Meeting wine's Mr Big

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Indy Lifestyle Online

With his stubbly beard and wicked laugh, Michel Rolland, the world's best-known wine consultant, looks like a Bond villain. And he was cast as the villain in a movie, Jonathan Nossiter's documentary, Mondovino. The film, which pits the honest grower against the Goliath-like forces of globalisation, ridicules Rolland as a devil-may-care character who is chauffeured from one client to the next, barking out "micro-oxygenation" as the panacea for all wine problems. He's accused of a "fascist monopoly" of the wine trade and "making wines to the global taste".

With his stubbly beard and wicked laugh, Michel Rolland, the world's best-known wine consultant, looks like a Bond villain. And he was cast as the villain in a movie, Jonathan Nossiter's documentary, Mondovino. The film, which pits the honest grower against the Goliath-like forces of globalisation, ridicules Rolland as a devil-may-care character who is chauffeured from one client to the next, barking out "micro-oxygenation" as the panacea for all wine problems. He's accused of a "fascist monopoly" of the wine trade and "making wines to the global taste".

Michel Rolland has more countries on his books than Chelsea's Jose Mourinho. They include Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Hungary, India, Italy, Mexico, Morocco, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and the US. His family owns five Bordeaux châteaux and he is a consultant to more than 100 wineries. His name crops up everywhere. At the Casa Lapostolle winery in Chile, I once had a nap in the Michel Rolland room. I've seen barrels chalked with his name in the cellar at the Remhoogte estate in the Cape. In Argentina, I drove along the Avenue Michel Rolland to reach the epic $50m Clos de los Siete, set up by some of France's richest wine entrepreneurs, Rolland included.

Jetting from Argentina to India via South Africa, Michel Rolland stopped off in London to present 13 of his wines to the press. "Nossiter was dishonest," says Rolland. "He showed the same shot of me saying micro-oxygenation three times. I'm not even that great a fan of micro-oxygenation," he says of the cellar technique that makes young wines more approachable. "I hate the term globalisation. There's no recipe. A wine is an expression of its terroir and the winemaker is looking for the best wine he can." If there's a consistency to his wines, he claims, it's because demand for quality is greater than ever. "Not that long ago, wines were mostly easy to recognise through their faults. My job has been to iron out those faults, so maybe a wine's positive features are not so easy to identify."

Kicking off with a quaffable 2002 Grover La Réserve (around £8.99 in a case, Berkmann Wine Cellars, 020-7609 4711) made with his help in Bangalore, Rolland explains that he likes to use the local grape variety where possible, demonstrating this first with the 2002 Bonne Nouvelle from the Cape (no UK stockist) which contains the walk-on-the-wild-side pinotage grape, then a malbec blend from Argentina, the 2003 Clos de los Siete (£9.99, Majestic). The intense and stylish 2001 Clos Apalta from Casa Lapostolle (around £37.50, Selfridges, Harrods, Fortnum & Mason), is based on Chile's recently rediscovered carmenère grape. These wines share the ripe, glossy and substantially oaked characteristics designed to appeal to international wine drinkers, yet they also have something to say about their place of origin.

After a fine Spanish red, Campo Elisea, made in Toro from tempranillo, Rolland shows one of Italy's iconic reds, the 2001 Ornellaia (around £60, John Armit, 020-7908 0600), admittedly a Bordeaux-style blend, but without a doubt the most outstanding wine in the line-up. From his consultancy for Bordeaux négociant Dourthe, three clarets follow, including a cassis-laden 2003 Château Clos de la Tour and an approachable 2002 Château la Garde (contact Enotria for details, 020-8963 4820). Interestingly, the Bordeaux reds, including three of his own, don't sing quite the same exuberant tune as his New World offerings. E

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