Farewell to one of the great characters of the wine world

08 February, 2008

When Robert Parker clashed with Bill Baker over the latter's caustic review of his first book,

Bordeaux: The Definitive Guide , in 1987, he accused the West Country wine merchant of being a "small, jealous person".

The description could not have been wider of the mark. Baker, who died on January 28 , was a big man in every sense. He had substantial quantities of generosity, kindness and knowledge, not to mention a well-upholstered frame.

If you never met Baker, a familiar, be-suited figure on the London tasting circuit - not to mention Europe's best restaurants - then you missed out on one of the wine world's great characters. If you did meet him, you will mourn his loss. Baker was a brilliant and opinionated taster with a profound knowledge of classic, especially French, wines, and a very sharp mind. He was always happy to share his time and expertise.

More than anything, Bill knew how to have fun. He enjoyed eating, drinking and laughing in equal measure. I was especially fond of his laconic tasting notes in the Reid Wines list. Three of my favourites are:

"Still here " (of a 1988 Cornas);

"Old-fashioned and tannic " (of a 1969 Chianti Classico Riserva); and

"A lot of expensive, slow-moving stock. Accountants' nightmare " (of some California Pinot Noirs).

Though he was only 53 when he died, Bill was a figure from a different era, an era when lunches were longer and the pace of life was more sedate. It's a shame that Bill didn't get the chance to enjoy more great wines. The next time you open a decent bottle, you might like to toast the memory of a wonderful human being.

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