Wine Talk

Snooth User: Richard Foxall

More changes over at Wine Advocate

Posted by Richard Foxall, Feb 13, 2013.

Saw this story about Antonio Galloni leaving the Wine Advocate.  (I first saw it somewhere else, but this was the easiest one to link to today.)  I haven't got any particular sense of what Galloni likes, although one kind of assumes that Parker would hire someone somewhat in his own image if he was planning to turn over some of the areas Bob has been famous for influencing, like Napa. In general, I'm not really calibrated to very many critics, so their ratings generally have little effect on me.  (I have a sort-of algorithm for comparing RP, Tanzer and WS scores and figuring out if the reviewed wine might be worth taking a flyer on, but even that sounds more systematic than it is.)

What's more interesting is that we are clearly entering a post-Bob phase.  He was only moderately successful at extending his brand by adding other reviewers, and that is coming apart now.  So, does it mean that Spectator (or, as I call it, Wine Expectorator) will be the dominant rater?  Is there an identifiable style that the magazine as a whole favors?  I have mentioned elsewhere that at least one winery insider told me about specific steps taken to garner 90 points from Laube, so there's some influence there, but the bigger and bigger trend that most attribute to Parker seems unlikely to be matched by any one outlet.  Rimmerman talks about this a little in his email today--saying, for instance, that Mayacamas's style might now be in ascendance.

I don't really care what it will do for the magazines and ratings, but I do wonder how importers and wineries will respond, since that will affect what's available and at what price. 

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Reply by GregT, Feb 13, 2013.

Rimmerman is out of his mind as the Mayacamas style will never be in ascendance. People want to blame Parker for whatever they don't like in wine and that's BS, as is most of the stuff Rimmerman writes.

Parker will still matter in Bordeaux and the Rhone and if he cares to talk about it, California. There is no critic in the world who has his influence on those 2 French regions. Nobody. And if we're lucky, there never will be anybody.

So he got a few mil for his journal and he still retains the influence. My guess was that the buyers wanted to buy access to his influence more than to make money by publishing the WA, but that may be wrong. They're in the import business after all, and travelling to France and tasting with him and getting inside info on what he likes before scores are released (they'll be doing the editing) is valuable info.

I'm NOT suggesting that he's doing anything underhanded, but if I were an importer and I had access to the guy who makes the market . . .

As far as "riper" styles in CA, that's not Parker. It's the market. If he liked them and nobody else did, he wouldn't have any influence at all. He likes what the market likes. He likes Philly cheesesteaks for heaven's sake and all kinds of mid-America cooking. When he goes to France, he says he always eats in the same restaurant. A few wine snobs think they discovered wine when they started to drink French wine, and they think Parker doesn't know a damned thing about wine. Well guess what.  He started drinking French wine too. And at the time, there wasn't the US industry that there is today. So they should learn a little history.

Right now, Laube is the top dog in CA but the WS has a different audience than the WA, so that influence is limited in a sense.  Galloni would never have had the influence Parker did in CA. I don't think anyone will ever again - as Brian Loring pointed out, it's too big and diverse these days. So for the Rimmermans to imagine that just like sheep, every winemaker will march toward the palate of the next critic; that's just ridiculous to imagine.

I think you're 100% right about the WA. It's what the post-Parker era will look like and I don't think he's had any success at all in extending the brand. Look at all the shelf talkers that say "Robert Parker" even though he didn't taste or rate the wine. The honest ones will say "from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate", but half of them don't because they know that the other critics don't have any mind-share in the market. Too bad because some are quite good.  For better or worse, he's run it like a small one-man operation and that's worked out fine for him personally in terms of reputation, but he was smart to sell IMO. Even more because whether he likes it or not, it's going to get worse in terms of reputation. Once Lisa starts calling the shots, I don't see it as being a smooth operation.

Had dinner with Galloni two weeks ago and he didn't mention anything at all about leaving. He was quite affable and highly complementary about Bob. So something must have precipitated his walk but I don't think that's ever going to come out.  I wish him well. Can't see that he's likely to make a lot of money doing wine reviews on line though. Although maybe James Suckling is? Anybody know? I can't see it but maybe.

