James Suckling, a critic for two decades at Wine Spectator, left the publication last year to start his own website of video reviews. Suckling wanders top vineyards of the world, bestowing scores on wines saying “I’m 90 points on that,” “I’m 94 points on that” all the way up to 100. Points are awarded in the presence of winemakers who made the wines (or winery owners). Suckling does not always interview those winemakers. Videos also include tastings with American retailers in a 90-point challenge wherein retailers select five wines under $30 for him to taste with them and hope he will rate the wines at least 90 points. No retailer has yet to fail.
In one video, Suckling fires back at critics who say that he pulls wine scores out of thin air by detailing exactly how he pulls them out of thin air. He explains on his iPad that things like color get 15 points.
Suckling has yet to detail on his iPad or elsewhere is a statement of ethics. Veteran wine writer, Tom Maresca, has called him out for it on his blog, offering a point-by-point critique of a recent Suckling column in Decanter magazine. The main point of Maresca’s critique is that Suckling uses the magazine to highlight producers participating in his for-profit tasting event in Tuscany, Divino. (Franco Zilliani posts on the exorbitant fees wineries must pay to pour.) Maresca concludes: “That isn’t journalism: it’s advertising.”