James Suckling was always my least favorite Wine Spectator columnist. He was Spectator’s “European bureau chief” from 1985-2010 (as though the Speculator had a whole “bureau” in Europe, and the Suckling was just presiding as its chief).
It’s not just that his giant head looks like a pumpkin with hair from the ’70s. Once I started tasting the Italian wines he wrote about, I found his scores to be substantially inflated. If I subtract four or five points from his scores, I can usually pretty accurately estimate my score for the same wine. And his Bordeaux opinions always seemed belated and obvious. For example, in a June 30, 2009, column entitled, “A Right Bank Year to Rediscover,” he wrote that 1998 Pomerols and St. Emilions were awfully good. Geez, was there really anyone in the fine wine world that didn’t already know by ’09 that 1998 was a great year for the Right Bank?
In July 2010, it was announced that the Suckling was “retiring” from the Speculator. In September that year, Suckling announced his involvement in something called “One Wine, One World.” These were two wine blends, a red and a white, that the Suckling assertedly himself “made,” with help from Mexican winemaker Hugo d’Acosta, from grapes from California, Mexico, Hungary, Slovenia, Roussillon and Italy. It was served at a dinner for the Pope and the Catholic bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, at St Mary’s College Oscott in Birmingham, to celebrate the end of the first ever state visit by a pope to the United Kingdom. According to an interview in Decanter, the Suckling claimed he made the wine on a “whim,” explaining, “I wanted to blend Californian and Mexican wine, ‘and then I thought, ‘Why not make it a political statement – why not make a global wine?’” Maybe because there’s no sense of terroir whatsoever in a blend that eclectic and bizarre? Maybe because it sounds undrinkable on its face?
The wine’s involvement in the papal visit to England happened by way of a huge contributor to the Catholic Church, the Maimonides Foundation, run by billionnaire and papal favorite Nasser D. Khalili, whom the Suckling approached. As the Suckling wrote on his new website, “It’s hard to believe that my charity wine One Wine One World only began as an idea during the summer of 2010 during a lunch in Ensenada, Mexico, and, it is now in a bottle, and people are drinking it all over the world.” Suckling also announced that he had been signed by IMG Artists, LLC. Here’s the Suckling on video talking about the project, for the “Pop-ill” visit, as he pronounces it:
In October 2010, the Suckling announced his video-based website JamesSuckling.com, which features the Suckling hanging out with basically any wine world figures who will appear in the same frame with him. If you don’t believe me, check out this “I’m here,” promo:
Or this one, filmed at Wally’s in Los Angeles, featuring fellow wine world douche that I’ve written about here, Bipin Desai’s sommelier Christian Navarro:
My “favorite,” i.e., the most cringeworthy video of the Suckling canon to date, which was promoted ad nauseum through the Suckling’s website and that of Gary Vaynerchuk, shows the Suckling and Gary V. opining on wines Gary offered up for the Suckling’s minimal critique from Gary V.’s wine store. The Suckling is so lazy in this “tasting,” that he makes Gary seems industrious and thoughtful by comparison.
In the video, the Suckling repeatedly uses his nauseating catch phrase, “I’m 90 points on that,” which strikes me as the most disgusting, egotistical and obnoxious possible catch phrase for a wine critic. Here’s a video solely devoted to the Suckling’s pompous catch phrase:
And apparently wines that rate less than 90 points for the Suckling aren’t even worthy of mention. As the Suckling’s website insists, “In general, jamessuckling.com will focus entirely on outstanding quality wines, regardless of their price or origins. I don’t see it necessary to publish notes with scores of less than 90 points.”
The Suckling has been tirelessly promoting these vacuous videologs anywhere he can. He even showed up as a guest on the For the Love of Port Forum a couple weeks ago (after all, he wrote a book for the Speculator on Port that was published in 1990), where he lazily and minimally responded to questions about Port from Port fanatics. The Suckling failed to even show up for three of the seven days the Suckling committed to on the FTLOP Forum.
I’m appreciative of others who have expressed their revulsion for this loathsome gasbag, such as the creator of the blog “James Suckling is a Douche.” I particularly commend wine writer and blogger Tom Maresca for his recent investigation into the Suckling’s upcoming Italian wine event.
Tom writes that in a May 2011 piece on Super Tuscan wines for Decanter, the Suckling promoted wines that are featured in, and sponsoring, the Suckling’s “Divino Tuscany” June 2011 wine event, for which the Suckling is charging $2600 a head. The Suckling is also reportedly charging participating wineries $16,000 a piece.
Here’s an excerpt from the Suckling’s invite to this Italian wine sleazefest: “For Divino Tuscany, I chose the best wineries in the area to pour their top wines from recent and past vintages. My partner in the event, arts and event management company IMG Artists, has organized the best in music, food and entertainment events around the globe.”
The Suckling’s “Founding Wineries” for this event are Altesino, Antinori, Barone Ricasoli, Brancaia, Caiarossa, Caparzo, Carpineta Fontalpino, Casanova di Neri, Castellare di Castellina, Castello di Bossi, Castello Banfi, Castelvecchio, Castiglion del Bosco, Ciacci Piccolomini, Duemani, Eredi Fuligni, Fattoria di Felsina, Fattoria Casaloste, Fattoria Le Pupille, Fattoria Viticcio, Fontodi, Gagliole, I Greppi, Il Borro, Il Palagio, Marchesi di Frescobaldi, La Massa, Mazzei, Petrolo, Podere Poggio Scalette, Podere Sapaio, Poggio Antico, Poliziano, Principe Corsini, Riccardo Baracchi, Ruffino, San Fillippo, Siro Pacenti, Tenimenti Luigi d’Alessandro, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Tenuta di Biserno, Tenuta di Nozzole, Tenuta San Guido, Tenuta Sette Ponti, Tenute Silvio Nardi, Tenuta Vitanza, Testamatta di Bibi Graetz, Tolaini, Tua Rita, Uccelliera and Valdicava.
Here’s the link to Tom’s thoughtful piece. As Tom explains, “Almost all the wines the Suckling mentions in [his Decanter] article, and the only two individuals he quotes, are sponsors/participants in Divino Tuscany” As Tom concludes, the Suckling’s Decanter article, “seems to me a glaring breach of journalistic ethics to write a purportedly unbiased article that hardly mentions a single wine that isn’t a part of your own clearly for-profit venture. That isn’t journalism: it’s advertising.”
Bottom line: The Suckling is the kind of blow hard, egomaniacal, ethics-less wine world jerk who could start to make Robert Parker look like a saint.