Thank you Antonio Galloni!

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Peter Tryba
 
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Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #1  Postby Peter Tryba » December 23rd 2009, 5:53am

After much consideration, I have made the difficult but necessary decision that going forward I will longer review NV wines that do not carry disgorgement dates, or at the very least a lot number that can be traced back to a disgorgement date. I realize this may be a controversial decision, but wine criticism must always put the interests of the consumer first, and in this case Champagne producers need to join the 21st century. I remain amazed that a $3 gallon of milk often contains more information for the consumer than a bottle of Champagne that costs many times as much, but that, dear reader, is the simple truth.

Bravo!
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #2  Postby J a y H a c k » December 23rd 2009, 6:57am

I met Antonio in New York about a month ago and he asked me to let everyone here know that not everyone "over there" was in league with the devil. His position on this issue seems to be a good example. Let's see if anyone else follows suit.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #3  Postby Tyler Rico » December 23rd 2009, 7:07am

I like the idea as well. Maybe this will nudge champagne producers to finally start doing this with their NV wines.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #4  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 7:13am

Nice move by Antonio, but I wonder exactly how this will be carried out? Every Champagne has a lot number on it (I believe required by law) that allows it be traced back to the disgorgement date and more. Around 1/2 of them can be decoded with a little common common sense. The other half you need to talk to the producer in order to get the info. According to the letter of the statement "I will longer review NV wines that do not carry disgorgement dates, or at the very least a lot number that can be traced back to a disgorgement date", 99.99% of all NV wines already qualify.

I will say that more progress has been made in terms of disgorgement date lately than I thought would occur this fast. A number of large producers are going to start or have started putting disgorgement dates on Vintage cuvees and to me this is key. Disgorgement date is important, but it isn't the most important aspect of knowing what is in the bottle. The most important aspect (relatively speaking) is knowing the makeup of the wine particularly the vintages in the blend. In a vintage cuvee, that problem is solved with the vintage date so the disgorgement date is very valuable. On a NV cuvee, the disgorgement date is great and a big help, but the real key is knowing the blend of vintages or the base vintage of a particular release. Most NV cuvees see a separate release each year so the disgorgement date of a particular cuvee can help, but pretty much all bottles of a release (regardless of disgorgement date) will taste the same at the same points in their life. Where NV cuvees vary is between releases when the base vintage and reserve wines change. The disgorgement date will allow you to make a guess as to the base vintage, but I would rather know the base vintage. I would really like both, but to me, on NV cuvees, the base vintage is the most important. Most producers have guidelines on how long they age their NVs so you can tell what is fresh or not fresh based on a base vintage.

The other factor to consider is that larger production NV cuvees have studies showing disgorgement dates have resulted in sales decreases. Some folks get confused over the date and think it is an expiration date. Other people only want to buy the disgorgement on July 17 and July 16. Another group gets scared by too much info. A simple line on the back label that would state "Based on the XXXX vintage" would be a huge help. While I would like more, this information is the most key piece missing and the most important in my mind as it would allow you to at least compare/classify one NV release vs. another.

An easy solution would be for a producer to set up a spot on their website where you could input the lot number and get all the info on a wine that you need (blend, base wine, reserves, steel/oak, malolactic, bottling date, disgorgement date, dosage, etc...) I've tried to get a producer to try this out, but no one has made the move yet. To me this eliminates the worries of confusion among the masses and lets those who want to know, know.

The larger producers are very concerned about confusing those who like and buy wine, but aren't into wine as much as those on this board and the like. They do want to find a way to get information out to those who want it, but also want to balance out their fear of confusing the masses (I'm not sure I agree they will confuse the masses, but I have seen it with friends and family so there is something to this worry).

To summarize, there is no excuse for not putting a disgorgement date on a vintage wine. It is important to the wine's development and this isn't a wine that is going to be sold everywhere to everyone. I would love disgorgement dates on a NV wine and it helps, but if I am going to fight for one piece of info for NVs, I would rather see a base vintage statement on the back label.

I have an upcoming article talking about this and I applaud Antonio for his move. I'm just not sure how it will play out and while it helps, I think there is something else that helps more.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #5  Postby Keith Levenberg » December 23rd 2009, 9:02am

Bravo indeed.

