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NorCal Wine Blog

Wrap Up on the Antonio Galloni Interviews

My in-depth interview with Antonio Galloni was published in three parts this week. (one, two, three)

Why does anyone care what Antonio Galloni thinks? Why the obsession? I’ve heard those questions many times in the last year, since he was dubbed Robert Parker’s successor for California. The answer is simple.

For the last 20 years, Parker and James Laube have been the only critics who can truly drive significant sales with a single review. Wineries that sell direct know this. Wine shops that use shelf talkers know this. New proprietors hiring their consulting winemakers know this. And Galloni has replaced Parker.

Antonio Galloni is a relatively young man. He will have a significant impact on the California wine world for a long time. Anyone who cares about California wine or depends on that business for their livelihood should care what he thinks and how he covers this region. That’s why I wanted to interview him.


Scores and Breadth of Coverage

People often think of Parker, or The Wine Advocate in general, as a scoring-machine. It’s scores do have great impact. Antonio Galloni’s comments remind us though, The Wine Advocate is less focused on scores than its detractors may be. His customers aren’t wineries or the broad base of rating-focused consumers but a very specific subscriber list that demands more.

His customers want to understand, with intent to buy, very high-quality wine made from classic varieties in the world’s most-respected wine regions. They want wines with character, that make an impact and will have lasting significance. They want to stock up on the very best vintages. These readers rely on WA to identify the new “cult wineries” while there’s still a possibility of getting on their allocation lists.

Look elsewhere for coverage of orange wine, lone vineyards of Trousseau Gris or old vine Carignane, and wine from Lake County. There are a lot of writers who do write about those things. Read them. Give them your support (subscribe, click on their ads) and stop complaining that The Wine Advocate doesn’t include such wines. Every publication has to a have a focus.

When California wineries lament to me about Robert Parker, and now Antonio Galloni, the vast majority of the time it is because they can’t get their wines reviewed. For most wineries, it is not going to get any easier. Galloni is going to spend a lot of time here, but much of that will be devoted to providing deeper information about the elite wineries that already star in Wine Advocate reports.

The bulk of new California wineries he’ll examine will have purebred pedigrees and be in the main regions: Napa Valley, Sonoma County and the Central Coast. He will continue to rely heavily on regional organizations to set up broad tastings. It's not a conspiracy. It is efficient. He does not refuse to taste from non-member wineries. But, your odds are much better if you are a member. If you want the benefit of a review and believe your wines will show well, make the investment and join. If you are a producer of non-mainstream wines, seek out other writers and publications.

Tasting Blind and Scoring

I have been among those who thought Wine Advocate tastings should be blind. Listening to Antonio Galloni on the topic, I changed my mind. He says his goal is to explain the wines that he’s tasting and evaluate each within the context of surrounding vintages, rather than to focus just on scores. Non-blind tasting does make more sense when trying to understand a wine. You want to know what you’re tasting so you can consider how the vineyard and vintage combined to create what you are experiencing. You want to ask the winemaker questions while it is fresh in your glass.

Wines show differently from day to day, even hour to hour. 93 points now may be either 92 or 94 later. [And here’s an interesting study. suggesting that the color of ambient light where one tastes also affects satisfaction with a wine.] Detractors of The Wine Advocate have long complained about the 100-point scoring system anyway.

Rather than obsess over something that will not change, or the way those scores are derived, let’s instead apply pressure on The Wine Advocate to loosen it’s user agreement or create another way for resellers to provide more context. The risk for The Wine Advocate is they surrender more of their content for free and may lose subscribers. But, as they increase the depth of their coverage, video interviews, etc., there should be plenty of unique, protected content to keep customers in the fold.

Wine Styles

It is popular to accuse Robert Parker of leaning toward goopy, high-alcohol wines. Whether he does or doesn’t, Antonio Galloni is a different person. And he covers the wines of Italy, Champagne and Burgundy, not Bordeaux or Chateauneuf-du-Pape. His areas of focus in the Old World are associated with tight-bodied wines driven by acidity.

In his Napa report, Galloni gave high scores to Dunn and Corison. Both are favorites among enthusiasts of structure, balance and moderate ripeness. In the Sonoma report, released yesterday, Galloni gave 93 points to a wine I rated “very highly recommended.” That’s the 2009 Hirsch Vineyards Pinot Noir West Ridge. Among my comments on that wine were, “It is delicate in weight, largely due to startlingly low alcohol for a California Pinot Noir (12.9%).” He gave 95 points to the 2009 Hirsch Pinot Noir East Ridge which is just slightly riper and more viscous, still only 13.8% alcohol.

Antonio Galloni told me that character, structure and length are what he looks for in great wine. Given that, his other regions of focus and his reviews of wines such as those above, I’m convinced he has no bias toward over-the-top wines. He says, “I don’t believe critics should shape anything.” However, he is embracing balanced, un-manipulated wines and cool growing areas. That alone should accelerate the movement of wineries in that direction.

On Wine Writing

I liked what Antonio said about wine writing he appreciates and what he strives for. “I’ve always gravitated to people who are really consumers first and buy and drink wine, then become writers and commentators because of their passion... [I] aspire to write things that you can pick up ten years later and say, ‘You know what, that was a pretty great article and he got most of it right.’”

I thought his description apt when he said of reviews that simply list flavors and a score as “McDonald’s wine journalism. It has a value today and then in a few years that is going to be meaningless.” That’s a view he shares with many top wine writers. Of course, striking the right balance in a note between flavors and texture, organoleptic and emotional, fact-laden and literary, remains very difficult and is a topic of discussion at every year's Symposium for Professional Wine Writers.

In the End

Antonio Galloni told me that sleep deprivation was one of the reasons he first hired on at The Wine Advocate. He was working full-time, writing his Piedmont newsletter by night, and had a new baby in the house. The Wine Advocate gig allowed him to get rid of the day job in finance. I’m amused that his passion for wine has led him six years later to cover four important regions, including the very time-intensive California. I suspect that he is once again sleep-deprived. But this time he’s enjoying it. Good for him.

Related Articles

An Exclusive, In-Depth Interview with Antonio Galloni of Wine Advocate, Part 1: His Approach to Wine Writing, Why He Doesn't Taste Blind & the Challenge of Succeeding Robert Parker in California

In-Depth Interview with Antonio Galloni, Part 2: How Antonio Galloni got started at The Wine Advocate, his thoughts on Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma County, and the issue of bias with respect to non-blind tasting. In the meantime, you may be interested in my recent article regarding Antonio Galloni’s December report on Napa Valley.

In Part 3, Galloni describes why he's taken over California reviews, what changes he plans to bring, where he sees value, what he looks for in a wine and more. And there's a moment of controversy in a room crowded with writers.

Antonio Galloni Identifies a New Generation of Cult Wineries: Commentary on his first Napa Valley report.

Antonio Galloni on the problem of NV Champagne without stated disgorgement dates in my blog for The San Francisco Wine School.


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