The competition from free sites is too great. Why would anyone pay? I think the more likely path is that Antonio will be doing big dinners and lectures and charging for those. Don't know how long that will last. Interesting times for the WA though, that's for sure!


Reply by zufrieden, Feb 13, 2013.

Which all begs the following question: do AG and RP - or their epigoni - determine (or at least heavily influence) the retail price of rated product - as we are all sure they do?

This question is inescapable and highly relevant to the related issue of money and prestige - something that applies to the problem of isolating a certain aesthetic purity (if you will) from the cache associated with possession of something for its socially beneficial qualities.

I do not think that RP or AG have any monopoly on (or even occupy high ground for) the assessment of quality - their experience notwithstanding. Some of us go out in tho the world and spout our opinions on subjective phenomena; others do not.

As to the next wine craze (whether another California one like  Mayacamas Vineyards, et cetera), I don't even care to venture an opinion. As the Big Bopper said - quite eloquently, in my plebeian opinion, "I know what I like."  The difference between the novice and the expert is mostly experience.

If you prefer, the experienced palates of RP et alii have a monetary value and that is what is being exploited here - not any absolute determination of wine quality. Whether that value can be extracted via a website, I am not so sure.

Pure demand or pure quality... that is the question.  Must the two go hand in hand?  Again, I am not convinced that they must.

Reply by GregT, Feb 14, 2013.

Zuf - I don't know if they influence the price, except for Bob and Bordeaux and the Rhone. There you can see a direct correlation. But they do influence the sales. Put a case of wine at $11 dollars and 90 points in the front of your store and see what happens. The reason Solomon was able to sell Las Rocas for what he did is because that ratio meant the purchaser (Gallo) could sell a lot of wine.

In some cases, producers raised their prices. Long term, I'm not sure that really was the best plan. But other producers kept prices low and turned over inventory. That's a better business model IMHO, but you find examples of each.

But the only "name" critic is Parker. There are others, but their influence is fairly small. Parker has the trade waiting for his pronouncements, rather than the consumers. If you influence the trade, you influence sales and prices.

Reply by JonDerry, Feb 14, 2013.

I think smart buyers will look more for a consensus among whoever's left, like Tanzer/Raynolds (IWC), WS (Molesworth/Laube), BH, JR, and yes, CT and CT types. It'll be interesting to see how Galloni fits in to the doubt  he has more respect than Suckling. Hard to say how JS is doing, though I have a hard time believing that he's really thriving, he could be carving out a niche, perhaps a model Galloni can improve upon. 

Reply by amour, Feb 14, 2013.

James Molesworth is definitely propelling himself and he is actually quite good!

I have time for him!

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 14, 2013.

Suckling is like the movie critic Peter Travers:  By liking everything he ensures his name will be on at least some shelf talkers and in front of people.  That leads to familiarity which helps his brand with those who don't know he's not very critical.  Although I did see an email today for a Brunello that got 93 from WA, 90-something from one or two of the others and "only" 90 from JS.  I have my own kind-of algorithm (RP gives it 93-94, Tanzer gives it 90-91, the others are pretty much in line, and I know that when Tanzer gives this kind of wine 90, I usually like it, and when Parker gives that kind of wine a high score, I don't wonder what the hell he was thinking.  As I said, not that precise.)

I think GregT is completely correct that good scores moved volume, especially for new, market-produced wines.  (That is, wines that were bottled for a specific market like Las Rocas.)  I also think he is correct that there is so much free information that Galloni will have a hard time making a living. 

What's overlooked in Zuf's comment is not the change in price or moving volume, but the way some wineries shifted their winemaking to please a critic, usually RP, so they could continue to charge big bucks for wines they were already making.  Or how new wineries, rather than having a vision, aimed for a score and made their wines to that profile because otherwise they wouldn't get the press and be able to get distribution or mailing list customers. 

Of less concern but no less common is the wine drinker who likes the RP profile because that's what he's been led to believe defines good wine.  I think the backlash drinkers--Asimov likes this pickle juice, so it must be good even if I don't understand it--is just as ridiculous but less common.  So I guess we can get everything from both ends through the middle, and the best thing we can say is that Parker shook up the French enough that they at least stopped making crappy wine and telling us it was "classic" or "excellent."

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 14, 2013.

