Neville Blech (7th July 1937 – 6th September 2019)
Wine behind the label co-editor, leading contributor and managing director Neville Blech passed away on Friday morning, 6th September at the age of 82. He had been battling cancer for a number of years. He was a qualified chartered accountant whose very considerable knowledge and expertise encompassed both food and wine. He subsequently becamea successful restaurateur and wine merchant before embarking on his final adventure as a wine writer and publisher.
Having qualified as a chartered accountant in 1959 he became passionate about food and wine whilst working (for Price Waterhouse in Milan) in the early sixties. It was there that he encountered not only his future wife, Sonia, but also 2 litre bottles of “Valpolicella” made in a cantina in the back streets of Milan.
He soon began to appreciate better quality wines, particularly French, and returning to London began building up his knowledge of wine with the help of Hugh Johnson. Wine and food soirées at the Blech’s South Kensington home became a regular feature and the purchase of a run-down pub in the Wye Valley, in Wales as a second home in 1971 prompted them to consider commercialising Sonia’s abilities as an accomplished amateur cook. “Sonia, darling – you can cook a bit – let’s open a restaurant”. The pub was converted into a smart restaurant avec chambres, and opened in 1974, and in 1976, Sonia became the first woman chef in the UK to obtain a Michelin star.
Returning to London to open the Mijanou restaurant in 1980, which became one of the fashionable restaurants of the decade, the innovative wine list resulted in many awards, and soon he was being asked to write a wine column for a magazine called “Restaurant Business” and to help other restaurateurs with the composition of their wine lists, (a function he still carried out until very recently). The consultancy developed and in 1989 he started his own wine importing company, The Wine Treasury, which specialises in wines from California, being one of the first in the UK to realise the quality potential of Californian wineries, some of which are now truly world class players.
In 1996 the restaurant was sold to concentrate on the wine business and the soirées re-appeared in a much more professional fashion with regular visiting wine producers as special guests. He continued to write occasional articles for various wine publications and broadcasted on wine for Jazz FM in London in order to make the distinction between Brubeck and Brunello. He was a member of the Grand Jury Européen wine tasting panel and served on tasting panels for Decanter, Wine Magazine and other leading wine publications.
In 2002 he sold The Wine Treasury to concentrate on wine writing and wine consultancy and his involvement with Wine behind the label. He was a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and FIJEV (Fédération Internationale des Journalistes et Écrivans du Vin.)
Neville was a wonderful colleague, friend, mentor to so many people throughout his life and a great family man. He will be very much missed and his contribution to “wine” in the UK has been considerable. He loved the challenge of finding a great restaurant, with an intriguing wine list and above all one that offered good value for money! He was beginning to investigate and enjoyed discovering the wines of Eastern Europe and other small emerging regions.
Neville’s tenacious appetite for new discoveries, his love of travel, food and wine will be missed by many, including all the team at Wine behind the label. As Neville said in an autobiographical piece last September “It’s a never-ending journey in the world of wine – a learning curve that’s going on forever”. He will be very much missed by his wife Sonia and family as well as many friends and colleagues.