This video makes me squirm: is it because I'm a Brit?

James Suckling, previously wine critic with the influential US publication The Wine Spectator, is launching his own website. He’s going to be focusing on video content, and to whet readers’ appetites he is releasing some video teasers. The first consisted of him saying that he was going to uncover the wine world’s hidden gems, and then followed him through some of the world’s greatest, and already very much discovered vineyards. The second is this:

I don’t know whether this is just because of my cultural background (I’m British), but the video really makes we squirm. It views like a parody of THE GREAT CRITIC in action. The (unintentional) arrogance of standing in front of a producer and declaring how many points their wine has achieved, while conspicuously waving one’s iPad, is quite shocking. There is no acknowledgement that the score is the taster’s opinion, rather than a property of the wine. As is the reduction of a wine to a simple point score, as if this were some sort of competition.

‘This is a phenomenal wine,’ he says of one of the 100-pointers. ‘I remember tasting from barrel…it was so intense it is unbelievable.’

Perhaps Suckling is being clever – having fun with us – and he’s parodying himself.

34 comments to This video makes me squirm: is it because I’m a Brit?

  • Blimey. I did tweet him and ask if he would give up the 100pt scale now he was free from the shackles of Wine Spectator. He never replied but having seen this I guess the answer is ‘no’.

    Wine as score. How depressing.

  • Unfortuantely it looks this bloke is serious.

  • It doesn’t make me cringe and squirm because I’m British – it’s because it’s awful!

  • I totally agree with you, Jamie. Is he trying to be the wine world’s “Anchorman”.

    As you said, talk about arrogance!

  • Chris

    He reminds me of John Lovitz’ ‘critic’ not sure why…

    But then I suppose it doesn’t matter really as he’s unearthed several perfect wines, so there’s really no point in all this ‘critique’ lark any more is there?

    … sorry Jamie :)

  • I’m 94 points on that…I’m 97 points on that… No, I’m one hundred points on that. Perfect cringemaking.

    Sorry, winemaking…

  • Well, this is even worse than the teaser video on his website where he says he’ll bring folks new wines first and then proceeds to list off every great producer he can get his hands on. For his sake I hope this is a viral marketing campaign rooted in self parody as you suggested.

    Then again, you are trained as a scientist. A great many critics have what I terms as “Lawyers’ Palates.” That is they are attracted to flash wines first and foremost, and the most intense wines get big ratings. This video leaves little doubt that Suckling fits into this category and is looking to attract those with his mindset.

  • I actually had to look at it again and marvel. Maybe it is a joke after all – like that film Joaquin Phoenix made not too long ago.

    If it is a joke, I’ll be the first to take my hat off to him.

  • Winerackd

    If it’s deliberate comedy then it’s up there with The Hangover. If it’s legit then I spy with my little eye, someone that rhymes with pratt.

  • Skippy

    No such thing as a ‘perfect’ wine – I’d have to bet my money on this being a joke though. Nobody in their right mind would put this rubbish out if it were meant to be serious, right?

  • Alex Lake

    I think it’s an attempt at “clever marketing”, probably an extension of the “no such thing as bad publicity” mantra.

    I’d be surprised if it adversely affects his standings in the wine community, just further polarises it.

  • I love the way the French manage to look baffled and grateful at the same time.

  • Martin Jones

    If only I could be certain that French & Saunders would do a spoof of him one day, I’d be a very happy bunny.

  • I give the video 2 points (1 for being in color, the other for being digital), James Suckling 1 point (for having hair), and 100 points for his Willy Wonka teeth. Suckling fits you: Now there’s no question you’re still on mother’s milk.

  • Non-blind scoring in front of the wine producer. And people wonder why we question the 100-point scale.

    On the other hand, it’s so over the top that it is a prophylactic against caricature. How do you parody something that is already a cartoon?

  • Andrew Halliwell

    I think scores can form a useful part of a wine citique, if accompanied by tasting notes, context of the tasting, producer background etc. Personally though I prefer the Decanter 5* scale, to the slightly weird “100 point” scale, it’s just a bit broader. I’d sit up and note of a 4-5* wine, whereas I’d just assume a “100 point” wine was some monster for about US$500 a bottle. Interesting if someone else is buying.

