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NorCal Wine Blog

Updated: Antonio Galloni Identifies a New Generation of Cult Wineries

Update: The numbers in my own original analysis below omitted a number of wines Antonio Galloni reviewed, due to an issue with "search" on the WA site. After reviewing the reviews that I had missed, my general point with regard to the new wineries that he has identified remains correct. However, the ratio of new wineries to old is quite a bit lower than it had first appeared. The number of high scores he handed out is also substantially higher. The majority of them went to "the usual suspects," including Abreu, Kongsgaard, Screaming Eagle, Colgin, Dominus, Joseph Phelps, etc. I've updated some of the text below accordingly. To the list of "new" wineries that Galloni touts should be added Magie Rouge (winemaker Luc Morlet), Barrett & Barrett (joint project of Heidi and Bo Barrett), and James Johnson (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown), Cabaud Wines (winemaker Luc Morlet), Casa Piena (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown), Paratus (winemaker Massimo Monticelli), Pott Wine (winemaker Aaron Pott) and Seaver Family Vineyards (winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown).


It’s been a big week for calculating point-spreads and over-unders. Will the home team come out on top? Or will they be relegated to second class by a powerful national ranking system?

After crunching the numbers and reviewing the film, W. Blake Gray and Alder Yarrow concluded that our local heroes, the Napa Vintners, will prevail. Antonio Galloni inspected the wines. He ranked them and published the results. There was no major re-ordering of Napa Valley’s established stars. Nor was there a wholesale rejection of the Big 12, or big wines in general.

The most notable differences between Galloni’s assessment and that of his hugely influential predecessor, Robert Parker, were

  • A bunching up of wines — fewer stratospheric scores but also an elevation from sub-90 for others resulting in a slightly higher average score
  • Better scores for Corison, long seen as an example of elegance and great wine under-scored by Parker

The general take-away is as Gray said, “much more is the same under Galloni than not.” Yarrow’s view is essentially the same, “Galloni's scores match Parker’s with an almost scary precision, except for the fact that Galloni seems to be a tougher grader.”

There was natural uncertainty as to what would happen with a new reviewer of California wines. And there was some concern, because Parker’s scores had done so much to promote the region and especially it’s more ripe and fleshy wines. Frankly, many wineries owe their continuing existence to sales driven by Parker scores. On the other hand, it would have made little sense for Parker to cede such a high-profile region — popular with consumers as well as collectors and Wine Advocate subscribers — to a person that would immediately contradict what had been published before.

antonio_galloniIn interviews with Galloni not long after the announcement, he didn’t talk about upsetting the apple cart. But he did note several times an interest in discovering new wineries. "I'm convinced there are a lot of young producers who are under the radar, and I'm looking to discover them," Galloni said. "Discovering lesser-known wineries is really where the excitement is.”


Two Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon wines from the 2009 vintage were rated at 95 and 94 points. These were the first ever reviews for Rivers-Marie by Wine Advocate. The label is new but the winemaker is no stranger to top WA scores. Rivers-Marie is the project of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and his wife Genevieve Marie Welsh. Brown also makes the wines for Schrader, Outpost, Black Sears and others. All have received excellent Parker scores in the past with Schrader having hit 100 six times.

The 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Gandona Vineyards also received 95 points. This was Gandona Vineyards’ first Wine Advocate listing as well. The wine, which is sold via a mailing list and retails for $190, is crafted from the Pritchard Hill grapes by star winemaker Phillipe Melka.

At 94 points, there are familiar names such as Crocker and Starr, Behrens and Hitchcock and Bryant Family. There are also two “new” names. Carte Blanche received 94 points for both a 2009 and a 2008, their first vintage. Carte Blanche is owned by Nicholas Allen, great-grandson of Clarence Dillon who long owned Chateau Haut-Brion and whose family later took on La Mission Haut-Brion. Luc Morlet makes the wine for Carte Blanche. He has received high WA scores in the past while at Peter Michael Winery and Staglin.

Another name with a 94 next to it is Derenoncourt for a 2008 Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot. Only one wine from the Derenoncourt label had been previously reviewed at WA. That was their first offering, a $27 red table wine. The Merlot along with the 93-point Coombsville Cabernet Franc and 92-point California Cabernet Sauvignon are the first of Stephane Derenoncourt’s high-end wines with published reviews in WA. However, Derenoncourt is also no stranger to Robert Parker reviews. He is a famous flying winemaker who first grabbed attention at Chateau Pavie Macquin and then La Mondotte, both in Bordeaux. His bio says he now consults for more than 60 wineries around the world, one of which has been Rubicon Estate.

Other new wineries at 92 points or better included Brand Estate (winemaker Phillipe Melka), Moone-Tsai (winemaker Phillipe Melka) and Harbison (winemaker Russell Bevan). Galloni has made good on his promise of identifying hot new wineries.

On the other hand, every single one of the new wineries Galloni heralds have uber-famous winemakers and have been designed from the ground up to produce the scores they are getting. There are no surprise appearances from “little guys” or unknown winemakers. To get back to football analogies, these highly-rated new wineries are like the 49ers under Harbaugh. They couldn’t be considered underdogs. Their success in making well-reviewed wine was almost assumed. Only the speed and scale of that success might be a surprise.

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This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.