There is no shortage of possible titles for this: favourites were “Wine Trade Marmite”, “The Other Critic”, “The Quiet American” and a few more besides.
I guess the key thing about any wine critic is simple: can they taste? I first met James Suckling sometime in 2008 or 2009, and watched him nonchalantly nail 1970 La Fleur Petrus blind as “1970 Mouiex”, which was enough to impress and convince me (particularly given that I was going for something Burgundian). The man can taste. On top of that he’s written (and really should update – come on James) the only definitive book on vintage Port that I can think of, plus he knows his cigars too. The man has some CV, and jamessuckling.com is doing what other critics aren’t: embracing the visual, the aural, etc. And who else has guest blogs from a Beastie Boy?
Moreover, when a few critics are talking about releasing scores later, James sticks to being first. His 07 Brunello reviews were out as soon as the wines were legally available for sale, and he released his 2009 Bordeaux in-bottle scores a few days back (we have to wait another week for Mister P.).
So, whilst I am very much aware that James does wind a few people up, I am a fan of opinion. And of doing what you want to do, of ignoring the noise. Marmite? I’m 98 points on James, and thank him for his answers:
1) What was the first wine that got you into it?
My dad had an extensive wine cellar in Los Angeles and I remember going to dinner when I was about 17 with my girlfriend in a smart French restaurant in Belair with him. He brought a bottle of 1966 Lafite. He gave me a glass, I tasted it, and I realized that wine was incredible. It was the whole experience — the smell, the taste, and the people. I can still see it in my mind. Great moment in my life.
2) What was the first wine that took you closer to your maker? (mine was 2002 La Romanee, Liger-Belair)
I once drank the 1865 Bouchard La Romanee with the late Claude Bouchard and Canon Liger, whose family owned the vineyard of La Romanee. The wine was breathtaking. It was so depth and ethereal. I asked the priest if he served it occasionally for mass. He laughed. The empty bottle still sits on the mantlepiece in Tuscany at my house.
3) What’s the best wine you’ve had in the past year?
The best wine is the one I am drinking now as I write this email. I did a tasting of 70 Sonoma County Pinot Noirs today and I loved the 2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Pinot Russian River Valley Trenton View Vineyard. It’s refined and balanced with such delicacy. Doesn’t help my grammar or spelling though. I try everyday to drink “the” best wine.
I thank James again. www.jamessuckling.com & www.heartandsoulofcuba.com