Anthony Rose: 'The Primum Familiae Vini clearly regard themselves as the elite of the wine world'


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"We're here because we want to be, not because we have to be," proclaimed Baroness Philippine de Rothschild theatrically. The press corps were also there because we wanted to be as we tucked into lasagne of Dorset crab and venison Wellington at the two-star Michelin restaurant The Square. Accompanied as it was by a mouthwatering array of wines including a 1996 Sassicaia, a 1953 Vega Sicilia and a 1961 Château Mouton Rothschild, it rapidly turned into a Michelin four-star lunch.

Once a year the 11 members of the Primum Familiae Vini ( pull out the stops to show just what their name means to them and should mean to us. With a name like that to live up to, the family group formed in 1993 by Miguel Torres and Robert Drouhin clearly regard themselves as the elite of the wine world. One pre-eminent member, (Count) Piero Antinori, explained what family unity meant: "The values we share are passion, respect for our vineyards, patience and the fact that we all consider profit not as a goal but a means to strengthen our companies and to maintain continuity."

But what should the Primum Familiae Vini mean to us apart from a slap-up lunch and soft-spoken marketing? As the guardians of family values and traditions, the leaders of the world's top family companies have an authority that's neither smug nor snobbish. They represent quality and personality in a wine world dominated by commercialism and the need to keep shareholders happy. They have inspired by example, for instance, the formation of Australia's First Families of Wine and a similar New Zealand's Family of Twelve.

As in all families, not all is plain sailing. Family pride was dented when California's Mondavi family had to bow out when the late Robert Mondavi sold out to Constellation after a family squabble. Perhaps that's one reason why the Eurocentric incumbents haven't yet replaced their wayward New World sibling with a family of the obvious calibre of Chile's Chadwick (Viña Errázuriz) or Argentina's Catena.

The Mondavi glitch apart, the continuity was there for all to see on their Big Day Out. Alessia Antinori, Piero's daughter, introduced herself as the 26th generation. Cleverly, the 11 younger wines we tasted before the lunch were introduced by the senior members of the families present, while the younger generation introduced the mature classics with lunch. Over a 1963 Graham's Vintage Port, Paul Symington of Dow's, Graham's and Warre's, said "there isn't a bad wine" and I couldn't disagree. For my tasting notes on the wines shown on the day, see