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Q&A: Antonio Galloni, Ex Wine Advocate Critic

Q&A: Antonio Galloni, Ex Wine Advocate Critic
© Elizabeth Leitzell
Antonio Galloni made news earlier this month with his announcement that he is leaving The Wine Advocate to launch his own website. In 2012, he wrote one-third of the Advocate's reviews, covering California, Burgundy, Champagne and Italy.

What are you going to do differently from the Wine Advocate?

We want to be much more interactive and engaging than most wine websites are. I want to bring in more multimedia. I want to bring in some new people that maybe you don't know yet to write about wine. I want to bring in some writers who are maybe non-conventional. And maybe they're not writers.

What kind of multimedia?

Video, podcasts, live streaming of tastings, apps. If you look at most wine websites, it's very much Web 1.0. Most wine websites are basically a digital representation of a piece of print content.

If you know exactly what you're looking for, they're very fast. But these websites don't engage you. It's not like Wikipedia with a bunch of hyperlinks that take you back and forth. They're not websites that when you get to your office, you feel like you want to check them every day. My Napa piece this year was basically 1,000 wines. Who can digest that?

How much will you charge for subscriptions?
We're still developing that. It will be in line with the industry. The classic $70 or $100 annual subscription, I'm not sure that's how to attract younger readers. With pricing there's a way to put together a model that encourages people who don't want to spend $100 a year to be a part of your community.

Can you review the same number of wines for the new site?

I'm not going to be dealing firsthand with the business issues day-to-day. Look at my track record. I was able to take over California and keep the same schedule of reviews, plus restore the Advocate's reputation in Burgundy. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle. Sometimes it's 24-7.

Will you cover the same regions?

For the short term, yes. I want to hire one or two young writers. Have them taste beside me for a couple of years, and then have them take over those regions.

Galloni sometimes tastes up to 100 wines per day
© Antonio Galloni/AFP | Galloni sometimes tastes up to 100 wines per day

Which region are you most passionate about?

I like them all. What was very fundamental was [that] my first career was music. I played every kind of music you can imagine, from opera to country music to playing in rock bands. What I learned was quality is not about style. I might listen to heavy music when I'm on deadline and then I might listen to Beethoven the next day.

I can't say I love one region more than another. The people I respect the most are the ones who have the ability to do a lot of things well.

Will you keep the 100-point scale?

I like the 100-point scale for a couple of reasons. There's an immediacy and it's simple to grasp for people.

It's not perfect. No scoring system is perfect. I spend a lot of time thinking about the scores. The 100-point scale forces me to take a position, as opposed to a 4-star or 5-star system which allows me to flub it a little. If you give a wine 4 stars, that's not terrible, but it's also kind of amorphous. The bigger question is, how do you get people to not focus on a score? The commentary is much more interesting.

Will you publish reviews of wines you score under 85?

You're the first person who's asked. I hadn't thought about it. I'll have to add that to my list.

You go out to Napa and taste 100 wines a day. What do you drink that night?

Water. I never drink at lunch and I never drink at night. To make these long trips successful you have to be able to shut off. Think about something else. You religiously spit everything. You take long breaks.

I start early in the day. I take a reasonable lunch break, an hour or more, and then taste into the early evening. I never drink at night.

When you're not on a trip, how many wines do you taste in a day?

Zero to 30. There are some times when I'm writing and there are some times when I'm tasting. Even if I taste 40 or 50 wines I can still write afterward. But I'd rather write the whole day. It's a different skill, it requires a different focus.

Three of Galloni's desert island wines
© Wine-Searcher | Three of Galloni's desert island wines

Is it a goal to be influential?

There's a reason why the Advocate has been the most influential. The people who work there work their asses off. People are willing to go to Burgundy for two weeks and visit 5, 6, 7 cellars a day, on your feet all day long, in cold temperatures.

