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December 05, 2011


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Well said. As we are talking about this year at the EWBC, "become a source" of information. There is a ton of opportunity for bloggers, tweeters, or other "talkers" to create their image as a source of information on one topic, style, idea.

The one thing about a drive-by visit is that it is somewhat representative of what a consumer might experience, so it's helpful from that perspective. Re-visits can then amend and flesh out that initial experience.

I agree with you and believe there is a growing group of consumers who want to know more about the wines and foods they are consuming. This emerging group will seek more than tasting notes and a number - they want to know the source of the information has a methodology that is allied with their personal beliefs.

Wow. NINE wineries in one day???

Sure, a quick visit shows you something, but to get a real story it takes much more time.

As you know I spent hours with winemakers in the Finger Lakes on a week trip just a few weeks ago. And I could still ask more.

I spent 4 days with a Washington winemaker in October and I still have questions.

I want my writing to share something new with my readers, something that touched me about the wine or winemaker or winery owner, or an idea to try something new and why... not just a quick fleeting taste, but a real story.

My readers deserve that, in my opinion.

Where is the evidence of "the dilution of quality at industry titans such as the Advocate,.."? Though you mention questions over whether Galloni is spread to thin or not, where is the evidence the quality of his writing has suffered? Which other WA writers are writing less quality work now?

And which other "industry titans" have diluted quality now?

WA has a set format, which is primarily wine reviews. That has worked for them for many years and they still have a significant readership. It may not be the type of writing some people enjoy to read, but it all depends on the audience. I myself prefer more stories about the wine, but others differ.

Specialization is good for some but not everyone. And certain niches are far more difficult to specialize in than others, especially dependent on one's location and the extent one wants to cover that niche. For example, a blogger in CA would have a more difficult time covering only NY wines, as it would be much harder to visit NY wineries cause of the distance. And vice versa.

Niches tend to have a smaller readership as they don't appeal to everyone. How many Americans would read a blog devoted to just the wines of Georgia (country, not state)? There is a need for generalists, who will cover all of the different areas, especially those that get short shrift elsewhere.

Some writers don't want to be restricted to a certain category of wine. I know I do not. But even specialists seem to want to expand to some degree. NYCR has far more food coverage than it once did. And you have your What We Drank column, allowing reviews of non-NY wines.

As you said, specialization can lead to cheerleading and I am sure we have all seen examples of that. It can happen with generalists as well, but it tends to be more common with specialists as they are closer to their subjects.

I judge each wine writer, magazine or blogger or their own merits, whether a specialist or generalist.

Not everyone enjoys pontification...

Thank you for another thoughtful essay. I agree with Richard but Amy seems to have too narrow a view.

The Advocate simply reviews, few "stories" are found on their pages.

Why bother with a short visit when wines can be tasted in the office? I believe Parker's philosophy is to know something about the owner and winemaker's methodology and beliefs. My own experience talking and listening to winemakers has been that it takes little time to find this out. In fact, they will readilly expound on their philosophy with no hesitation or delay even if more hours may be necessary to create a story or a column.

My own experience has been that The Adovocate's reviews are the most reliable with the rest trailing behind in some disorderly fashion. Thankfully, Lenn and his merry crew at the Cork Report is ahead of that pack!

Richard - As occasionally happens on these pages, I post my thoughts, you add yours, and I realize what I missed. I say that with complete sincerity. I think you've nailed it. Let me elaborate a bit.

First, regarding dilution of quality: There is no direct way to prove "evidence" of quality dilution. This is an opinion. I find the Advocate to be much diminished, and I think Galloni is excellent in reviewing Italian wines! In fact, I'm not a big fan of tasting notes, but Galloni's can be among the best out there. His tasting notes often tell the reader more than just a point score; we gain context, sometimes a bit of history, occasionally a look into winemaker intent. That's precisely why I'm so surprised that Galloni can whirl through visits with such speed. He seems to value tasting note writing more than his peers; much more so than his boss, anyway.

I certainly don't want to be limited to writing only about NY wine. I'm thrilled to write monthly pieces for Palate Press and a number of other publications. Most of the time, I write about places or producers with whom I've visited directly (witness my recent writing about Italy). But not always. It's not a necessity, but for those who routinely cover a region - a beat, if you will - I do find it vital.

