Local wine journalism could be worse

If, like me, you sometimes look with despair at aspects of the local wine-judging and wine-writing fraternity, here’s something that might make you grateful for small mercies. We don’t have James Suckling.

It might be old news and views to some, but a winemaking friend sent me a link to some videos of this famous (to an extent notorious) American critic, and they make for extremely depressing viewing – hilarious perhaps, cringe-making certainly, but ultimately depressing when you realise what a large and keen public Suckling has. He’s also big in cigars, apparently, as well as in expensive wine.

The videos are mere teasers, showing the delights that await you as a subscriber to jamessuckling.com, where videos are apparently of the essence. This is the website that Suckling established after parting ways last year with the all-powerful American wine magazine the Wine Spectator – fondly known to many as the Wine Speculator and a prime guide to the American ultra-rich on the wines they should be “collecting”, or occasionally even drinking.

No one seems to know much about that parting (or talks about it) – but certainly the Wine Spectator announced it with little obvious sadness, even a rather shocking insouciance. Subsequently, despite Suckling’s best efforts, he was not able, I believe, to gain access to the multitude of tasting notes he’d written for the Spectator as an accopaniment to his scores, to put them on his own website. This lack of a historical database is something of a problem for someone aiming to present a magisterial assessment of the world’s wines. Though actually, he’s really only interested in the world’s very expensive wines, and (therefore) ones that he can rate very highly.

Have a look. This link is to a little video showing James pronouncing the scores he’d give to various wines – all, of course, according to the 100-point scale, and these ones increasingly approaching the magical, perfect 100. “I’m 94 on that!” “I’ll give that a 96!” The winemakers or estate owners are looking on, and one can only guess at what they might be feeling. Let’s hope that if they’re despising this performance, they’re also despising themselves just a little for taking part in it; but Suckling is a powerful force among the rich American wine-buyers.

You can go further. There’s another teaser video, for example, entitled “I am here“, showing our James in the company and the vineyards of the big-selling names of Bordeaux and Napa, announcing his presence and that of the famous winegrower imprisoned sycophantishly at his side.

Light relief, perhaps. Of course there’s the possibility that you’ll be enthralled and won over and become an eager subscriber.

You might wish to look further if the subject interests you or induces, as it does me, something like a morbid fascination. Suckling arouses a great deal of animosity as well as adulation. Try the subtly-named James Suckling is a Douche blog, for example, which suggests that “This is what is wrong with the wine business. Assholes like this.” (a sentiment many would find it hard to gainsay).

Accusations of his alleged fundamental, er, problems with accepted ethical journalistic standards are not hard to find, including serious, responsible ones like this recent one from the respected and here outraged Tom Maresca.

Ah well. This is, as I suggested earlier, just special pleading, to make it seem as though we’re not such a bad lot here. Even down to hair. There are, I’m told for example, those who find Michael Fridjhon’s hairstyle a touch egregious – but one look Suckling tossing his thinly luxuriant locks is enough to win forgiveness for the most bouffant grey frizz.

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