    Regards this video, to me it does come across as presumptuous and arrogant. I’m guessing the recipients of the scores are gliterati from the wine world. There’s no way I’d be comfortable declaring that the culminating efforts of some family/team who may be centuries old’s wine is worth “93 points” or whatever. And then film myself.

    No doubt Mr. Suckling has a refined palate and has tasted all the “best” wines in the world, but personally I don’t give a hoot if some Barolo is worth to him 93 or 97. There’s stacks of interesting wine out there, more than anyone can taste in a lifetime. Discovering it or returning to old favourites with friends is all I’m really bothered about.

  • Cam Haskell

    I’m keen to know if he ever gets to ’100 points plus’.

    One way or another, it’s just another expression of the daftness of the 100 point scale. And by 100 point scale, I mean the 85-100 point scale.

  • Jonas

    Suckling has made a laughing stock of himself in Tuscany especially in Montalcino when after decades of tasting Brunellos he would regularly lavish praise on the notoriously well-known examples of “doctored” Brunellos. The list of producers caught up in the Brunellopoli scandal is almost identical with the set of Suckling’s darlings. He is a parody for sure. But not an intentional one I’m afraid.

  • Che

    This is wine pornography… and I give it an easy 100. If you think the video is a parody, I’m sure the name was the original joke as we are all Suckerlings to put up with the egomaniacal rating systems.

  • ben

    Video as an unintentional form of self parody? I’m hundred points on that…

  • Robert Hodge

    1-minute of wine criticism’s ‘Spinal Tap’…Oh. Dear.

  • Dan

    ‘Anchorman’ is a great call there…

    “I’ll have three fingers of Glenlivet, with a little bit of pepper… and some cheese.

    I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly…”

    I hope all his videos are as funny!

  • Jamie, I don’t think it’s because you’re a Brit that this video makes you squirm. I’m an American and I’m totally freaked out by it. This video speaks nothing of the wine or its story. It only speaks to some arbitrary score that James has “blessed” upon each and every one. Hence, this is not a cultural misunderstanding between Brits and Americans, it’s a shocking display of how 1 individual’s arrogance is blatantly being showcased to the world.

  • gdfo

    Is that what it means to be ‘full of oneself’?

  • Would you expect anything different from, an American?

  • Tom

    This video makes me squirm as well, but I don’t think that Americans have, by any means, a monopoly on being pompous asses.

  • Lee

    As a Canadian I’m embarrassed right beside you, that’s sooooooooo USA.

  • I think we can all agree that we can’t generalize all Canadians or Brits based on one person’s behavior. There are plenty of stellar examples of Americans who are great at what they do. James Suckling does not constitute the entire country of 307 million people.

  • Simon T

    Thought to myself – it can’t be that bad can it…. sometimes in life you come across individuals who perfectly balance humility, personality and warmth and by the way they convey their knowledge/competency you gravitate towards them… And then you watch this !
    Imagine his kids going to school with your kids and then having to sit through dinner with him……
    I’m sorry to say this, but using a scale of 0-10 (0=I find no flaw in you and would love to have dinner with you – say Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro and Monica Lewinsky and 10 = I would rather go to McDonalds than sit and have dinner with you – say George W Bush, Hitler, Emlyn Hughes, James S would have to be a 9.5.

  • Dominic

    Clearly, this is crass – but be careful, Jamie. You publish your marks on the 100 point scale, even though you profess yourself somewhat uneasy about doing so. That is somewhat akin to the ‘… but I didn’t inhale’ defence.

    Let’s be clear – there is no need to award numbers to wines. It’s a struggle to articulate in words what the olfactory experience of a wine is like, but that’s what you ask us to look to you for.

    If we accept that wine is a dynamic commodity, and still more that our perception of it is subject to a multitude of extra-vinous factors, then the implicit claim to objectivity that lies behind the awarding of 92 points to one wine and 91 points to another just seems risible.

  • Dominic, you have a point here, and I find myself in a bit of a dilemma about it. It is widely accepted, and expected by many readers. But it is risible, at the same time.

  • I am failing to see how being (potentially) pompous is somehow solely reserved for wine critics from the U.S.

    I am failing to see it because it’s a patently false notion.

    And, while I have spent many years working very closely with Brits and so can fully appreciate their penchant for understatement, I find myself (as U.S. citizen) totally befuddled by Suckling’s video.

    Unless, of course, his intention was to be opaque, and get people guessing and talking about it, in which case he was by all reasonable accounts very successful!

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