Galloni's True Colors Come Shining Through...

Interesting thread over on the Vinous board. A fellow I know, a passionate collector of Nebbiolo and Burgundy, came up with a great idea, and posted it there. He, like many others, laments the loss of Tanzer’s input on the Piemonte and Brunello, and Ian d’ Agata’s coverage of Tuscany, particularly his always-excellent Chianti coverage. Thus, he came up with the idea that perhaps Tanzer, d’ Agata and Galloni could all assemble now and then and taste together for a day or two, tasting a number of, say, 2010 Baroli, and then sharing their impressions with Vinous readers. All would be tasting at the same time from the same bottles of wine, so the vagaries of tasting the wines at different times from barrel and bottle would be eliminated. He proposed the same for Tuscany and Burgundy as well. He believes that it would be a “fun, interesting and enlightening exercise”, which indeed it would. (And he even proposed that John Gilman be invited, which, while extremely unlikely for obvious reasons, would surely goose up the “fun” component!)

At first, Galloni brushed off the idea with a terse “thanks for the suggestion. I will see what we can do.” Then the board’s # 1 poster (by volume, not by weight) chimed in with his support for the idea, and went so far as to suggest that the approach could shed some interesting light on wines like the 2008 Clericos and Giacosas and the 2010 Monprivato, all wines that Galloni has taken considerable heat for having misjudged (at least from me!). And then Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Transparency, turned Mr. Defensive, as follows:

"As always, we are grateful for the feedback and all the ideas that come out of this board. The idea of getting a two or more of our critics together to discuss a subset of wines is interesting. I did this with Bob Parker a few times in CA, and we filmed it, so this concept is not totally new.

At the same time, I want to make it clear that Vinous will has [sic] no intention of doing the following:

  1. Consensus reviews, team reviews, whatever you want to call it.
    Every review published by our critics is the result of a lifetime of experience in wine. I can fully appreciate that that may be hard to glean when you are looking at a few sentences that describe a wine, but that’s just the way it is. What you are getting is one person’s point of view based on a considerable amount of experience. I can watch Roger Federer rip a forehand down the line. It looks so easy. Right? Anyone can do that, right, I mean how hard can it be? Well, try and you will find out.

  2. Send out multiple critics to review the same region
    The world of wine is increasingly complex. There are more better new wines to review pretty much everywhere. Being even more comprehensive is our focus. It makes no sense to send out two people to cover the exact same wines. Wine reviews are not music, the news, movies or sport where you can get a panel together to discuss a small, focused subject. Our team now reviews tens of thousands of wines each year and growing.

To me, there is nothing controversial about 2008 Clerico, 2008 Giacosa, 2010 Monprivato etc. Why? Because in many cases I tasted those wines from barrel years before they were released. [The 2010 Monprivato was re-tasted from bottle.] That’s not to say everyone here has to agree with me, far from it, but I can guarantee you every word I and our team writes is carefully considered.

Lastly, I think some readers are seeking perfection from critics. Guess what…even the best athletes miss shots, make mistakes etc., even in the most crucial of moments. Same of world-class musicians, investors, CEOs etc. Critics are not infallible. What we offer is opinions built on years and decades of tasting and visiting the world’s top estates."

Uh-huh. First, I note that nobody suggested that there be reviews by committee or multiple reviewers sent to the same region. Galloni’s overreaction and misdirection in that regard is embarrassing. Let me parse his commentary for you:

“Every review published by our critics is the result of a lifetime of experience in wine. I can fully appreciate that that may be hard to glean when you are looking at a few sentences that describe a wine, but that’s just the way it is.”

Indeed. And the original poster is justifiably interested in the “lifetimes of experience” of Tanzer and d’ Agata, both of whom have been at this for decades, vis a vis Galloni, whose “lifetime”, by his own admission in his Vinous biography, is all of a decade long: “Antonio Galloni’s career as one of the most trusted and respected wine critics in the world spans nearly a decade.” I understand that limitation. I understand why he does not want to facilitate head-to-head comparison with two established reviewers whose credentials eclipse his own. However, would be hard-pressed to argue that doing so is not in the best interest of his readers. Did he not merge with IWC to buy an archive of quality reviews that Vinous could obtain no other way? And if he was comfortable going head-to-head on tape with The Emperor of Wine (well, SCRIPTED, methinks), what would be the problem with doing that with your own talent?

