December 3, James Suckling Great Wines of Italy 2018 came to Beijing, the culture center of China. Bringing 89 Italian fine-wine producers and nearly 200 wines above 90 points this year, the roadshow attracted 1,800 registrations from Beijing and towns around. Surrounding the tasting, COFCO, the local partner of JS Great Wine of Italy in Beijing, organized more activities including master class, tasting dinners, ect. In 2017 when the roadshow came into Beijing the first time, there were around 1,000 visitors and over 70 producers. For Italian wine in Chinese market, it is a phenomenal event.
On the Gala Dinner one day before the roadshow, James Suckling announced that Solaia 2015 was the Italian Wine Of The Year. Castle Li, General Manager of COFCO W&W International Co., Ltd. &Deputy General Manager of COFCO Wines and Spirits Holding Limited, accepted the awards on behalf of Antinori.
Just before the tasting began, WineITA.com did an exclusive interview with James Suckling. Through an in-depth conversation based on the previous engagement last year, we understand more about the wine logic of Jame Suckling and his stories with Italian wines.
WineITA.com：As the second year organizing roadshow in Beijing, is there any differences from last year? For example, the amount, the quality, the regions/appellations of the Italian wines selected?
JS：I think it’s even better a turnout clusters in terms of wineries. We should have more wines from Veneto, but we have Sardinia, Sicily, and always very strong Tuscany. There are many good Brunello wines and good Barolo wines.
WineITA.com：What are your comments to the JS Great Wines of Italian in Beijing of last year? Are there any feedbacks that give you some inspirations for improving the roadshow this year?
JS: We work closely with different media, opinion leaders, on social media like WeChat to get more people involved. This year we have 1800 registration. I hope it’ll not be too crowded. There are more people interested in Italian wine.
China is still very focus on French wines. We are talking about premium wine sector, which is 150 RMB per bottle and higher. In China, that market is more focus on Bordeaux and Burgundy. So, there’s need of more communication on premium Italian wines.
I can tell you that 5 years ago, Hongkong is the same. Hongkong was really focused on Bordeaux. And Great Wines of Italian changed the situation and now people are interested in Italian wines and the sell is increasing. That’s a good thing.
WineITA.com：From your Top 100 2018 list, there are 17 Italian wines. We see some new labels and new regions. Meanwhile, there’s only one Barolo and two Brunello. Does this reflect some changes of the overall situation for Italian wine, or some adjustment of your selecting criteria? What’s your opinion for Italian wine regarding the last vintage just released to market?
JS: No. That reflected just the vintages available on the market. Brunello 2012 and 2013 is outstanding but not a great year as well. For example, Barbaresco and Tuscan 2015 are an incredible year, also in the south, in Alto Adige. That’s really related to the year. For example, in my Top 100 2018 list, there are 22 wines from Boudreaux, because 2015 is an incredible vintage for Bordeaux. So my Top100 depends on the vintages available on the market.
2014 is a weak vintage in Italy generally even though some wineries and the south regions made excellent great wines. 2015 is the vintage available on market and is a great vintage.
WineITA.com：Last evening, you announced the Italian Wine of The Year is Solaia 2015. Could you pls. Share your comments on this wine?
JS: Solaia 2015, when I tasted it firstly in January, I just knew it’s a perfect wine. It has incredible balance and harmony. It’s very long lasting minutes on palate, and structured firmly, beautiful color. But it’s very emotional. When you taste, it gives you emotions. It has such a fantastic complexity. A great wine doesn't to be powerful, tannic and that's a mistake that people often make in judging great wine, by taking it as powerful, tannic wine. It’s not correct. A great wine is tasted perfectly when it’s young and can aged forever. This is really a new benchmark for Tuscany. I was exciting about it because It's such an iconic wine of Toscany and Italy . It’s one of the first Italian wines made in a modern way, and produced with Cabernet and Sangiovese. It’s an iconic wine telling the world that Italy makes the world top wines. The first vintage is 1978. I didn't even realize it until now that it’s the 40 years anniversaries, as well.
WineITA.com： Our readers are curious about your criteria selecting Top100 Wines. How do you select the Top 100 ?
JS: What do I do? I firstly look at the scores.This year we tasted 5,400 Italian wines. All the wines are put into the spreadsheet. Basically, I saw them by scores. Essentially, I took the wines from 100-98 points. And then I put some 97 and 96 points wines there. And a couple of wines with 95 where I want to emphasize the area like Sardinian. Or I put some more white wines to my Top 100 because I like Italian white wines, like whites of Sardegna, Campania. It’s basically crunching numbers using the scores and after that it’s the fact what I like so it’s very subjective.
WineITA.com：To taste so many wines, you must have a powerful team. Could you please introduce briefly your team?
JS: Sure. I have 3 editors who taste. There’s myself, my son Jack, he’s 24 and has great palate. He grows up in Italy so he’s bilingual. Then Nick Stock from Austrailia, Melbroun, the Best Taster in Austrailia. And Stuart Pigott, an expert on Riesling. So basically, we taste 25,000 wines this year globally.
Our differences are we go and taste in the wine country, wine region. We go to Spain and tasted 2500 wines in 10 days. I pay the tickets, hotels, cars, everything. We don't take press trips paid by VinItaly or by producers. We never do that. We pay our own way. The wines are mostly tasted blind. We have an i-could tasting system. The sommeliers normally go 2-3 days before and organize all the wines according to the appellation and put them into the system. And then we arrive with 3 editors tasting 150 to 250 wines a day.
In Italy, I have house in Tuscany. There is the office with a tasting room about 200 square meters. There is a huge long table and you could put 200 bottles. So we taste there and then also go down to Sicily, to Piedmont. On January 6, I flight and taste 200 Barolos for 3 days. Then we drove to Tuscany to tasted Brunello . Then we flight to Bourdeaux. We stayed for 10 days tasting 1500 like forty Chateau, including Petrus, Margaux. And then we went to Burgundy for tasting 10 days for Burgundy and Beaujolais. Then we flight back to HK. Then I had to go in Napa. In my house at Napa Valley, we tasted there.
Our difference is that we travel and taste. Surplus the taste, we talk in the place with producers, get the story, as far as the vintage and quality of the wine. It’s pretty cool.
WineITA.com：People usually misunderstand “Elegant wine”. What’s your understanding of Elegancy of wine?
JS: Elegancy doesn't mean light or lack structure. You can have structure with elegancy. It manes refines, finesse, words like that, something finely polished. You can have structured powerful wine but elegant. If you look at athletes, you can be elegantly muscular. You are muscular, but you can be very finely tuned. Definitely, it does not mean light. It’s not an excuse for being light. For example if you consider great Burgundy with great elegancy, it has great acidity, very fine texture, very very fine tannins. But at the same time, it can age for centuries. For example I just had 1968 Lafite, super elegant and it’s only 10.5 alcohol degree and it was incredible with the perfect color.
Elegant is so important for me. People often think wine of elegant can’t age but this is completely wrong. There are proofs, lots examples that great elegant wines came from 19 century but are incredibly well.
-----To be continued