‘Cleeve Co-atts’ was a name synonymous with authority for a generation or two of French vignerons and a legion of wine students everywhere. So much so that he managed to persuade the Bordeaux first growths to come to London to present vertical tastings of their wines to MWs and MW students in the 1990s (he’d passed the MW exams in 1971), as well as getting most of France’s finest producers to line up extensive tastings for him alone.
For wine students and professionals, he provided assiduously researched, highly regarded tomes on Claret (1982), Wines of France (1990), Grands Vins: The finest châteaux of Bordeaux and their wines (1995), Côte d’Or: A celebration of the great wines of Burgundy (1997), An Encyclopaedia of the Wines and Domaines of France (2000), The Wines of Bordeaux (2004), The Great Wines of France (2005) and The Wines of Burgundy (2008).
He also wrote and published 241 issues of The Vine, a handsome print publication that he founded in 1984 and handed over to Sarah Marsh MW in 2005. In an interview on his website he confesses that when he started The Vine, the French wine region he knew least well was Burgundy. This changed.
I knew Clive best in his Malmaison days, which coincided with my journey towards the Master of Wine qualification, and I remember in particular his catchphrase ‘as it were’, said in his slightly sibilant bass. He was generous with his knowledge (and preferences) and loved teaching others, especially women whom he encouraged on their way into the wine trade. Liz Morcom MW and, briefly, Joanna Simon both worked with him at Malmaison. Rosemary George MW recalls that in 1979, when she and the late Aileen Trew MW doubled the number of female MWs, Clive took them out to a celebratory lunch at the Charing Cross Hotel (one of the BTH portfolio), poured them champagne, and warned that passing the MW was just the start of their learning process.
– Jancis Robinson MW
I have known Clive since we were young in the trade and before we passed the MW exam, me in 1970 and he in 1971. I used to stay with him in his flat in London when I came to the UK, and we drank many fine wines together.
Three events stand out in my fond memory.
Firstly, I invited him to lunch at Château Palmer. It was well libated and he wanted to lie and sunbathe afterwards. Not content with lying on the grass, he found his way up to the roof of the château, lay there and fell asleep. The sun was hot, and it was a lead roof. When he woke up, he was severely burned, and we had to take him to Doctor Leonetti in Margaux for treatment.
Secondly, he came to my house to taste some sherries with which I was going to give a tasting to the Wine Academy in Rome. When he entered the house, he either said, “John you do live in the most splendorous squalor” or, “John you do live in the most squalorous splendour.” I have never been able to recall which and am not even sure which I would have preferred.
Thirdly, and surely the most memorable, was when we were both invited to lunch at Château Mouton Rothschild with Philippine de Rothschild. We were tasting some vintages in the tasting room with Hervé Berland when Philippine arrived. “Good morning boys, have you tasted my Alma Viva?” she said. Slightly unnecessarily I thought, Clive said, “Baroness, I really only taste French wines.” “Young man” she said, “there will be no lunch for you until you have! Hervé fetch two vintages.” We both had to taste and comment before she took us to the Château for lunch. However, she cannot have been too displeased because she gave us the 1961 and the 1945 for lunch and gave me a copy of the book of fairy tales, Aile D’Or, written for her by her father.
Clive, we miss you. You were slightly larger than life and a wonderful companion.
– John Salvi MW
It was tremendously sad to hear that British wine writer and former wine merchant, Clive Coates MW, passed away on July 25, 2022 in Lyon, France. But in reading the sad news, I smiled just a little thinking of what Clive himself might have said about his death. Probably something to the effect of, “Yep, I finally fell off the perch.” You see, despite his public persona as an accomplished, authoritative wine writer wearing natty suits with trademark bow ties, Clive took only the writing and communicating seriously, but not himself.
And although ill health prevented Clive from making annual visits to the U.S. in recent years, he extended an open invitation to American wine friends to stay with him in France. It was a sincere pleasure to visit Clive and see him so content living at “Les Petits Baronnets” despite his precarious health. He liked to sit in a large easy chair accompanied by his dog and little kitten and listen to news or opera on the BBC. He was surrounded by books, including the many he had authored and plenty of other fascinating titles for the casual visitor to sample. In his modest dining room, he had a complete set of the 241 issues of “THE VINE,” an independent fine wine magazine that Clive published from 1984 to 2005. He also maintained an excellent website at Clive-Coates.com.