Surely he is right that one can glean little or nothing from “a few sentences that describe a wine”, especially his empty “ironic, epic, drop-dead gorgeous” hyperbole, but what are we to make of it when the same fellow who has told us repeatedly how important it is to read the tasting notes and not just look at the scores is now telling us that the tasting notes are hard to glean anything from and “that’s just the way it is.” WTF? “That’s just the way it is”? WHY is it “that way”, and why cannot Vinous take the lead and do better? His point 2 answers that. For no good reason, his team is reviewing “tens of thousands of wines each year and growing”, instead of saying something meaningful about a smaller number of wines. That does not serve subscribers. That serves retailers and reviewer egos. It shows a distinct lack of judgment as to how wine reviewing should be approached. Vinous is not alone in that, but it has fallen into the same old WA and WS trap of believing that more is better. It is not. More is not even more in wine reviewing. More is less, and less is more. And not only that, but we are now seeing holes in important coverage, Barolo, Burgundy, Brunello, potentially everything but Bordeaux and CdP at the Wine Advocate, while reviewers are in Timbuktu seeking out yam wines.

As backhanded as it is, I was at least pleased to see him offer an explanation, or an apology, or SOMETHING, in response to the Clerico/Giacosa/Monprivato trifecta. Of course, not a single poster in the thread made the slightest suggestion that wine reviewers are infallible. Indeed, the core idea goes quite in the other direction…no one reviewer is infallible, all come at a given glass of wine from different paths of experience and perspective, and sharing perspectives is at the heart of the enjoyment of fine wine, is it not? Well, at least it is if one’s insecurities and need to preserve a certain self-image do not get in the way, as they have for Galloni in this instance. Nobody has ever expected wine reviewers to be perfect. We just want them to man up (or woman up), re-taste and admit it when they have made mistakes. Neither Parker nor Galloni has that gear, apparently.

Let me close with, well, perhaps the most thoughtless thing that the uber-defensive Mr. Galloni has ever said:

“Wine reviews are not music, the news, movies or sport where you can get a panel together to discuss a small, focused subject.”

Really? Are not the tastings that an overwhelming majority of participants on this board live for “panels” who get together to discuss a small, focused subject"? Do wine reviewers not sponsor events where they sit at the same dais sipping the same wine and giving their impressions? Is Neal Mollen’s Asylum thread not that very thing for music, and are a lot of people not doing exactly that with the news, sports, movies and everything else under the sun in the Asylum? No answers to these questions required. They are, of course, rhetorical…

I love the simile of the forehand, though champagne.gif

Sometimes when people lash out verbally, its not really about the ‘provocation’ but about some other deep rooted anxiety.

Are not the tastings that an overwhelming majority of participants on this board live for “panels” who get together to discuss a small, focused subject"? Do wine reviewers not sponsor events where they sit at the same dais sipping the same wine and giving their impressions?

As to the first, yes.

My guess is that those don’t count because the people are not “professionals”. Which is kind of funny since I’ve had many a dinner with a number of people who have been in the business in one way or another for much longer than ten years. So maybe they’re not professional critics. They only taste and decide if they can sell the wine or not, while the other participants figure out if they want to buy it or not, or if they’re happy they bought it.

As to the second, do people on the dias all give their impressions of the wine? I’ve never attended an event where I would have to pay to listen to reviewers, so I don’t know. Or are those events where the lead critic or reviewer either gives his impressions, or moderates while people ITB give theirs? The Garnacha fiasco Parker had in Rioja a few years ago comes to mind.

Actually he could take a page from Bob’s book and do some kind of event like that with the caveat that the “official” scores are not what comes out of that tasting.

Far, far, far more interesting to me would be to see the critics taste and rate the wines blind. I’d even spot them a few points - I’d give them the region and all the wines would be the same vintage.

It’s actually not a bad idea. If you go into it with some humility, it could be and endearing way to show that you’re not super-human just because you charge people to read your opinions. I think Arv has a point above.

I can see his defensiveness - he’s bought the business, made his changes and then someone suggests he should do it differently.

In hindsight, a smart operator says “good idea, I’ll chat with them and if all agree, we’ll set one up to see how it goes”. In the meantime his plan goes forward, and he gets to receive feedback on the trial, which he can review as he sees fit. He’s not lost control, but rather ensured he controls the testing out of new ideas (and what to do thereafter).


Yup, Galloni clearly feeling pressure and in times like those, one should really take their time in responding with a clear head. Any time I see a quick response in a high pressure situation like this, I prepare for the worst.

Great idea about the panel, however that would help take them off their pedestal sort to speak, exactly what they don’t want to do.

Galloni learned at the feet (of clay) of the master of high-handed dismissiveness, self-delusion, obfuscation, and inability to reassess past judgments/pronouncements. Perhaps Galloni is Parker’s true heir, after all. These guys think they are Popes of Wine.

Counselor Klapp: Back when you were practicing law, how receptive were you to others instructing how it was you should do your work?

I like Galloni, much more than any other notable professional critic (for regions other than Burgundy, that is). But this part of his response is pure misdirection. All of these situations he compares himself to are ones that require decisions and choices in the moment, that can’t be undone or changed later. A wine reviewer can spend as much time as he wants with a particular wine. Can go back and try it again, updating or changing a review if he cares to. If a critic can’t take some feedback, and go back and look again at a particular wine, he’s not doing himself or us any favors.

