Talking Lebanese Wines with James Suckling

Talking Lebanese Wines with James Suckling

James Suckling is one the world’s most powerful wine critics. Over the past thirty years, few have had greater influence on the wines you drink, from bottles in your local shop to the wine menus at the world’s finest restaurants. He lives an openly jet-set, Ferrari-driving, Cuban cigar-smoking lifestyle, which is recorded in his blog. Coming to Lebanon for the very first time he sits down with HOME for Magazine to discuss all things wine.

Why the love of wine??

Wine has been part of my life since I was a child in Los Angeles. My father was a wine collector. It taught me at an early age that wine was something special and it can enhance your life by bringing friends and family to the table. It’s also a fantastic subject to discuss and enjoy with people.

What brought you to the world of wine?

It was by chance. I was a daily journalist and started working with the Wine Spectator magazine as an associate editor in December 1981. I fell in love with the world of wine. It wasn’t just the wine itself but also the people, the places and the moments.

“It wasn’t just the wine itself but also the people, the places and the moments”

How do you see luxury?

Luxury is quality and beauty. It can be something tangible such as a Hermes bag or a bottle of Dom Perignon, or it can be intangible, like spending a special moment in a luxurious place somewhere in the world. Luxury for me is something you do each day with the right people and things around you that create beauty and serenity.
Time is luxury as they say.

What is your relation with Lalique?

I am a designer with Lalique and created two glass ranges: Lalique 100 Points by James Suckling and NEO by Lalique and James Suckling. Both are wine glass ranges. NEO is launching this coming February. My goal was to make wine glasses that are not only functional but also beautiful. I think I succeed with the help of Lalique.

Was it your first time in Lebanon?

My trip with my wife in early October to Lebanon was indeed my first. I hope to return again. Beirut was so beautiful and exotic. It had everything I envisioned. I always wanted to visit Beirut since I was a young journalist. It was always the Paris of the Middle East in my mind. My trip confirmed my ideas but perhaps Nice is a better comparison.
I organized a number of wine tastings with Vintage Wine Cellar. I went to various restaurants, attended a number of parties in private houses. The Lebanese are positive, delightful and welcoming. They really have the joie de vivre. Plus they love their fine wines and Cuban cigars!

How did you find Lebanese wines?

I did a small tasting of about 30 Lebanese wines and I was surprised by the overall quality. They were well made and they delivered plenty of flavor. My slight criticism was that many lacked true character. They could have been from anywhere in the world – just another well-made cabernet from somewhere. Lebanon needs to develop its own identity for its wines. When people drink Lebanese wines they need to know that the wines are from Lebanon. The smell and taste of Lebanon. I think some producers such as Domaine des Tourelles, Domaine Wardy, Château Kefraya and Château Marsyas do this well. And I look forward to following their evolution and improvement in the future.

Do you have any recommendations for winemakers in Lebanon?

They need to follow their heart and souls as winemakers and try to understand what type of wines their vineyards can give them according to their unique climates and soils. Don’t follow market trends. Don’t use too much wood for aging. Just make what you love to drink.

What is the best wine experience you have ever had?

The best experience I had was drinking a bottle of La Romanée 1865 in 1988 with the owner of the vineyard and the late Claude Bourchard, a négociant in Beaune. The ancient red Burgundy was as magical as the moment. It was like a dream. I still have the empty bottle on my fireplace mantel in Tuscany but now you can barely read the label.

Must is freshly pressed fruit juice that contains the skins, seeds and stems of the fruit. The solid portion of the must is called pomace. It typically makes up 7–23 percent of the total weight of the must. Making must is the first step in winemaking.