I had not been with Wine Spectator more than a year when editor and publisher Marvin Shanken decided that we ought to have a full-time European correspondent. He tapped James Suckling for the job. James quickly enrolled in a crash course in French before moving to Paris in 1985 to open our first European bureau.
At 25 years old, writing for Wine Spectator was James’ first real job in journalism. He was one third of our entire full-time writing staff, which was based in San Francisco at the time. James Laube and I were the others.
Not long after that, I went to visit him in Paris. He was loving it, but he was not living anything like a luxurious lifestyle at the time. He lived in a small flat and endured the sneers of Parisians. We walked around the corner to pick up some photographs he had processed. “Watch this,” he said, an impish grin on his face. The clerk could find no photos when he pronounced his name as he normally does in English, but discovered them quickly when he said Sook-laing. It’s not just a cute story; it reveals a fascination with the telling detail.
James had discovered a Vietnamese restaurant named Tan Dinh that had an astonishing cellar full of older Bordeaux that the owners had painstakingly collected. We went there, ate well and drank mature Pomerols—if memory serves, L'Église Clinet and Conseillante, at a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere in Paris. At that time only a few insiders knew about it, but his nose for news kicked in and he wrote about the place, allowing our readers to share in the bounty.
Over the years, Suckling and I butted heads on a number of topics. He could be dismissive of New World wines—“jam juice,” he called them. He could be prickly and sarcastic, but those were traits that may have helped him be a better reporter and writer. And like all of us who cut our teeth as news reporters, he loves to find out stuff and be the first to tell everyone else about it.
Now he’s the news, having left the company. He has not yet shared with me what his plans are, although he sounded upbeat when we spoke by phone yesterday. Whatever he chooses to do, I bet he will be in the thick of things. Always has.