Doesn’t really matter, the only critic who should matter to anyone is that person himself.

Needs more white smoke (from the pain grille perhaps, though in my experience, burnt toast releases black smoke).

Ian - your suggestion is basic PR. Anyone who has ever faced a hostile audience learns to do exactly that. It seems that critics are somehow unable to grasp those principles. I wonder why.

Is it because they are usually addressed with great deference by people who don’t want their wines to be punished with low ratings and by consumers who accord them some kind of mini-celebrity status?

Parker’s inability to do that has really tarnished his lifetime of work. And the person who now handles all of that shows no particular deftness.

Galloni was a little smoother and should have kept in mind that if he’s irritated, fewer words are better than more.

“I’ll get back to you,” is all he had to say. The OP would have felt happy, the discussion would have turned to other things, and at some point in the future Galloni could organize some kind of event that purports to include recommendations from the readers but that actually pretty much ignores anything he doesn’t feel like doing, and everyone would be happy.

BTW Michael - I don’t need to answer for Bill but the question is irrelevant and misguided. If you’re litigating or otherwise working on behalf of a client, your job is to represent that client and make that client happy. You don’t care what the rest of the world might think of you. And if it’s a politically charged case, and you’re handling PR, you do exactly as Ian has said - you don’t fan the flames. Make people think you’re listening and considering.

In this case, the “clients” are the readers and participants on the forum. You damned straight better pay attention to them because they pay your salary. Unless you have deep-pocketed friends who do that.

The best lawyering is collaborative. The best lawyers continually think, revise; think and revise. The most important thing that good young lawyers learn that helps them become great lawyers is not to believe their own bullshit. Once an ‘advocate’ starts believing his own bullshit, he becomes useless to his client.

geez, it is just a fun idea for a one time tasting, not a revolution in work ethic and performance. Sort of a roundtable discussion of a controversial, current topic as is done at many professional conferences. Love the post, Mr. Klapp. Unfortunate that it was shut down.

Here, let me help you: Straw man - Wikipedia

That’s hilarious, Adrian So!

I think the thread title clarifies the intent of the thread.

This is what happens when a subjective, somewhat artistic, and certainly entirely entertainment-oriented activity gets mixed with business. The activity is the enjoyment of wine. As deeply subjective to experience as any stimulating diversion, perhaps even more so given the challengingly personal and varying vocabulary of taste and smell.

Galloni’s entire career, financial livelihood, and likely a strong sense of his self, is built on being a respected judge of wines. More than most business people, he mixes the professional and personal so much that they are unentangle-able. He writes about his personal and private dinners with as much enthusiasm & detail as he writes about any formal wine tasting/review. I don’t judge him for this – I’m kind of amazed by it to be honest, and I find Vinous to be a valuable and reliable resource. But it also explains why he might react strongly to an implication that his judgments can be improved.

Ultimately, this idea of a tasting triad questions calls into question his abilities to go it alone. Regardless of whether it is a good idea or not (I for one think it is awesome, and I’d love to see Vinous take more advantage of the prodigious skills of Tanzer and d’Agata) that implication clearly bugs the crap out of AG.

The funny thing is that the comparative group tasting is something that many of us love. What is more fun than getting together with a crew of similarly experienced wine lovers, drinking a few (dozen) bottles and comparing notes? The ‘big names’ in wine review publishing would be great at this. I’m sure they do it in private, maybe they’ll figure out a way to share their notes some time.

Thanks! I try to provide a spot of humour for lazy Sunday afternoons. Glad you enjoyed it. If there’s anything I need, it’s Michael S. Monie’s unconditional validation of what I do, which I now have.

Looking forward to you winning again in 2015!

You are kidding, right? Obviously, you have never been a young associate in a Wall Street law firm. You are told by senior associates and partners not only how to do your job, but when you will do it (typically late at night and all weekend, at the expense of family and a personal life). I was very receptive. It is how one learns and gets to be partner. Second point: I was a professional who had to run a gauntlet the equivalent of a Ph. D. program and THEN had to sit for a bar examination (4 in my case). When I quit the law game, clients were happily paying $700 an hour for my opinions and writing, because I was a wily old lawyer with over two decades of experience at the highest level of my profession, and I could help make them obscene amounts of money. (However, for that price, they got no scores or tasting notes.) Galloni has music and business degrees and prior experience as a waiter and a couple of years as a junior investment banker, none of which qualifies him to pass judgment on wines. He serves at the pleasure of the paying customers, or he does not serve at all. And the customer is always right in situations like this. Ask Lisa over at WA about higher overhead and a shrinking subscription base…