I, for one, was glad to hear the news that Antonio Galloni was taking over for Robert Parker in reviewing Californian wines. For those of us familiar with Galloni’s preferences, his latest reviews in Issue 198 of The Wine Advocate (subs. req) do not come as much of a surprise. They should, however, serve as another indicator that structure and balance are cool again.
The online wine world has been abuzz about Galloni’s reviews over the past week — picking apart the scores, comparing them to previous marks by Parker, and even panicking that no 100 point scores were awarded.
W. Blake Gray and Alder Yarrow both argued that the reviews were essentially unchanged from Parker. I think they’re right — but only if you look strictly at numbers. If you look at Galloni’s notes on 2010, especially his commentary on wineries like Hourglass (“distinctly sweet and alcoholic”), Corison (“shows lovely delineation and pure, understated class”), or the fact that Robert Foley’s 2009 wines didn’t show well enough to make the issue (these have historically been 90 – 99 pt wines for Parker in the past), there are clearly changes.
To me, while the scores are an important barometer, the real story comes in Galloni’s commentary on the three vintages he reviewed in this issue: 2008, 2009, 2010 (2009 received the bulk of reviews).
Why is this important? Each of these vintages was completely different – so offer a great way to understand Galloni’s preferences in Napa. Will he continue in Parker’s shadow, rewarding wines of massive fruit, high density, and medium-to-low acid? Or will he favor wines with that are a bit more restrained?
Let’s quickly review the three vintages: 2008 is largely an inconsistent vintage with winemakers facing a bevy of complications along the way — spring frost cut yields, and a long, cold growing season peppered with heat spikes gave winemakers fits. 2009 had early rains returning to drought conditions by June, which produced dense, fruit-driven wines with lower acid levels. Finally, 2010 had a long, cold growing season with only a few heat spikes.
Galloni notes that the 2010 vintage is a “style I like very much” with “intense, structured wines that are likely to take time in bottle to come around.” For the 2009s, Galloni notes that he “didn’t taste a lot of wines that appear to be built for the very long haul, but I doubt that will be too much of an issue.” It’s clear that 2009 is a more forward style that’s meant to be enjoyed in the short-to-mid term, while the 2010s are more structured and built for the long haul.
Galloni’s scoring range is interesting to note as well; 73% of wines from 2009 are 90+ points, while 82% of the 2010 reviews are 90+ points (these percentages do not take into account wines Galloni tasted but weren’t included in the issue). Being familiar with Galloni’s palate, this doesn’t come as much of a surprise. He’s always been a champion of more structured wines, and with that being the hallmark of the 2010 vintage, it makes complete sense. (For a spreadsheet with this data, click here.)
The winery that’s getting talked about the most as the biggest beneficiary of Galloni’s palate is Dunn Vineyards. For those of us that have coveted the Dunn cabernet’s for years now, we loved how Robert Parker didn’t seem to warm up to their wines as much as we did — it kept prices low!
The wines of Dunn Vineyards are intensely structured with beautiful dark fruit, tobacco tones and earthy undertones and they can age seemingly forever. The fact that Galloni gave the 2008 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain a 98+ seems a great indicator that he plans on rewarding producers that covet structure and balance over density and power.
As a wine lover that prefers more restrained, structured, elegant wines, I’m excited to see the impact Galloni has on Napa producers. Many in the wine world feel like producers in Napa (and elsewhere) shifted their wine-making style to appease the specific tastes of Robert Parker — it’ll be interesting to see if a similar thing happens again. Next up for Galloni? The wines of the Sonoma Coast — stay tuned!