Wine Diarist

Under A Tuscan Cloud

My friend Tom Maresca, a writer who specializes in Italian wines, has posted a scathing article on his blog about James Suckling. I recognize that we wine writers spend a lot of time talking about other wine writers, but navel-gazing is a favorite journalistic pastime, and wine hacks are hardly the worst offenders (that distinction surely belongs to the Washington press corps). Anyway, Tom lets rip over an article about Italian wines that Suckling has published in the current issue of Decanter magazine,and he also calls attention to what he regards as an ethically dubious event that Suckling is hosting in Tuscany in June. Tom points out that two winemakers quoted in Suckling’s piece are participating in that event, called Divino Tuscany (in fact, they are listed on the Divino Tuscany website as “founding vintners”). This information is not disclosed to readers. It would be good to know if Suckling shared it with Decanter when he submitted the article, and it would be good, too, if he followed Antonio Galloni’s example and disclosed the exact nature of the June shindig. His scores are routinely cited by retailers, and I think consumers and merchants alike have a right to know if Divino Tuscany is a pay-to-play event.

What particularly bothers me about this stuff is that it encourages cynicism about wine writers in general. That cynicism manifested itself in some of the discussion about Galloni’s Festa del Barolo, and I suspect that it will rear its head again in regard to Suckling. One line of argument that emerged during the Festa del Barolo controversy was that wine critics aren’t really journalists and shouldn’t be held to the ethical standards that obtain in newsrooms. I strongly disagree, although my view may be colored by the fact that I worked as a journalist long before I began writing about wine and continue to see myself as a journalist first, a wine writer second. I am curious to know what you think. Should critics like Suckling and Galloni be regarded as journalists?  Should they be expected to adhere to the same general code of conduct that applies to newspaper and magazine reporters? And, lastly, a broader question: Are some of us making too big a deal over these ethical issues, or is the scrutiny a good thing?