The number of people out there who are willing to do that work, who are not influenced by the trade or producers, who can withstand the incredible pressure that comes from working for a publication like that, are very, very few. Why did Bob become so influential? He worked very, very hard. Harder than most people. My respect for Bob grew an entire dimension when I took over California for him. I saw firsthand what he had done. Until you do it you can't understand the enormity of that job.

I don't really think of being the most influential. A day or two ago, a winemaker said she was happy with my project because it's trying to make the pie bigger instead of taking a piece of the same pie.

Do you have a desert island wine?

They'd be wines that get high scores at the Advocate: 1996 Krug Clos De Mesnil and 2004 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino, that's as good as it gets. One of my criteria for great wines is that they have to improve. I just had a '97 Philip Togni Cabernet from my cellar and it was outstanding.

Montrachet from DRC is not a wine I can afford, but it's just tremendous. I like all styles of white Burgundies. Coche Corton-Charlemagne is really about tension. [Domaine] D'Auvenay [Meursault] is all about fatness, richness. To me they're both so extraordinary. They're as different as white Burgundy can be, but I love both and want to be able to appreciate both.

What's your desert island wine with a $20 limit?

It would probably be a really good Chianti Classico. It ages great, goes great with food, is varietally true, it represents a place, it represents an estate. What more can you ask for $20? OK, maybe $22.

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  • Comments

    Steveinoakland wrote:
    04-Mar-2013 at 05:34:28 (GMT)

    Another great piece from WBG

  • Josh Moser wrote:
    20-Feb-2013 at 20:10:44 (GMT)

    It will be interesting to see in what direction Mr. Galloni heads. How many wine critics have an MBA from MIT? Pretty impressive. I am 41 years old, and I subscribe to 3 different wine publications. I have a true appreciation for wine reviewers (large and small). Now I don’t get caught up in the wine scores, but I value what they have to say about the overall quality of vintages. I think reviewers earn their money when they talk about an off-vintage more so than a great vintage. I also pay very close to attention to the drinking windows they provide. That being said, I believe the role of the wine critic / reviewer has changed dramatically. In my opinion, the US is saturated with wine reviewers. All of these wine critics are making themselves obsolete, because they hand out so many 90 point scores. Also, the quality of wine that is going into the bottle is so good, that buying a wine based on a review is irrelevant. Wine merchants (K&L & JJ Buckley to name a few) provide detailed vintage reports for free. These reports are quite good, and I feel that wine drinkers are going to opt for a free report from their wine retailer than pay subscription fees. I assume that James Suckling and Robert Parker headed to Asia because they see a better opportunity to find paying subscribers in Asia than in the US. As you know, some of these wine retailers have employees who have tasted thousands and thousands of the same wines. The other key point is that the wine retailers can talk about wines that they are selling, and have recently tasted. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a review from some of these publications, and then I find out that only 800 cases are for sale in the US, and you can’t find the wine. Or the reviewer tasted the wine 7 years ago when it was released, and has not provided an updated review. Well that doesn’t do me any good. Most importantly, in this day and age it is all about finding the best values, and the top wine retailers have no problem finding plenty of great wines, and offering them at great prices. Now let’s touch on the new generation of wine drinkers between the ages of 21 and 35. This group almost always looks to purchase a $15 Malbec compared to a $15 to $25 bottle of Bordeaux / California Cabernet for the following reasons: This new generation of wine drinkers don’t really seem to value what wine critics have to say, and I don’t see them paying subscription fees, especially when a lot of information about wine can be found on the internet for free. It is far easier for them to find a $15 Malbec. These wine drinkers want instant gratification. They can walk into nearly any wine store or grocery store and find a Malbec that is lively and full of character. Pop and pour. Can’t say the same for a bottle of Bordeaux / California Cabernet.

  • EVO wrote:
    20-Feb-2013 at 16:34:16 (GMT)

    Nice piece Blake. It will be interesting to see how he fares. EVO

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