So over the weekend erobertparker announced quitely to his on line subscribers that changes were in the works at the Wine Advocate. Antonio Galloni, the emperor in waiting will no longer just review Itlay and Champagne but will now take on parts of Burgundy and the shocker…California…If you know anything about Wolfe’s we have been a fan of the low alcohol, sence of place wines that come from all around the globe since we opened our doors, so did we see this coming, all bubbles burst at some point….. With this news we sit at a precipice in winemaking in California, after his first reviews of the 2010 vintage will we see a change to make wines that are in touch with Europe? That answer will come with Galloni’s first reviews that will not come for 2-3 years but mark my words, Winemakers in California are nervous! A writer, fellow twitterer and lover of all things wine Jon Bonne wrote the following for the San Fransico Chronicle, he hits most nails on the head. Enjoy
Smell. Taste. Scribble. Repeat — The Chronicle’s wine editor on what to drink. Read bio
Over the weekend came stunning news in the relatively cozy world of wine writing: Robert Parker, founder of the Wine Advocate and arguably the most influential wine critic ever, is going to hand off responsibilities for reviewing California wine.
Parker handed the reins to one of his key lieutenants, Antonio Galloni, who has been responsible for Italian wine for several years. Galloni also picked up several other duties, including the influential portions of Burgundy — the Cote d’Or and Chablis — following on his recent acquisition of duties for Champagne reviews.
Parker will keep Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley, as well as what he termed “older vintages of Bordeaux, Rhône and California wines.” Specific to California, he wrote in a note to his subscribers that he would be doing “a series of horizontal and vertical tastings of perfectly stored California wines that will give readers insight into how they are developing.”
There’s so much news in here that let’s first consider what isn’t going to change. Parker will continue to be the market mover for his first wine love — Bordeaux, a region in which he holds unparalleled influence and authority — and his more recent evident wine love, the Rhone. So he’ll keep his two unrivaled loves. Bordeaux, which seems to live or die on Parker scores, will remain a major focus. And ditto for the Rhone, which has gained a new fame because of his interest.
As for California, this news is enormous. Parker is almost entirely responsible for the stratospheric rise of many of the cult wines of the 1990s, including Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle (the debut 1992 launched with 99 points) and Sine Qua Non. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that his ratings essentially defined the modern California style, which depending on your view is either extraordinarily opulent and, to use his word, hedonistic, or overwhelming and overblown. Either way, Parker’s compass set a direction for California winemakers wanting to excel in the score wars.
Critics of Parker’s approach love to pin the proliferation of high-alcohol, heavily oaked, massively extracted California wines on the Maryland-based critic. And there have been some puzzling stances at times, like his continued defense of the super-ripe 1997 vintage, which even many winemakers now admit created wines that aren’t enduring as well as expected. (It brought perfect 100-point scores for Harlan, Bryant Family, Abreu Madrona Ranch and Screaming Eagle.)
But Parker was notably instrumental in advancing the cause of Rhone-style wines in the United States; his annual California Rhone tasting brought dozens of new producers to the attention of deep-pocketed drinkers, and a huge amount of money into the state’s wine industry.
For that matter, while it’s easy to focus on his cult-wine impact, in recent years he also revived his reviews for the classic wines of Ridge (he gave the 2005, at a modest 13.2 percent alcohol, a 97+ rating), and provided early and influential coverage of labels like Rhys Vineyards, which makes Pinot Noir that rarely surpasses 13 percent alcohol — a world away from the high-impact Marcassin and Aubert bottles he’s usually attributed with endorsing. He has also consistently been bullish on some nuanced, moderate Cabernet-based wines, notably Dominus, that get a cold shoulder from such venues as the Wine Spectator. (I suspect this last is due to his lifelong fondness for Bordeaux; next time someone complains about a “Bordeaux-style California Cab,” I suggest they remember they are treading on the preferences of one Robert Parker.)
In other words, Parker and his palate have provided far more nuanced criticism than he gets credit for. And regardless of anyone’s sentiments about him, anyone familiar with California wine has to acknowledge just how much of a massive influence he has had on helping the industry achieve maturity and global acclaim.