Brad, I think you're being a bit overly literal and technical in your parsing of Antonio's words. It's a voluntary, principled move on his part, not some provision of the U.S. tax code where teams of lawyers are on standby looking for loopholes. I'm sure he'll come up with some workable standard. If the consumer standing in the store can't match the bottle in his hand to the review, there shouldn't be a review. Doesn't matter if there's a lot code if it's printed on the bottom of the cork or in invisible infrared ink or if you need advanced calculus to decode it.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #6  Postby John Morris » December 23rd 2009, 10:05am

Brad Baker wrote:Nice move by Antonio, but I wonder exactly how this will be carried out? Every Champagne has a lot number on it (I believe required by law) that allows it be traced back to the disgorgement date and more. Around 1/2 of them can be decoded with a little common common sense. The other half you need to talk to the producer in order to get the info. According to the letter of the statement "I will longer review NV wines that do not carry disgorgement dates, or at the very least a lot number that can be traced back to a disgorgement date", 99.99% of all NV wines already qualify.


Yes -- why doesn't is just suffice to include the lot number in the review?
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #7  Postby Claude Kolm » December 23rd 2009, 10:16am

I have long indicated lot numbers (A.P. Numbers for German wines) for all wines (not just Champagne) that I review -- when I can find them. I believe the lot number requirement is only for wines sold in the EU. (A.P. Numbers do have to appear on all German wines that qualify for them, though.) Frequently, lot numbers appear also on European wines sold in the US, but not always. Some importers' wines almost never bear lot numbers, leading me to speculate that those importers specifically ask their producers not to have lot numbers on the wines.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #8  Postby Daniel Posner » December 23rd 2009, 10:31am

What examples of houses would no longer be reviewed under this criteria?

Maybe the WA critics will start adhering to WA policies and principles that have been in place for 30 years, now.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #9  Postby Eric LeVine » December 23rd 2009, 10:39am

J a y H a c k wrote:I met Antonio in New York about a month ago and he asked me to let everyone here know that not everyone "over there" was in league with the devil. His position on this issue seems to be a good example. Let's see if anyone else follows suit.

I have met Antonio and think he is terrific and quite genuine.

Brad, Claude, is there any way for you guys to coordinate with Antonio to maybe exert a little more positive and consistent pressure?

Separately, do all of the Terry Theise wines already contain disgorgement dates? If so are there other similarly progressive importers?
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #10  Postby R@y.Tupp@+sch » December 23rd 2009, 11:12am

Krug would be on the top of that list - both the Grande Cuvee and the Rose.


Daniel Posner wrote:What examples of houses would no longer be reviewed under this criteria?
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #11  Postby R@y.Tupp@+sch » December 23rd 2009, 11:23am

I think you would be hard pressed to find a person that has met Antonio that would have a dissenting opinion.

Eric LeVine wrote:I have met Antonio and think he is terrific and quite genuine.

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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #12  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 11:26am

Eric,

I do plan to contact Antonio about this; even if I may take a different view on things information is a good thing and hope Antonio has success in getting quicker movement. I've been pushing all and every producer to give more info on this for the last 3 years and as I mentioned above, things are starting to break. Others have been pushing as well. Disgorgement dates are going to be commonplace on Vintage cuvees. The NV stuff will take more time, but I think it will get there... just not right away.

Theise's wines should all carry a disgorgement date; they don't always as sometimes a producer conveniently "forgets", but Terry has been a stickler about this. Dan Kravitz is another one who has been a stickler on it, but he too has his producers forget from time to time.

As to putting the lot number of the Champagne in a review - without knowing how to decode it, I don't find this useful. The lot number can change multiple times a day and if you don't understand how it works, you can't really use it with any real value. I've been publishing a feature on how to decode lot numbers or cork codes of Champagne for almost a year now. I imagine Antonio is going to have to start doing the same thing now which is good as it puts more info out there for consumers.

Maybe the industry can move towards a common lot coding system. That would make things easier.

As far as reviewing Champagnes without published disgorgement dates, I still plan on doing so. I will also hold that a disgorgement date is not enough nor the true optimum for a NV cuvee. Knowing the base vintage, bottling date (base vintage would be the previous year), or at least the release (cuvee xxx) it came from is even more important.

I also don't understand why this is targeted only at NV cuvees? It is more important IMO to know the disgorgement date of a vintage cuvee than an NV cuvee as the disgorgements of a single vintage can vary by years and make a huge difference to the same wine. Maybe Antonio views this as a closed case since disgorgement dates are going to become standard on vintage cuvees over the next 1-3 years?

As for who wouldn't be reviewed under this new WA policy, we will have to wait and see what Antonio's thoughts are on the lot numbers as you could make a case for not reviewing anywhere from 0-90% of the NVs out there today.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #13  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 11:30am

Ray.Tuppatsch wrote:Krug would be on the top of that list - both the Grande Cuvee and the Rose.


