Friday, 13 December 2013

The Wine Critic's Critic: James Suckling: The wine industry’s Bon Viveur. 87/100 points.

'I'd love to meet James one day. He looks like a bloke who just loves life. I bet he would be a great guest to invite to a dinner or drinks party. His site is a superb example of how to use social media and appeal to a wide range of consumers. He shows that knowledge alone won't make you popular - you need to know how to market your brand to support it, and he is damn good at this'.

An aficionado of Italian wines and cigars, James Suckling globetrots between exotic locations (London, Cuba, Tuscany, Hong Kong, New York, LA) seeking out the best tastings, smokes, parties and celebrities. He is a cross between a well-healed, personable bon viveur (Monte cristo and liquor in hand, discussing his favourite topics with amigos in a late night Cuban bar) and the Hollywood star Jack Nicholson at the height of his career (mane of hair, cool dude, charm, charisma, cigars and, above all, self confidence).

James has his critics. Some have called him pompous, self-promoting and a lazy taster. But this isn’t how I see James.

James may come across as phlegmatic and self-promoting to some, more style than substance, but don’t under estimate his seriousness, knowledge and ability as a wine connoisseur and communicator. I believe James is the greatest communicator of wine on the planet to the enthusiastic and novice consumer groups.

There is something quite addictive about his site. Maybe it is the combination of novelty, video and his easy, sometimes breezy style (hey man, how’s it goin’) which appeals to me. He is different and an antidote to the serious web sites of Allen Meadows and Jancis Robinson. Each to their own.

His web site is very slick and a stellar example of how to use new media (notably twitter and video) to convey his knowledge of and passion for wine in today’s world. He is definitely ‘new school’ and some in the wine industry will find his simple communication style, tasting approach and tasting notes uncomfortable, but he knows how to speak to his target audiences.

His site doesn’t have the depth of content of Allen Meadows and Jancis Robinson but his target audiences are different. His simple and pithy tasting notes suit some people and make his knowledge easily digestible. He is more entertainment than education, and this appeals to a very large segment of the market, even if it alienates the more serious end of the trade. He adopts a ‘less is more’ approach and it works. Here is an example of a tasting note:



“This is a phenomenal pure merlot with blueberries, raspberries and hints of milk chocolate. Some nutmeg too. Full body with very fine yet chewy tannins and a long, intense finish. Reminds me of the amazing 1998. Best ever from here. Needs four or five years of bottle age to soften”.

He is innovative too, bringing vineyards, growers and events into your home through video, creating a platform for independent merchants through his wine challenges, creating his Lalique glass and using his own events (e.g. Great Wines of Italy and Divino Tuscany) to both market his business and showcase great wines.

He has started to franchise out some of the content creation to his partners (as Parker has done) and it remains to be seen whether they can live up to his standards (as with Parker’s site) and get people re-subscribing.

So efficient (i.e. short and sharp) and interesting (on the whole anyway) are his videos to watch, James' challenge will be to create enough content to keep up with demand. His site and business are clearly well funded.

Here are my scores for James and

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