Looking forward, there’s already much speculation as to how tastes will change under Galloni — and many tea leaves being read over his Italian reviews.
We can only help a bit with the tea leaves, but here’s a quick summary: appreciates stylish but not overly international wines; fond of traditional Barolos (Bartolo Mascarello jumped in its scores, while Elio Grasso and even Burlotto are getting some love) with some enthusiasm for more fashionable styles (Roberto Voerzio; Gaja) and not afraid to call out the use of oak (Ceretto); willing to give much love to the stylish Super Tuscans (Sassicaia, Tignanello); but also willing to give attention to Italy’s more esoteric, avant-garde efforts — Radikon, COS, and Sandro Fay, for instance. In general, the focus on Italy means a lot more interest in wines that are appropriate for the table, rather than the trophy case.
What this means for California is a mixed deal — but ultimately I think it will mean very good things. Those awaiting the demise of big, hedonistic cult wines are probably out of luck. (Did you think Robert Parker would choose as his replacement someone who’d suddenly toss Bryant Family on the heap?)
But there are big chances for more nuanced styles of California wine to get noticed — namely from small producers who have been less interested in trading on Parker scores and more interested in wines hinged on nuance and on finding a place at the table. Parker was able to become a conduit to fame for many small, ambitious producers who wanted to make big, impactful wines; Galloni could be the same for producers with a different philosophy.
Then there are Galloni’s own words on the matter, posted Sunday to the eRobertParker.com bulletin board:
“In California, for 2011 I will keep a tasting and publishing schedule that is in line with what RP has done over the last few years, although I may make additional trips throughout the year. I know a lot of readers have complained about a lack of in the bottle scores for a number of producers/wines. That will change. I can’t wait to get out to California.”
This latest move follows my emerging Parker theory: He realizes the Wine Advocate needs to have a life beyond his palate, so he’s been focusing on his core interests and diversifying the roster with critics who can specialize in their strengths. (That said, Galloni now has an assignment list big enough to run the risk of fatigue. It’s a lot of the world to cover, if he intends to cover it as comprehensively as his boss did.) Example: Parker installed nonpareil taster David Schildknecht to cover such places as the Loire; the result was 90-plus-point Parker scores for wines that never before would have gotten such love. (92 points for a Muscadet, for instance.) And Parker himself apparently indicated that Galloni would ultimately be his successor.
If anything, I’d argue these changes have made the Advocate stronger now than it has been in years. And say what you like about the fading role of wine scores: Robert Parker still sells a lot of wine.
Other things to note in the shuffle:
1) Galloni’s coverage of Champagne has become ever more valuable, especially after he indicated he would taste only wines that provided a disgorgement date so he could accurately rate Champagnes by their release, a bold stand against the myth of nonvintage uniformity.
2) One small casualty is the loss of Schildknecht’s voice in covering the heart of Burgundy. No doubt Galloni will do a fine job, but Schildknecht brought a great intellect to the task. One possible explanation might come from Jeff Leve, a Bordeaux expert close to Parker, who wrote that Schildknecht’s “his inability to report on those wine regions in a timely manner was a problem.”
3) In addition to Lisa Perrotti-Brown’s recent acquisition of Australia and New Zealand as Parker phased the embattled Jay Miller out of those roles, the terrific Neal Martin is officially on board for South Africa. (With luck, he’ll pick up Madeira, too.) To wit, here’s the current breakdown of assignments according to Parker’s note:
Robert Parker: Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, older vintages of Bordeaux, Rhône and California wines
Antonio Galloni: Italy, Champagne, Chablis, Côte d’Or, California
David Schildknecht: Germany, Loire, Beaujolais and Mâconnais, Eastern U.S., Austria, Eastern Europe, Languedoc-Roussillon, Jura
Jay Miller: Oregon, Washington, South America, Spain
Lisa Perrotti-Brown: Australia, New Zealand
Neal Martin: critic-at-large overlapping all areas, plus specific reviewer of South Africa
Mark Squires: bulletin board and occasional articles on Israel, Portugal, and Greece
No doubt we’ll circle back on this soon, as more tea leaves are uncovered.