BTW, for those tracking a way to figure out what you like, here's what I have concluded:  I like many of the same cabs, bords and Zinfandels as GdP, but have very different taste when it comes to Pinot.  He doesn't like grenache and thinks CdP is overpriced.  I agree CdP is overpriced, but I like grenache. We both like Syrah a lot, and seem to like mostly the same things, but he reviews things out of my price range pretty often, esp from the N. Rhone.

GregT and I like the same Tempranillos and seem to like the same southern Rhones, but he doesn't like PN from anywhere very well, and I think that's crazy.  He's missing a gene for it, I guess.  We haven't had enough Syrah or Cab together to know.  I'd drink a riesling with him anyday, and I usually don't get excited about riesling.

OT has my Syrah taste nailed to a T.  Haven't quite figured out where we stand on PN, but we'll work on that in November.  We seem to like the same kinds of  Zinfandels, but buy them from different people.  I'm drinking Talty, Mauritson, a few others, he's drinking Carlisle and Turley.

I like drinking with JD because he's open to just about anything, and the weirder the better.

You can do the same with critics.  Overlapping circles. Try a few things they have rated, or compare your notes on something you liked to a rating after you had it. But that's where Galloni is going to have a problem:  People are doing this on CellarTracker, here, and elsewhere.  (Snooth: Sponsor more offlines so your readers know each other's tastes by drinking wine together.  Or bring back the VTs.)  It's going to be hard to get people to pay attention to you, never mind pay for the privilege.  People can follow the other users who own the same bottles they do, or have tasted the same wines.  (Who doesn't have followers these days? Who can't see how often people read a particular poster?  Oh, wait, Snooth needs that feature.)

Reply by GregT, Feb 15, 2013.

Funny Fox, but you're right and it's important.

Find someone you trust, or trust yourself. Not everyone is going to agree with you on everything.

But let's move that aside - for the real 100% novice, who do they trust? Honestly, I don't know. I like the model where stores have an open bottle or an Enotech machine or something like that, but really, how many stores do/ so you have to trust the sales people, who you think are out to hustle you, or some 'objective' critic, which is what RP started as. What to do?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 15, 2013.

Find stores with tastings, especially smaller stores.  Chances are one or two people pick the majority of the wines, so try to taste when they are around to explain what they like in the wines.  If they seem to bring in things you like, take your chances there.  Even when something doesn't work out, go back, tell them what was unexpected and why you didn't like that.  Helps them and you.

Buy wine by the glass at restaurants with good selection.  I still do that to try things that might be new to me. 

Put on dinner parties and have your friends bring wine, especially if they are more knowledgeable about wine.  Keep mental notes about the wines, then ask them what else they've had lately and where they shop. 

If you find a discounter or a shop that has close-outs, try a new region by buying a vintage as the new one is coming in.  I first tried RdD this way:  Some distributor got stuck with a bunch of Vega Riaza that got so-so reviews and needed to offload.  (Bigger problem was he only had one review, so he couldn't forum shop for a better one.)  Frankly, I thought it was delicious and I only stuck my neck out to the tune of $4 or so.  A week later I saw that the same shop had a bunch of Scala Dei and I tried some classic Priorat for nothing.  I figured if I liked the cheap stuff, I'd like the more expensive stuff, too.

Finally, do not turn to this guy:

Reply by penguinoid, Feb 15, 2013.

I trust my own judgement with wines -- after all, to quite a large extent it's subjective and about personal taste -- but do take note of what critics say. Why? In the absence of being able to taste the wines I'm going to buy, it's good to have pointers as to which ones are worth looking out for. Critics whose palate I know has some accord with mine are one source for this. Good, small local wine shops are another. Snooth, of course, is yet another :-)

Reply by penguinoid, Feb 15, 2013.

The one problem I do have with following critic's reviews is that US & UK based critics often review wines I can't get in Australia, leading to an increasingly long list of wines to try when I'm next in the UK, and a general sense of frustration ;-)

Reply by GregT, Feb 15, 2013.

Penguin - you're right of course, that people should trust themselves.

But I get the feeling that a lot of the posters here and people in general, just don't have a lot to go on. So I understand that they want someone somewhere to suggest something and to provide some rationale.I know I certainly did many years ago. But that's the problem. You can find random people on wine sites like this and if you like something, that doesn't mean I will and vice versa, or you can find someone who is out there and we can triangulate against. But that person will have to be consistent, and once again, that creates another variable. Parker had the virtue of consistency. I don't know if anyone else does or doesn't, as I don't buy wine that way, but it's a tough slog. 

