Sunday, October 21, 2012

"James Suckling is dead"

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a hundred times in America. But in Italy, it’s very different story. One would think, from an American point of view that James Suckling committed career suicide when he decided to go out on his own. What we Americans didn’t calculate into the equation are the relationships Suckling has developed, from Italy to France, California to Hong Kong and Havana.

Here in the last week in Italy I have been hearing that he still is relevant to the Italians. More so than Gambero Rosso, which under their present guardianship there is a cloud of concern regarding their impartiality and even their relevance. “No, Suckling has never made any doubt about his motives. He helps us, we help him,” one winemaker replied. “Yes, he has made a good living off of us, but we too, gained. When one of our wines gets 90+ points, we sell it. Maybe not as much in America, but in the global market, Suckling still has pull.”

The sentiment I heard from my Italian colleagues on this trip was that James Suckling is on the ride of his life. The undercurrent, the inference they made, was that he’ll gladly take any of his Italian winery friends along, as long as they have their E-ticket. Pay to play? If it is, it’s not coercive; it’s being done willingly. And many of them appear to be enjoying it.

One winery owner in Tuscany said it this way, “Can we sell wine without him? Yes. Does it hurt to have his recommendation? No.”

It echoed the opinion I heard from another winery owner in Piedmont, ”Suckling deals in the relationship, the give and take. He is more flexible. He’s fun to be around. We can work with him.”

Another winemaker in Tuscany even told me that the large US Chain, Total Wine, when relying on reviews, includes Suckling’s scores, along with The Wine Advocate and the Wine Spectator. When asked about the Wine Enthusiast, he commented, “They’re number 4.”

So everything is in motion. Everything isn’t as it seems. Suckling’s move, with his star ascending as other reviewer's light were beginning to pale (Gambero Rosso, Parker, Veronelli) might now be seen less as a reckless move than as a calculated stratagem. Whether you like Suckling or not really doesn’t matter. What matters is that he has a lot more stroke with the luxury winemakers in Italy, much more than any blogger and almost any reviewer, with the exception of Antonio Galloni.

“And what about Galloni?” I asked the winemaker in Tuscany, “Is he as influential as Suckling is to you?” The winemaker took a sip of wine and thought about it. “Galloni is the best, (but) he is untouchable. If he gives your wine a good score you will sell it everywhere."

Gambero Rosso is the odd duck in this moment. The question is whether they can re-invent themselves as well as Suckling has in self-promotion or Galloni has re-invigorated the Wine Advocate brand in for Italy with his fierce impartiality.

In the meantime don’t be holding any wakes for James Suckling. And if you do, make sure to invite him along.
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Thomas said...

"Galloni is the best, (but) he is untouchable."

Is that a telling quote or am I a cynic?

Giacomo said...

great story!

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