Ray,

It will be interesting to see how this plays out for Krug and others in their category. When I last talked to Olivier and the Krug folks, they were still dead set against publishing clear disgorgement dates, but some thought that a "released from the cellar date" made sense for Collection bottlings and some could see using a clearer lot code to possibly give disgorgement information to consumers who really wanted to know.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #14  Postby Keith Levenberg » December 23rd 2009, 12:33pm

Disgorgement date, lot number, release date, the specifics don't matter - the important thing is coming up with some way to tell whether or not two identically labeled bottles of Champagne are actually the same wine. There is no point disseminating a review of any wine if it isn't a reproducible result.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #15  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 1:00pm

Keith,

I agree with you and my main point is that disgorgement dates (whether true dates or approximate dates derived from a lot number) on NV wines don't solve this problem. You need to get at a way of identifying the makeup of the wine in the bottle. Listing the base vintage is the simple solution. Combine it with a disgorgement date to make it even better.

Sounds simple, but as Charles Heidsieck will tell you - it leads to a drop in sales and confusion. Hence the Mis en Cave Brut Reserve is now just the Brut Reserve without all the cool details it used to have. When you start talking about financial impact, things tend to go slowly.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #16  Postby Daniel Posner » December 23rd 2009, 1:23pm

Ray.Tuppatsch wrote:I think you would be hard pressed to find a person that has met Antonio that would have a dissenting opinion.

Eric LeVine wrote:I have met Antonio and think he is terrific and quite genuine.



True dat, KA
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #17  Postby Keith Levenberg » December 23rd 2009, 2:18pm

Brad Baker wrote:I agree with you and my main point is that disgorgement dates (whether true dates or approximate dates derived from a lot number) on NV wines don't solve this problem.
They solve the problem as long as there aren't different batches of NVs disgorged on the same date. For any wines where that is the case I agree that additional information is needed.
Brad Baker wrote:You need to get at a way of identifying the makeup of the wine in the bottle. Listing the base vintage is the simple solution.
That would be nice but I suspect the real reason most houses would be reluctant to do this is that they have cultivated the image that the NV Champagne blend is a carefully crafted thing with vintages in deliberate proportions to preserve a consistent style. Revealing that each NV is, say, 80% the most recent vintage and 19% the vintage right before it would shatter this illusion.
Brad Baker wrote:Sounds simple, but as Charles Heidsieck will tell you - it leads to a drop in sales and confusion.
That's why it's nice that the WA is using its muscle to provide a financial incentive for producers to disclose. If NVs that choose to disclose can benefit from a WA shelf talker while others can't, it might mitigate or eliminate the impact on sales.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #18  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 2:46pm

Keith Levenberg wrote:They solve the problem as long as there aren't different batches of NVs disgorged on the same date.

Keith - sorry, but you're wrong here. A tasting note on NV Cuvee Blue with a disgorgement date of March 23, 2008 doesn't necessarily correlate with the wines in my area that were disgorged on March 22, 2008 and April 29, 2008. The wines in the bottle could be different. If all bottles were disgorged on one date then you would be okay, but they aren't and the same dates are not available in all areas.

Keith Levenberg wrote:That would be nice but I suspect the real reason most houses would be reluctant to do this is that they have cultivated the image that the NV Champagne blend is a carefully crafted thing with vintages in deliberate proportions to preserve a consistent style. Revealing that each NV is, say, 80% the most recent vintage and 19% the vintage right before it would shatter this illusion.

Listing the base vintage year is no different than the disgorgement date and actually gives you more solid info on the wine you are holding. The producers don't need to go into a lot of detail. A simple "based on xxxx" would work. Heck, they could put it in a lot number or in small print on the side of the front label (as some do).

As I said, I applaud the Antonio's action and support him (I've also made contact with him about this), but if the goal is having a review match a wine in the store, a disgorgement date isn't enough especially if you want to take the strong stand he is taking.

Think of it this way - you'd probably be pretty upset if vintage Champagne didn't give you a vintage date. Would you be happy if they just gave you a disgorgement date instead? So your 1996 Salon is now simply Salon disgorged in June 2006. It's better than just Salon with no details, but I'd rather know that Salon was from 1996.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #19  Postby Keith Levenberg » December 23rd 2009, 2:58pm