During this time at “Les Petits Baronnets,” Clive ate modestly, but always drank well. When visiting, one could be assured of enjoying a bottle or two premier cru or grand cru reds from Clive’s favorite producers such as Sylvain Cathiard, Anne Gros or Michel Lafarge.
In 2017 when I led a tour of six wine enthusiasts to Burgundy, Clive agreed to join us in Beaune for dinner followed by domaine visits the next day. I offered Clive his choice of restaurants in Beaune. Instead of picking a Michelin-starred establishment, true to his essentially fun-loving, humble character, Clive choose Chez Louis, a modest pub where he could order one his favorites, good old fish and chips. That said, we still drank well from Chez Louis’ very solid wine list.
The next day, at each domaine the vignerons welcomed Clive as an old friend. Our group, in turn, received warm welcomes. Along the way on our little bus, Clive took the microphone and regaled the group with informative stories and comments on the vineyards. Over the years, he had walked the vineyards of every village in the Côte D’Or, so he knew every nook and cranny.
At our last domaine visit, the vigneron had a signed copy of Clive’s “Côte D’Or: A Celebration of the Great Wines of Burgundy” on the shelf in the tasting room. As we departed, the vigneron, as a token of friendship and good will, gave Clive a bottle of 2014 Romanée St. Vivant, a very grand bottle indeed. Back on the bus, Clive, in turn, gave the bottle to me and thanked me for inviting him to be part of our day. The bottle remains in my cellar today.
It was a gesture typical of Clive. For those with a genuine passion for wine, he was truly generous in sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm. And as a writer and lecturer, he was erudite and informative without being pompous and pretentious. He had firm confidence in his opinions and hard-earned knowledge of wine, but at heart Clive had true humility. He knew he never could have achieved his amazing accomplishments without help along the way. And he was always ready to do the same for others while sharing good wine and good times.
R.I.P. and farewell, Clive Coates MW. Your friends in Pittsburgh miss you already and will remember you fondly always. Cheers and we look forward to sharing another glass of Bourgogne one day on the other side.
– Dave DeSimone
Clive Coates was a giant who inspired me with his writing and energy. The sad thing about being human is that those who contribute so much and still have so much to contribute must eventually leave us.
Clive Coates leaves a massive void that will be felt for years to come! Rest In Peace!
– Chuck Byers
I remember holding a Fine and Rare Burgundy tasting for the International Wine and Food Society some years ago of wine from my private cellar which was conducted by Clive Coates, and included a bottle of 1937 Domaine de Romanee Conti.
I remember Clive’s comments on this wine: ‘This is, without doubt, the finest Burgundy I have ever and will ever will taste.”
– Jeffrey Benson
Clive was a serious wine writer with a deep knowledge of his specialist subjects that included Bordeaux and a love for Burgundy, where he spent the last part of his life, and of its wines. I fancy in politics Clive would have been described as a ‘big beast’ – a Ken Clarke, Michael Heseltine or Denis Healy of the wine writing community!
Back in the 90s I was pre-commissioned by Clive to write a book on the Loire. In preparation, I made my first visit to the Côtes de Forez and the Côte Roannaise on the principle that I might as well start at the beginning of vine production in the Loire, so I am grateful to Clive for providing the impetus to explore these two fascinating appellations in the Upper Loire that are a long way from the main vineyard area. Through no fault of Clive’s the project was never commissioned.
Although our paths didn’t often pass Clive was part of a group of us having dinner at the Brasserie de la Gare in Angers one Sunday evening sometime in the 90s on the eve of the Salon des Vins de Loire. I remember Clive deciding to order a bottle of 1984 Vouvray Moelleux from Prince Poniatowski’s Clos Baudoin. 1984 is hardly a stellar vintage but Clive was determined to try it – evidence of an insatiable curiosity? He also could not resist ordering some Burgundy during the course of the dinner.
The 1984 was not impressive. A few years later on a visit to Clos Baudoin I saw in the cellar a great stack of the 1984 moelleux, which the Prince had been unable to sell…
– Jim Budd