Paris’. Although after the sulks from the French wine trade it might not have felt so at the time.

wine a way of life

Steven spurrier – still dapper after all these years!

Steven is well aware of the privilege of the places he has visited, the people he has met and wines he has tasted and he generously shares them all. Despite the years and the wines he has lost none of his wonder and enthusiasm for the ‘wine game’

He rarely dwells on those who have taken advantage of him, berating himself for a lack of business sense. Steven doesn’t seem to hold any rancour, at least nothing to make him bitter or to change his relaxed and charming demeanour.

I can’t claim that Steven introduced me to wine, but during my ‘formative’ years in Paris, straight out of university, many an evening spent at the Blue Fox (often affectionately known as ‘The Flu Box’ as the evening wore on) certainly did nothing to dissuade me from entering the business. Even now, every time I see Steven, it takes me back to those carefree times. This book will do the same for anyone fortunate to have frequented the critic’s bar and restaurant, shopped at les Caves de la Madeleine or tasted at l’Academie du Vin.

Choose wine for the mood not for the food is one of Stevens many gems, I suggest this Wine-A Way of Life will put you in the mood for a glass from Steven’s latest vinous adventure: Bride Valley.


So what is primeur exactly?

If you have read Clare Tooley’s post but haven‘t had the dubious pleasure of coming to Bordeaux for the primeur tastings you might be wondering what it’s all about. Here’s the heads up on what has been happening in Bordeaux this week.

I have already given an outline of how it is supposed to work and I have covered this tricky red 2013 vintage in a previous post although the Sweet whites loved almost every minute of it.

Despite all the talk about not coming this year, thousands of members of the wine trade, including merchants, buyers, journalists and other opinion leaders from all over the world have been in Bordeaux to spend a few days swirling and spitting their way around the wines of the 2013 vintage to draw their own conclusions on the quality on offer.

Far from all the chateaux of the region show, or even sell their wines on primeur. Only about 5% of Bordeaux production is classified, or equivalent, even if this 5% does represent almost 20% of the commercial value of the region and perhaps even more in the image stakes (I wonder how we can measure that?)

If you count the 61 Medoc and Graves and the 27 Sauternes & Barsac, properties classified in 1855, the 82 properties in the latest Saint Emilion classification, (64 Grands Crus Classés et 18 Premiers Grands Crus Classés) and the 13 red and 9 white (6 do both) of Graves you come to a grand total of under 200. We should also include most of Pomerol and some stars from other appellations. Don’t forget the Cru Bourgeois currently 256, some, but not all of which sell as futures.  Still this ‘only’ makes about 500 wines out of 8000 properties (most of which produce several wines) – you get the picture.


Samples ready for tasting

Samples ready for tasting

Also, surprisingly enough, it’s not just Bordeaux, many Bordeaux wine consultants will make the most of the great and the good of the world wine trade being under ‘one roof’ to show their wines made in other wine regions of the world.

All these wines to taste might sound like a daunting task, but you’ll be happy to know that these devoted palates, tasting on your behalf, don’t have to visit hundreds of chateaux to taste all these wines. Properties from the same or neighbouring appellations, and various wine associations join forces to present their wares in one venue.

For example Sauternes this year showed at Chateau Guiraud, the right bank wines at Château la Pointe in Pomerol and the Cru Bourgeois at Chateau d’Arsac. The top growths however tend to ask you to visit ‘chez eux’ although Chateau Yquem has presented in the glamorous Opera House in Bordeaux city for the last few years, in case merchants can’t make the trip down South.

The Bordeaux Opera House

The Bordeaux Opera House

Most of this is organised by the UGC – Union des Grands crus, (hence the abbreviation UGC week for the initiated) and they carefully distribute invitations to the great and the good of the world wine trade. If you are not on this privileged list you can live the experience vicariously without the loss of sleep and damage to you liver by following your favorite wine critics. Here are a few of my suggestions.

Gavin Quinney makes Bordeaux wine at Chateau Bauduc as well as tasting for Harpers and Liv-ex, you can link to both from his blog. Other Brits in Bordeaux to follow are Roger Voss who is European editor for The Wine Enthusiast and James Lawther who tastes for Decanter along with his colleague Stephen Spurrier. For a trade point of view from the UK I recommend the Berry Brothers and Rudd blog and for an American point of view follow JJ Buckley.

Alternatively see you this time next year in Bordeaux.