Brad Baker wrote:
Keith Levenberg wrote:They solve the problem as long as there aren't different batches of NVs disgorged on the same date.
Keith - sorry, but you're wrong here. A tasting note on NV Cuvee Blue with a disgorgement date of March 23, 2008 doesn't necessarily correlate with the wines in my area that were disgorged on March 22, 2008 and April 29, 2008. The wines in the bottle could be different. If all bottles were disgorged on one date then you would be okay, but they aren't and the same dates are not available in all areas.
You missed my point. If there is a tasting note on a 3/23/2008 disgorgement and you see a 3/23/2008 disgorgement in your store, you can match it to the note and know you're getting the same wine that was reviewed. That's all I was saying. The existence of other disgorgements doesn't change that. There may be other disgorgements of the same base wine that range from indistinguishable to noticeably different, but that's really besides the point. If the critic wants to do a little shoe-leather investigative reporting he can find that information and report it, but even if he doesn't his review is still useful for matching reviews to bottles, which is the main thing that matters.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #20  Postby Keith Levenberg » December 23rd 2009, 3:04pm

Brad Baker wrote:Listing the base vintage year is no different than the disgorgement date and actually gives you more solid info on the wine you are holding. The producers don't need to go into a lot of detail. A simple "based on xxxx" would work.
There are two different problems here. One problem is that it is sometimes impossible to match reviews to bottles. A second, completely separate problem is that it is sometimes impossible to know what is in those bottles. Antonio's move seems calculated towards solving problem #1, and you're complaining that it doesn't solve problem #2, but that's besides the point because it's not clear that he is interested in solving problem #2. I agree that I want to know what years my NV Champagnes are based on for various reasons, but if all you're concerned about is getting the same wine Antonio reviewed, you don't need to know the vintage base, you just need something, anything, to connect review and bottle.
Brad Baker wrote:Think of it this way - you'd probably be pretty upset if vintage Champagne didn't give you a vintage date. Would you be happy if they just gave you a disgorgement date instead? So your 1996 Salon is now simply Salon disgorged in June 2006. It's better than just Salon with no details, but I'd rather know that Salon was from 1996.
I'd actually be indifferent about that change so long as there was some way to know for sure that the 2006 disgorgement was the 1996 vintage. I might even prefer it since it could help keep prices down...
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #21  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 3:49pm

Keith,

If you go back to the premise of the issue, the problem remains that unless you can find the same exact disgorgement date of a wine, you can't necessarily match it to a review. That doesn't pass my smell test. There are too many different disgorgements of the same NV wine out there. If the goal is to simply be able to state the exact wine tasted so others can find the exact same wine then Antonio has accomplished that, but I hope that isn't his point (and I don't believe that it is). I don't believe it can simply be an attempt to focus on specific dates, it has to be a focus on an entire release (the disgorgement date listed with a base vintage is even better). My biggest concern with just listing the disgorgement date is that Champagne has already done research showing that when this particular path is taken, sales fall; you need more than a disgorgement date. Focusing on dates leads to people chasing specific NV disgorgements and ignoring others of the same exact wine. You get some of these same problems when you list the cuvee/release/base vintage and the disgorgement date, but you get more benefit.

Whenever possible (which grows greater each month), I include disgorgement dates with my tasting notes, but even more so, I add on the base vintage to the title of the wine to differentiate different NV cuvee releases. As we all know, the problem is that even if I and others can get this information, many consumers often can't. Champagne should be embarrassed about this and they should be called out. They have been numerous times going back decades and I'm glad Antonio is doing it again.

I stand by my point that it would be more valuable to push for some type of cuvee differentiator on NV blends. Disgorgement dates are nice, but they don't accomplish the point for NV wines like they do for Vintage wines.

Then again maybe I am crazy, misunderstanding the situation, and just plain out of touch.
Last edited by Brad Baker on December 23rd 2009, 9:57pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #22  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 3:50pm

Keith Levenberg wrote:....so long as there was some way to know for sure that the 2006 disgorgement was the 1996 vintage.


Keith, thanks for making my point.
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Re: Thank you Antonio Galloni!

Post #23  Postby Brad Baker » December 23rd 2009, 4:05pm

Keith Levenberg wrote:There are two different problems here. One problem is that it is sometimes impossible to match reviews to bottles. A second, completely separate problem is that it is sometimes impossible to know what is in those bottles. Antonio's move seems calculated towards solving problem #1, and you're complaining that it doesn't solve problem #2, but that's besides the point because it's not clear that he is interested in solving problem #2. I agree that I want to know what years my NV Champagnes are based on for various reasons, but if all you're concerned about is getting the same wine Antonio reviewed, you don't need to know the vintage base, you just need something, anything, to connect review and bottle.


Keith,

I will eat my words here. I just heard back from Antonio and while acknowledging that problem #2 does exist and needs to be solved, he is going after problem #1: linking a review to a specific bottle.

I do wish he had gone a little farther or maybe a slightly different direction, but it is a good move and one that we can all applaud.
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