Exclusive interview with wine expert James Suckling
This year’s Great Wines of Italy event, which is being held December 9th at the Grand Hyatt Erawan, brings to Bangkok some of the best winemakers from Italy, pouring some of their best wines. Each year more and more people attend this prestigious event. Approximately 600 oenophiles were in attendance last year, and this year organizers are expecting around 800 guests. It’s clearly the largest and best wine event in Thailand. And the man who helps draw such huge crowds is James Suckling, one of the world’s most renowned wine critics. All wineries and wines showcased this year have been hand-selected by Mr. Suckling for their quality and character—having reached top scores of 90 points and above.
This year marks the 5th edition of Great Wines of Italy, and its the 3rd year in Bangkok. Can you tell us more about the event and how it’s grown?
Great Wines of Italy brings some of the best winemakers from Italy. And they pour some of their best wines. This makes for a really dynamic event when wine lovers and wine trade can experience great wines with the producers themselves. It’s almost like being in Italy. Each year more and more people attend this event. About 600 attended last year. This year we expect about 800. It’s a time to enjoy wine and really learn about it in an experiential way. It’s clearly the largest and best wine event in Thailand.
I think Bangkok is one of the most exciting cities in the world and it has a thriving food and wine culture. Italian food is the favourite Western cuisine of Thailand. So it made sense to have such a great Italian wine event. Apparently there are 400 or so Italian restaurants in Bangkok. And Italian wines are really popular. So we have to do an event here!
How is it that Italy became your preferred wine producing nation?
I went to Italy in 1983 as a young wine critic and I fell in love with the country. Italy makes evocative wines that take you to the beautiful hills of Tuscany or the mountains of Alto Adige each time you drink them. They are more than a beautiful liquid in the bottle. They are transporters of history, beauty and quality. You feel Italy with each sip of a great Italian wine.
What can wine-lovers look forward to at the Bangkok event? And will you be in attendance that evening?
I am the first one in the door! So, indeed, I will be there. They can look forward to great bottles of wine and great conversation with friends and wine lovers, not to mention winemakers. Also, my Australian recording artist friend Surahn Sidu, formally of Empire of the Sun, will be at the event DJ’ing some specially curated music for the tasting.
I see more and more consumers interested in wine in Thailand, especially Bangkok. Thai’s love food and are clearly fascinated with it and they understand that wine is part of the whole experience of enjoying meals and life in general. This is particularly true with the upwardly mobile and educated crowd in their 30s and 40s.
What are your true thoughts on the pairing of wine with spicy Thai cuisine?
I love Thai food with wine. And I am not saying something boring like gewurztraminer. Red wine is the best. Find red wines that are fresh and balanced, and remind you of white wines in freshness and texture. I just drank a bottle of 2013 Whitmann Spatburgunder Rheinhessen with a spicy curry in Bangkok and it was awesome. Thai spicy food really gets your taste buds going.
Tell us about your association with the recently opened Nai Harn resort in Phuket. I understand you created their wine list?
I love the Nai Harn. It’s such a great place to hangout in Phuket and a close friend is the manager. We were talking and I said “Let me do the wine list with my team.” So I put together a list of 80 or so wines that are really fun and flavorful and they are right for different occasions from hanging at the beach or pool to dining at the hotel restaurant. All the wines, of course, have 90 points or more ratings. We also have top wines by the glasses from a 2010 Pio Cesare Barolo to a 2004 Montrose.
In addition to fine wines, Bangkok has also embraced cigar culture (which you also dearly love). Might there ever be a James Suckling cigar event staged here?
What a great idea! Let’s do one together. Some say I am one of the top critics and experts on Cuban cigars. All I can say is that I have been going regularly to Cuba since 1991. And now I have a small publication in Cuba called Havana Insider. It’s a review of the best restaurants, bars, rum and cigars. We have about 20,000 readers.
For someone who tastes several thousand wines in a given year, what is your secret for remembering and cataloguing them all?
I tasted 10,000 wines this year from Napa to Bordeaux to Tuscany to Oregon. I have a good memory. But I also have a good tasting program on my computer that is saved on iCloud.
What does it take for a wine to score 90 or above on the James Suckling rating scale?
The wine has to be typical, well-made, clean and balanced. The most important thing is that it has to be very drinkable. It has to be a wine that makes me want to drink it. Sounds simple but it’s not always that easy to find.