#WA 198 Shows Galloni Isn’t Parker

Posted by | Posted in Wine News | Posted on 12-29-2011

Wine Advocate critic Antonio Galloni

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!

Comments (16)

  1. Matt: This is a very interesting analysis and I’m glad to read it. However, beware of wish fulfillment.

    If you look for examples of Robert Parker praising structure and balance over density and power, you can find dozens. The man has an acute palate and intellectually realizes what makes great wines great.

    However, the numbers tell the real story for Parker, and I will argue that the same will be true for Galloni. No matter how many times people like us tell consumers to read the tasting notes, the score is still the most important thing.

  2. Agree 100% that scores will continue to rule the landscape since it’s such an important barometer of quality for so many consumers.

    Enjoyed your article about AG as well!

  3. yesssss Latuchie action (will post something more substantive after actually reading it).

  4. Faryan: Definitely our best comment to date.

  5. Great post Matt.

    The question is whether or not Dunn is an outlier or you see a higher correlation between wines of this style/structure/substance and higher points compared to their antithesis.

    I heard that Anderson Valley wines were panned by Galloni and seem to be structured for long-term aging as well (I speak largely anecdotally having only had two of his wines). Do we have a deeper set of reference points?


  6. Is Dunn an outlier? In today’s Napa, I’d say yes. There are a handful of other wineries that usually fall in the “old school Napa” bucket; Corison, Dunn, Heitz, Togni, & Spottswoode (plus some others I’m blanking on). Corison/Dunn/Togni/Spottswoode received high marks from AG in #198 but Heitz wasn’t reviewed. Also, AG gave Ridge Monte Bello higher ratings (97+ for 2008 and 95+ for 2009) than Parker had (only the 2001 and 2005 scored higher than the 2008/2009).

  7. Great report, Matt. Will future articles continue following the actions of AG, or do you have something else in mind?

  8. Sorry I didn’t comment earlier guys, I was busy dumping my foley down the drain! Matt- off to a great start! Can’t wait to read a piece on some of those fancy dirt wines…

  9. Nice piece Tooch! Gotta say, this seems like a natural fit. And going along with your balanced theme, this gives Terroirist some New World/Old World balance. I think about time someone placed a bit more emphasis on actual winemaking and purity as opposed to ripeness and density. And I am a fan of some Howell Mt wines–mostly due to the structure and dare I say it, minerality? Perhaps all they need to do is throw a little bit of dirt in each btl, right Joe D?

  10. Very well written, Matt. I look forward to seeing more contributions from you at this venue (and perhaps others). Napa doesn’t exist for me unless I’m drinking some old Dominus or Montelena from back in the day over at Ian’s house. And speaking of Ian, there is a strange resemblance between Mr. Galloni and Mr. Lipner. Hmmm….. Keep up the good work.

  11. Tim – would love to set into motion a Howell Mountain tasting…have had some stellar stuff from Neal Family.

  12. Winn – I’m interested to see what AG has to say about the Burgundian varietals of Sonoma…so am looking forward to diving into his reviews in a couple weeks.

  13. Matt, I didn’t think you paid attention to anything outside of France, Austria, and Germany! Just kidding. On a more serious note, I really like your analysis. While he definitely has a different stylistic preference, I think the biggest thing CA winemakers may have to fear is Galloni’s conservatism. He simply doesn’t throw around three digit numbers the way his CA predecessor did.

    It will be interesting to watch his palate develop as he really dives into the California landscape. As you mention, his 2010 reviews should be a real barometer for change in style preference at the Wine Advocate.

  14. Nice analysis and well thought out.
    As a winemaker I know people mostly buy on scores and not verbage. I’ll have to wait and see before submitting to the WA again.
    As a consumer buy the cheapest of the wines that scored the same. For the most part they’re going to all taste the same.

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