Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Antonio Galloni's first reviews of Napa: 94 is the new 90
Galloni's first ratings came out last week. Those hoping for a change in philosophy got a few crumbs, notably ratings over 90 points for Cathy Corison. But much more is the same under Galloni than not.
Grade inflation: Some might focus on the fact that Galloni, unlike Parker, gave no 100s and no pure 99s, although five wines are scored "(97-99)" and three are scored "98+." (In addition to creating its own standards of quality, the Advocate continues to insist on its own math.)
But high grades are clearly still part of the Advocate's marketing strategy.
Galloni reviewed 1061 wines. I used the Advocate's search engine to determine that 815 of them -- 77% -- scored 90 points or higher; 699 wines scored 91 or better. And people mock wine competitions for giving "gentlemen's bronze" awards.
94 is the new 90: Galloni is less generous at the top of the chart than Parker was, but more generous to the middle class.
Two years ago, Parker reviewed "New releases from Northern California: Napa" (It's not fair to compare to last year's Parker ratings, because he called it "the best of Northern California"). Parker went crazy for the wines he liked, giving out 6 100s, 6 99s, a (99-100) and 5 (98-100)s.
BUT Parker's midpoint score was 91. He reviewed 970 wines, and 518 (53%) got at least 91.
The midpoint score for a Napa Valley wine from Galloni was 92; 53% scored at least 92, while 34% scored at least 93. A 95 from Napa Valley isn't all that special, as 123 wines -- more than one of every 9 wines -- scored at least that high.
The upshot: Galloni doesn't love the wines he loves as much as Parker, but he's more generous to more wines overall.
No low scores: It's possible that this statement may not be true, as Galloni may not have published scores for wines he really hated. But the lowest score he published was a solitary 85 for Hourglass Blue Line Cabernet Franc 2009 ($140), which he seems to punish for lack of varietal character. Poor Hourglass: there were fourteen 86s, but only that one 85. Galloni must be a stickler for Cabernet Franc varietal character. Except ...
Cabernet Sauvignon rules: Kongsgaard The Judge Chardonnay is one of three wines to pull in a 98+, but it's an anomaly at the top of the sheet. Of the 123 wines scoring 95 or above, 113 are Cabernet Sauvignons or proprietary red blends. Two vintages of The Judge -- not exactly known for delicacy -- are the only white wines at 95 or above. So much for the hope that Galloni would exalt wines that go well with food.
Big wines: Praise for power is scattered throughout the tasting notes, sometimes where you least expect it. Like for Cathy Corison, who has become the media synonym for balance in Napa Valley, as if none of the other 400+ wineries there ever make balanced wines.
It's news that Corison got a 92 for her Napa Valley Cab and a 94 for her Kronos Vineyard Cab; her highest previous Advocate score was a (90-91) she got for the 1993 Cab. Sure, I think Corison's wines deserve 90+ scores, but I'm not the Advocate. I can't help thinking that Galloni knows what Corison means to many other wine writers and was making a statement.
But in describing the Kronos Vineyard Cab, Galloni writes that it "is made in a richer, riper style," which merits it two more points.
I could cite dozens of other examples of similar phrasing, but the irony of this one is just so delicious. "Richer, riper" is still in.
Oaky Sauvignon Blanc: Both the Advocate and Wine Spectator have a real blind spot about Sauvignon Blanc. Even though it's a delicious wine that's a lot more food friendly than its genetic descendant, Cabernet Sauvignon, it never scores big ratings, and rarely passes 90 in either publication unless it's tarted up with oak.
Galloni continues this tradition. His highest rating for any Sauvignon Blanc is 92 -- remember, that's a midpoint score for him -- and all three that reached that high were oaked.
David Abreu love: Parker always loved wines in which viticulturist David Abreu had a hand, but even under his regime, Abreu didn't dominate the ratings as he does for Galloni.
Abreu Vineyards receives 6 of the 9 highest scores. There are 12 Abreu wines, and none of them scores lower than 96+. Is this one winery that much better than any other winery in Napa Valley? Antonio Galloni thinks so.
Now here are a few random observations from the hours I spent sifting through Galloni's scores:
* Last week I reported on how Galloni is setting up tastings in Sonoma County, and I got some people over there fermenting with anger for reasons I still don't understand. I decided to take a look at whether the wines Galloni reviewed in Napa were exclusively members of Napa Valley Vintners.
They were not. In the A's alone, I found reviews of Abreu, Ad Vivum, Alante Vineyard, Altamura, Anderson's Conn Valley, Aston Estate and Au Sommet, none of which seem to be members of NVV. I suppose I could go through and check all 26 letters, but that would make Adam Lee happy, and then where would my essay-length angry comments come from?
* Galloni does at least notice obscure varieties. He gave Larkmead Tocai Friulano and Tofanelli Charbono 92 (mid-range, remember), and Grassi Ribolla Gialla 91. He didn't notice Massican Annia, a blend of Tocai Friulano, Ribolla Gialla and Chardonnay that was one of the best wines I tasted from Napa Valley this year. But it's lean and minerally -- a sommelier wine -- and he might not have liked it anyway.
* Parker disliked Grgich Hills -- he never gave any wine a score higher than 91 -- and so does Galloni, doling out an 89, three 87s and an 86. In fact, the 89 Galloni gives the Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon is the highest score a Grgich Hills Cab has ever had from the Advocate. I don't always love Grgich Hills' red wines, but the whites continue to taste excellent to me. But what do I know?
* The biggest disconnect between price and score is Amuse Bouche 2009 ($295), which gets just 89 points. Parker never loved this wine, as it never scored higher than 93, but I remember having it on Christmas one year (sorry, I forget the vintage) and thinking it was fantastic. I repeat, what do I know?
* I heard a rumor that Galloni might buy the Wine Advocate from Parker. It makes some sense; Galloni was an investment banker, he's young and enthusiastic, and Parker is in the right stage of life to cash out on the tremendous brand he's built. If so, this group of ratings seems to indicate that whatever you think of Parker's legacy, it is secure.