4 June 2020

Wine websites behind the paywall: jamessuckling.com

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There’s something endearing about the marquee claim of jamessuckling.com. “25,000 wines tasted in 2019. More than any other wine critic!” It’s an impossible statistic to verify, of course, but it’s the exclamation mark that sets the tone: with James Suckling, it’s size that matters.

The former Wine Spectator European bureau chief, cigar expert and “internationally acclaimed wine critic and journalist” set up his own website in 2010 and made an immediate impact with professionally produced (and sometimes downright eccentric) videos. Typically these begin with Suckling patrolling the vines and intoning, “I’m here in the vineyards of Château Trotte-Vieille” before an interview with the owner, a tasting, and an ecstatic proclamation, “I’m 96 points on that!”. Wine tasting trips such as “Chile 2019” are covered in short films with subtitled highlights – “Many great wines are made in Chile, especially in the Santiago surburbs, where James has rated many wines 100 points over the years.”

The accompanying tasting reports are clearly presented and authoritative, with good cross-referencing and clear notes. His listings are eminently clickable: “7 Great Rioja under $45 (95 points and up)”; “Top 100 Wines of the USA 2019”. He shows off his pulling power by tasting the 1982 Bordeaux icons over lunch with the likes of Jay McInerney and Mike D of the Beastie Boys, or an impromptu tasting of 2017 “Guado al Tasso, Masseto, Ornellaia and Sassicaia before dinner”.

jamessuckling.com is a straightforward site. It comprises feature reports, tasting notes and videos. There is no lifestyle content, nor restaurants or gastronomy. Suckling is a prolific taster (his backing team doesn’t have a high profile) and this is reflected in a wealth of notes. Italy (Suckling’s great strength) has 28,450 notes, Bordeaux 16,214, Spain 7,649. Burgundy is not a strong point. The search engine looks good but can be clunky and difficult to use.

jamessuckling.com comprises feature reports, tasting notes and videos

Suckling is a welcome figure at the greatest properties from the Médoc to Mendoza and he exploits this to the full – there are few wine critics who are so relentlessly centre-stage. As a peerless marketer he recognises that his name is his brand, and he puts it everywhere.

A critic with 30 years experience, he knows what he’s talking about. He also has very sound commercial instincts, recognising early on that to focus on Asia as a market would be a canny move. Brand extensions come naturally: based now in Hong Kong, in 2018 he opened his wine bar, the James Suckling Wine Central – where he tastes all his wines. There is also a joint venture with Lalique, the “100 points by James Suckling Stemware Collection”, which can be carted about in a leather case by Salvatore Ferragamo.

Most importantly – and, we understand, lucratively – there is a series of Italian tours throughout the US and Asia whereby producers showcase their (top-scoring) wines.

Since leaving Wine Spectator a decade ago, Suckling has been accused of being one of the prime culprits of “score inflation” – the trend that sees many consumers disregarding anything below 95 points. It’s not difficult to find a merchant who will lay the blame for this squarely at Suckling’s door. But he’s a very good businessman, he knows his market, and his scores are eagerly quoted by any merchant with an eye on the Asian consumer. He is credited with quickly recognising the rising taste for South American wines in Asia; his naming of Chile’s Almaviva 2017 as his wine of the decade earlier this year was duly reported around the world. Almaviva is a joint venture between Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Concha y Toro Winery. Philippe Dhalluin of Mouton (and Almaviva) was named winemaker of the decade at the same time.

jamessuckling.com looks good. It has a strong logo and good brand definition. As an integral part of the James Suckling brand it works well, and the links between commerce and criticism are generally seamless. On parting with your cash, however, it might be as well to remember that you’re dealing with a man whose renown as a salesman is probably even greater than his reputation as a wine critic.

Scores

  • Topicality 7/10
  • Useability 6/10
  • Geek appeal 2/10
  • Popular appeal 7/10
  • Recommendations 6/10

Annual cost $145.00

  • Access to 110,000+ tasting notes and scores, monthly reports and videos
  • Updates on video programs, special reports, and JamesSuckling.com events through a weekly eNewsletter
  • Premium Alerts – advanced notification on new tasting reports, Top 100 lists and special recommendations
  • Priority access to JamesSuckling.com Grand Tasting Events


Free

  • Most articles and videos

 

www.jamessuckling.com

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