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Scoring the Critics! Part VI
James Suckling

Wine may be the most reviewed product on earth. The importance of reviews to the sale of wine could only be compared to the importance of reviews to the Broadway stage or the Manhattan restaurant business.

Inspired by Lettie Teague's piece in the Wall Street Journal called "Do the Right Wines Win," I decided that my nineteen years of experience working with these publications and websites, not to mention constantly matching our impressions of wines to their scores and reviews, puts me in a pretty good position to create my own guide to the wine review websites and publications. Last week I wrote about Vinous. This week....

James Suckling

With 37 years in the business, it's hard to think of more than a handful of people with more experience tasting and reviewing wine than James Suckling.

James Suckling joined Wine Spectator in 1981 when it had only eight hundred subscribers. In 1983, Suckling began blind tasting Bordeaux and for the first time visited Europe in 1984. In 1985 he established Wine Spectator's European bureau, living in Paris while reviewing all European wines, especially Bordeaux, Italian wine and Port wine for the publication. Suckling moved to London in 1987 where he lived for eleven years before moving to Tuscany where he still lives.

In 2010 he retired from Wine Spectator. The website was launched in October 2010 and Suckling stated it would mainly focus on video content featuring "key wine figures around the world." He reviews up to 10,000 wines a year and has a staff of eleven, including his wife and son, that publish interviews, videos, wine articles and guides to wine regions all over the world.

How We Use James

Many in the industry often criticize Suckling of overscoring and I tend to agree with them. I find that he typically scores wines one or two points higher than other critics score the same wines. Part of the issue may be his scoring philosophy, 88 is pretty much the bottom of his scale.

Here is how he describes it.... "I rate using the 100-point scale. I’ve used this point system for close to 30 years, and I still believe it’s the simplest way to rate a wine, with its origins from grade school in the United States. A wine that I rate 90 points or more is outstanding (A). It’s a wine I want to drink a glass of and is an outstanding purchase. If I rate a wine 95 points or more (A+), it is a must buy and a bottle that I want to drink in its entirety! If I rate a wine less than 88 points, it might still be worth buying but proceed with caution."

The bottom line is that he finds some great wines. Did that $15 Malbec deserve 94 Points, probably not, but it's darn good and at 92 points it would still be a great deal.

A good example is when he scored the hundred dollar 2015 Bibi Graetz Testamatta from Tuscany 99 Points this year. A 99 is a big number, but James Suckling is pretty reliable when it comes to Tuscany since he lives there. So I checked and saw that when he was with Wine Spectator he never scored a Testamatta less than 93 points and he gave the 2006 98 points. So, at least he's consistent....