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A conversation with Antonio Galloni: Part 3

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This is the third and final part of my conversation with Antonio. Here’s the link to part 1 and here’s the link to part 2.

SH:Let me ask this. Do you use regional organizations to assemble large tastings, like Napa Vintners? Or do you prefer to go to the individual wineries, which is more time-consuming but, as you say, you get more of the experience.

AG: So, in pretty much every region that I have, except for Burgundy, which is really domaine by domaine, there is some component of the tastings that are–let’s just take Napa Valley Vintners. The big tasting that I did in October was 12 days. Of those 12 days, Napa Valley Vintners set up 3-1/2. And the rest was estate visits.

SH: And how many wines did Napa Vintners–?

AG: I don’t remember exactly. It was several hundred.

SH: So why not do those blind, since you’re not on the property?

AG: Because I think you’d want to have all the wines tasted the same way. Otherwise, it’s not–I’d want to taste all the wines the same way.

SH: So what do you taste blind? When do you taste blind?

AG: The wines that we buy, later, on release, and other things. There’s wines coming in to my office all the time; I’m sure you know. But a typical tasting for me would be three vintages of each wine, okay?

SH: Like today.

AG: Like today. But I’m tasting wines from the barrel, too, okay? So let’s just say Phelps lines up 2008, 2009, 2010, Insignia, or their Cabernet, and Backus. If I hit a barrel sample blind that was not sulfured, or something is off, I might review that wine negatively. I mean, the review might be accurate of the wine, of what’s in the glass, but not really fair to the wine. Right? And so, when I come here, it’s usually three vintages for each one. And people don’t see. There’s a lot of this work that people don’t see. If I go to Scarecrow, or Harlan, or Colgin, or taste at Napa Valley Vintners, I always ask to taste three vintages, if possible. A lot of times they’re in barrel. And in this case, let’s just say it’s ‘08, ‘09 and ‘10, I don’t re-review the 2008s because Bob’s already reviewed those wines, and we just don’t have the space to re-review wines every year. But I have context. And then I review ‘09 and ‘10. And the questions that people ask of me and our peers are things like, these wines are pretty expensive, right? Couple hundred bucks a bottle, right? So people want to know, How does that vintage compare to other vintages? For example, how does 2009 compare to 2008, 2007, 2006?

SH: How do you know if you really were not familiar with those wines?

AG: Well, because I am familiar with those wines.

SH: 2006s?

AG: Of course.

SH: You weren’t working here then.

AG: That doesn’t mean I wasn’t tasting those wines.

SH: You were tasting California even when Parker wasn’t paying you to taste California?

AG: For myself, absolutely.

SH: How many Gallonis are there? You would need 25 Gallonis to go through all that stuff.

AG: I’ve been tasting California wine for twenty years, when I worked in restaurants. I saw the first vintages of Harlan, Alban. People don’t know that stuff, but it’s okay.

SH: How do  you keep your teeth healthy?

AG: My dentist has a lot of my money! I go often.

SH: It’s important, isn’t it?

AG: Yeah.

SH: You see a lot of older wine people and their teeth are, like–

AG: Every three months for cleaning. And if I get back from a trip and I want a quick polish or whatever, they’ll take care of it.

SH: What’s the one thing in California that’s surprised you the most since you got this job?

AG: The number of top estates where there are really young winemakers making wine. I think it’s fantastic.

SH: Thank you.

AG: So let me just say one last thing, while you have that thing on. You ask, how is this possible, how is this possible? For me, at the level I aspire to be, wine is not a job, it’s a lifestyle, you know? I’m sure it is for you, too. You’re surrounded by it all the time. I brought my wife and my kids out here this week. They travel with me as much as possible. We’re opening and tasting wine all the time. There’s wines that are being shipped to my office all the time. So there’s a chance to be tasting and retasting wines a lot. I mean, sometimes I’ll come here–this just happened to me a couple times–where people came to me. I tasted the 2009 and the producer said, “You know, I didn’t think our wines showed well, and we want to send them to you after they’ve been in bottle–”

SH: What do you say to that producer, when they call you up and they, “You know what? I think you got a bad bottle” or whatever?

AG: This is pre-review.

SH: But what do you do post-review, if somebody complains, and I’m sure they do, because we all get that. Do you have a standard response? Will you retaste?

AG: I don’t have a standard response, just because I try to do the best in each situation.

SH: So will you agree to retaste, if the producer says that doesn’t sound like the wine I sent you?

AG: Well, we’ll do everything we possibly can. I mean, we bend over backwards to be accurate. So, of course, if there’s a bottle with a problem, I’ll retaste it. It’s no problem. But it’s a lifestyle. We’re opening and drinking wines at our house all the time, tasting these wines all the time, and buying wines off the shelf.

SH: What time do you start tasting wine?

AG: 8:30, 9 a.m.

SH: What time do you stop?

AG: Sixish, sevenish.

SH: So literally tasting 10, 11 hours a day.

AG: Yeah. Take lots of breaks. And it depends on the style of wine. You know, California wine is one of the harder regions, because the wines have a lot of tannin. But I grew up on Barolo, Barbaresco, and after that things are pretty easy. When I go to Montalcino, which is Sangiovese, that’s like a walk in the park. Tasting 100 Brunellos, relative to Cabernets or Nebbiolos, seems very easy. And it just depends on the vintages. I always tell people this, because it’s true: when the wines are great, I don’t ever feel tired. I’m just so energized. What’s the next great wine I’m going to taste?

SH: Okay.

AG: Is that it? Does it work?

SH: It does! Thank you. You’re a nice person and a gentleman.

  1. What an insightful and well-conducted interview. It’s very apparent from this interview that Mr. Galloni cares very much about what he does, has lots of integrity and is thoughtful about his job.

    So cool to read interviews like his. Thank you Steve.

  2. What the wine industry needs more of, real conversations.

  3. Good interview. Good questions were asked, and surprisingly informative answers were given. Maybe it needs wider distribution, like maybe in print?

  4. What Patrick said. I’d love to see this more widely circulated and in print.

    I hope this interview gets as much attention, if not more, than some of the negative press that seems to go viral these days. Two gents having an honest and thought-provoking conversation about wine criticism. Who knew?

  5. Awesome Interview! Thanks Steve for keeping it real.

  6. Carlos Toledo says:

    Hi Steve. To begin with i like the way you led the interview. When you know what to ask that shows you know your stuff.

    Second: When Antonio says a few times that “Bob may like that wine x and i won’t like it so much”, that bugged me a little.

    When people like you (big star) and i (moron critic, but yet a critic) review wines we’re not supposed to grade wines having in mind our enjoying them or not.

    I don’t like the torrontes grape, but if the wine scores big points based on all those levels the 100 points give me, i have to give it a nice score.

    It’s a 100 points system, developed by no other than Robert The Parker himself.

    At the end of the day, month, year, decade, do they attribute the scores based on what they like or do they follow the points distribution by the book?

    Really confused. These people only make the wine world more blurry to the Average Joe…

    Auguri.

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  1. Should Wine Critics Always Taste Blind? « Edible Arts - [...] critic for the Wine Enthusiast.(Here is Meadows, Parts 1 and 2. Here is Gallioni, Parts 1, 2, and 3.) …

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