Reply by penguinoid, Feb 16, 2013.

One potential way to get some basic knowledge to go on would be to go to a wine tasting course where you could try some of the 'benchmark' wines to get an idea both of what's out there and your own preferences. I was lucky enough to do such a course as part of my oenology diploma.

One thing I did note was that I found it quite hard to consistenly give scores to wines. Not that I like a wine one time but not the next, but more that I found it very difficult to then try and express that as a number, and do that  consistently time after time. One to file under 'tougher than it looks'. Though I'm never quite sure of how relevant these scores are, consistent or not. I think Robert Parker has always said people should read his tasting notes alongside his scores, not just the scores in isolation. Sadly, that's one bit of advice from him that seems to be widely ignored.

Reply by amour, Feb 20, 2013.

By the way, Antonio Galloni is presenting his own website; he promises that it would be the most interactive and engaging wine website in the world!!!

He even promises live tastings, and un-conventional writers....I MAY HAVE A SECOND JOB!! (smile,please...someone...anyone!!!)


Reply by Richard Foxall, Feb 20, 2013.

I'm smiling, and I'm laughing because I had that same fantasy for about a minute.  Galloni says he wants to assemble the best of the best--well, here we are! 

Seriously, he's got a tough job ahead of him competing with all the free information out there.  Wine bloggers are a dime a dozen.  He does have the imprimatur of having worked with RP, but he wasn't there long and didn't have a reputation before he got there.  Entry barriers are higher than they were when RP started, and RP was, by most accounts, blessed with an excellent palate and uncanny predictive skills.  Plus RP's tasted lined up with some kind of zeitgeist, for the most part, as big and fruity displaced a lot of weaker, badly made wines.  Those wines now get competition from more structured and perhaps interesting wines that are also well made--look at the strides made in the old world, esp Italy. 

I'm hanging out my shingle:  Will write about wine for wine. Virtual Tasting, anyone?

Reply by amour, Feb 20, 2013.


CHEERS!  BTW....I am drinking Carillon d'Angelus...hoping to purchase the real Chateau Angelus, as in Casino Royale....I am a Bond girl!!!Blond/Bond!!

Another point...AG sees his work as: not a job...but A LIFESTYLE and so do we!!!!!!!!

Reply by Lucha Vino, Feb 21, 2013.

My compensation requirements are in line with Fox's and I am available to join the fray. I mean Fox's wine critic club.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Feb 21, 2013.

Well now, if I had only known I would have offered you all jobs years ago. ;-)

Reply by penguinoid, Feb 22, 2013.

Gregory -- whilst you're employing the others, don't forget about me. I'll pretend to be your Burgundy expert ;-)

I also thought about starting my own wine blog at one point. I couldn't think why anyone would want to read it above the many others out there, though. I know more than the average person about wine, but I know enough to know that there are others out there who know more and taste more wines than me. It doesn't help either that my experiences of tasting the "benchmark" wines (classified Bordeaux, grand cru Burgundy, Penfolds Grange, etc) is very, very limited.

But maybe I should anyway. And whilst it was going to be free, I now plan on charging a €500/year subscription. Or am I setting the price too low?

Reply by edwilley3, Apr 1, 2013.

I look forward to living one day in a state where I can actually get access to a wider range of wine. The selection of California wines available here in Texas is more limited than you might think based on the size of the market. Getting products from smaller producers is quite difficult. I might be willing to pay for formal, broad-based wine advice in the future, but not until then. I get only a little useful information out of Wine Spectator and rely substantially on a few individuals here in the Dallas area for specific advice. As you guys know, I have a specific shop which gives me access to some nicer things and - through a set of individuals who are fellow customers and enjoy trying new wines and spirits - get to sample some interesting things. (We are a de facto "club".)

For instance, we did a side by side of Stag's Leap petite sirah vintages this weekend. We spent some time with a 1991 Cos D'Estournel a few weeks ago. I also rely on CT for longitudinal information on vintage bottles. Parker wouldn't be much help for me at this point.

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