The following translation is an excerpt of Franco Ziliani’s response to Wine Spectator Executive Editor Thomas Matthews, posted December 8, 2008.
How can one respond to the simpatico executive editor? They can make all the clarifications they want. They can reassure us that all the tastings are rigorously carried out “blind”; that no editor, not even “Giacomino” would dream of favoring “friends” or punishing “enemies”; that they have 2.6 million readers (and I don’t doubt those readers’ intelligence but I do wonder about their capacity for critical thought). Their readership does not doubt that the editors of the Wine Spectator are impassioned experts who aim to inform and educate. But the scores and the rankings are what they are. They are clear and evident and they negate the very suppositions being defended here.
One the one hand, Suckling gives a ridiculous and shameful 78/100 to a fantastic Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2001 by Case Basse, noting that it “Smells like day-old tea, with stewed tangerine. Full-bodied, with lots of fruit and a chewy texture, but turns hard and uninviting. Volatile. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. JS.” And a 68/100 to the same wine from the 2000 vintage: “Turpentine remover, with a wet wool undertone. Has lots of ripe fruit underneath. This is better on the palate, with ripe plum flavors, round tannins and a funky finish. Not right. Tasted twice, with consistent notes. JS.”
On the other, he gives 97/100 to Marchesi Frescobaldi’s Brunello di Montalcino Castelgiocondo Ripe al Convento Riserva 2001: “Aromas of blackberry, licorice and tar. Full-bodied, with silky tannins, great mouthfeel and a caressing finish that’s long and exciting. Builds and builds on the palate. Very close to the legendary 1997. Best after 2010. 2,200 cases made. JS.” And 94/100 to Brunello di Montalcino Luce della Vite 2003 made by the same company: “Big and powerful for the vintage. Full-bodied, with loads of ripe fruit that turns to black pepper and sultana, with smoky oak and dark chocolate. Very long and opulent. On the edge of being too much, but it’s impressive. A debut Brunello from this estate and one of the best of the vintage. Best after 2011. 850 cases made. JS.”
There are two possibilities here: either Suckling does not understand much about wine (as many have suspected) or Suckling does not provide useful information to his readers. Objectively, he is serving as publicist for companies that would be hard not to define as his “friends” and wineries for whom he is ever at the ready to cater to their commercial interests.
I kindly ask Thomas Matthews: did Wine Spectator and Marvin Shanken Communications ever wonder if their coverage of Italy and its wines — overseen by James Suckling for too long — could end up being more harmful than profitable?
Kindest regards, Franco Ziliani