Uncork a little know-how at your next holiday party.
James Suckling has tasted around 250,000 wines over 40 years, and is arguably the world’s most influential wine critic. His wine ratings, including scores and short tasting notes, are used around the world by winemakers, wine merchants and wine lovers to help demystify the qualities of some of the world’s top wines. And that doesn’t just mean expensive bottles that are hard to get hold of — James Suckling is passionate about sharing top tips for finding great value bottles, too — wines that cost US$15, but taste like they could cost US$50!
For those who love a bottle of wine — but maybe lack the know-how to discuss it — James offers a few helpful key points that he regularly gets asked about wine.
Have your own questions about wine you would like James to answer? Feel free to drop us a line on Instagram. James may answer it soon!
How to get into wine? Drink it!
People often ask me: how can I get more into wine? And the answer is simple: you have to drink more wine! Drink more great wines. You have to start somewhere. I started back in my university days. I’d call my dad and ask him about wine and I tried new things and that’s part of the evolution, part of the joy of wine. So don’t be afraid. You just have to chill. You shouldn’t be intimidated. Try new things and share it with friends and talk about it. Even take notes. But learn about wine through experience.
James’s most memorable wine
What’s the greatest wine I’ve ever drunk in my life? The answer is actually very clear: it’s an 1865 Bouchard Pere & Fils La Romanee, a fantastic Burgundy. It was ancient and what was so amazing was that the wine was so fresh and refined. It didn’t have a dark colour but had such depth and beauty it was just surreal. I drank it with the owner Claude Bouchard and the owner of the vineyard. It was in 1988 and I still remember it fondly – it was one of the moments of my life.
When to decant
Decanting is often something that confuses a lot of people. I’m a big fan of decanting, particularly young wines to give them air. White wines as well and sometimes Champagnes when they’re a bit cheesy or have a funky reductive character. But generally speaking the classic thing for decanting wines is when you have sediment in the bottle; when a wine is aged in a cellar the tannins start falling out of the wine and the wine needs to be decanted to take the liquid away from the sediment.
Don’t worry so much about vintages
I think nowadays vintages are less important, as with the incredible evolution in the quality of viticulture and winemaking top producers are able to make top wines in most years. There are a few exceptions but it’s less of a problem than it was 30 years ago when I started critiquing wines, so when it comes to vintages, don’t be too worried about it. But of course it’s always great to taste wines from exceptional vintages so don’t forget that either.
Most exciting wine region
Each year I tasted up to 25,000 wines with my team and before the pandemic we would travel around the world to really get to know and understand a wine region and its winemakers. And I have to say Chile’s really exciting right now. It’s 4,000 kilometers long with different regions, different valleys affected by the sea and the Andes mountains, and it’s also great value. You’re drinking wines for US$15, US$20 or US$25 a bottle but they really taste like US$50, US$60 and US$75 bottles. So definitely check out Chile.
Chinese wine is getting exciting
People often ask me ‘Have you had Chinese wine?’, ‘What’s the quality like?’ And I have to be honest: until a few years ago, I wasn’t very excited about the wines. They weren’t very well made — often top wines were blended with wines from other areas. Nowadays though, I think there’s a real change. Winemakers have travelled, and worked in different places like the United States, Australia, Europe, and you can see a real change. There are some top-quality wines now, and I’m tasting more and more. So I’m really excited about the future of China. Many more people are drinking wine, and it’s not like headlines used to say, only drinking real expensive wines. There’s a real market now, and people are enjoying wine and learning about it, and they’re all young in their 30s and 20s. It’s really exciting.
What wine goes best with Asian food
When it comes to food and wine pairing, Asian food is so different. You’re eating different flavors all at the same time. You’re having spicy, sour, salty, sweet and savory, all the different sensations and umami as well, which is why we’re usually trying different wines at the same time with different courses. It can even be red and white at the same time or even rosé. I especially like wines that are a bit less tannic, either aged wines or wines made from pinot noir, syrah or gamay, but also a lot of Italian wines, too, where the acidity works really well with Asian food.