Alex Ignatieff: Wine master’s class in a glass

Alex Ignatieff

Like the fine wines that he sells, Alex Ignatieff (pictured) has matured very well. Just nudging middle age, the quietly-spoken creator of L’Emporium du Vin in Mandelieu has brought a world of experience in the wine trade to enliven the palates of the South of France.

After schools in Scotland and Canada (he is the cousin of the Canadian polymath Michael Ignatieff, former head of the Liberal Party), he went to university in Sydney, and it was in Australia that his love of wine took root and turned into a career.

He landed a plum job – inaugural sommelier at the InterContinental Hotel in Sydney.

“There followed three years of tasting the world’s finest wines, also plenty of travelling. What a tough job!” says Alex.

Australian wine was just starting to make its mark outside its native land, and young Alex rode the wave.

“I got to know David Hohnen, who was putting Cape Mentelle [Western Australia] and Cloudy Bay [New Zealand] on the map, and he offered me a job at a London wine trade fair.

“In Australia I had enrolled for the Masters of Wine course, and the move to Europe was really essential to extend my study of wine and winemakers.”

It was 1992, and plum job No 2 was just around the corner.

“Geoffrey Roberts, who was involved in bringing New World wines to the UK, put me in touch with Harvey Nichols, and I became their wine buyer at a period when the store was being completely overhauled.

“It was an exciting time. The old Harvey Nicks, which had the atmosphere of a staid London club, was transformed. The fifth floor became home to a restaurant and the ‘wine shop’, and it was great to put together a wine selection from scratch.”

Eventually Alex decided to put his brilliant palate to work for himself, and then came the move to the South of France for “a better quality of life”.

Home for Alex, his wife Melanie, who handles the marketing side at the L’Emporium du Vin, and their two teenaged children, is near Grasse.

Much of Alex’s business involves supplying top-of-the range wines to be sipped on posh yachts and villa terraces. But there are regular tasting sessions at L’Emporium du Vin where you will make discoveries that won’t break the bank.

At these tastings Alex’s passion comes to the fore.

“I get excited when I discover a wine that combines good quality with good value. It’s important to me to get to know the wine producers individually, to get right inside the story of the wine.”

Alex’s experience and the connections built up over 30 years in the trade backs up the quiet confidence he has in the bottles he sells. Take his “house” champagne for example.

“Our own brand, Champagne Fourtin, is blended to our spec by the team that blended the Harvey Nichols Own Label range for me when I was buyer there.”

Alex is more than happy to share his knowledge and give customers a realist’s steer on their favourite wine. Bordeaux? “The 2013 vintage was a shocker, 2012 not much better. However, if you are looking for a wine to lay down, you can find the some excellent 2010s at below their release prices.”

Where is Alex’s nose leading him now for the best discoveries at the nicest prices?

“Languedoc. There’s been a revolution in quality production there, and prices are generally reasonable for very good wines.”

See www.emporiumduvin.com for more info and directions to L’Emporium du Vin.

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