On Twitter, Victor de la Serna posed a great question: If it's all about the point score, why visit at all? Why not just taste wines in the office, which is a more clinical place to evaluate them (if that's what you're going for).

Certain niches are never going to attract huge audiences. NYCR is one, you might say. That's fine with us; we're going to do the best work we can, and it will attract an audience organically.

I don't think you and I are far apart on this matter. I view Galloni with high expectations; I think he's very good, but being asked to do a whole lot. He writes notes in a way that indicates he is more than a point machine.

Ted - Excellent points, and I see you made the same remark that Victor made on Twitter (as I referenced above). Covering a wine region, even when you're simply offering clinical reviews and point scores, is a heck of a lot of work. As a reader, I'd like more than that, but certainly readers differ in what they seek.

Hi Evan:
How do you feel the WA quality has diminished? Are the tasting notes not accurate? Has the quality of the review writing gone down? Are Galloni's non-Italian wine notes of less quality? I understand it is your opinion, which you are certainly entitled to, but I have trouble seeing how WA quality has diminished, especially when it is primarily tasting notes.

And which are other "industry titans" have diluted quality now?

There is some validity to maybe they should simply taste the wines in their offices. But maybe they still want to see the wineries, to have the opportunity to speak to the wine makers if they need to. Even if they have 9 wineries scheduled, maybe they won't make them all if they choose to stay longer at one spot. It probably would be nice if they could stay longer at each place, but there might be reasons for it that we just don;t know.

As for the niche thing, our views are probably pretty close. I have plenty of respect for the niche wine bloggers out there. But it is not for everyone and there is a need for more generalists as well.

Thanks for your kind words as well.

Richard - At Advocate, the quality plunged with more and more work being handed to Jay Miller. He assumed duties in regions he knew nothing about, and it shows. With Galloni, I'm making an assumption that I think is fair: He is being drawn away from his strength, Italian wines. I find that disappointing. Will he have strength in all of these new regions of coverage? Maybe, but he doesn't have experience there. And he has all kinds of passion for Italian wines; it's evident and admirable.

I think Spectator does a stronger job in general, and it's more to my liking: I appreciate field reports, I like stories about specific vineyards and sense of place, and I dig personal stories. I have less experience with Enthusiast, which seems wobbly.

If I were Galloni, I'd be sensitive to making sure I didn't insult Burgundian wineries. I'm sure he's way ahead of me on this score. But I can tell you that I've accidentally insulted winemakers by cutting off visits or canceling entirely.

Dear Evan -

Just a few points of clarification your readers might find of interest:

1. Italy - I have covered Italy for the Wine Advocate for 5 years. Each year I have offered our readers coverage of all the major regions, not just the 'tried and true.' Are you looking for reviews of wines from Sicily, Sardinia, Campania, Alto Adige, Valle d'Aosta, Veneto, Lombardia, ect? They are there, just take a look. In addition, when I joined the WA I started doing verticals on Italian wines that are now in fashion, but that no one was doing before.

2. Burgundy - I will have spent 6 weeks in Burgundy in 2011. I have visited most of the reference producers more than once this year alone. You can do a day of many visits if you 1) start early, 2) place visits together, 3) ask that wines from barrel to be prepared in advance and 4) use the lunch hour for a tasting.

If I go to Clos des Lambrays (6 wines), Clos de Tart (8 ish wines) or Sylvie Esmonin (10 wines), those are visits I can do in 1 hour, since I have already seen the growers just a few months ago, and one of the vintages I am tasting (in this case 2009) I have already reviewed from barrel, so the in-the-bottle tasting is more about understanding how the wine is showing post-bottling, and to what extent, if any, the wine(s) is/are shutting down. I am disciplined with time, but no more so than a professional athlete is with regards to diet and or workout regime. Today I visited Dujac. It was a big tasting of all the 2009s and 2010s. I allowed 2.5 hours, which was just about right. It is simply a matter of organization.

I work 12, 14 sometimes 16+ hour days. I am motivated by an extreme passion for the world's great wines, and the people who make those wines. Hopefully that comes through from time to time.

Antonio - Thanks for stopping in and clarifying the process. As I've mentioned repeatedly in this thread, I have no doubt about your passion, particularly for Italian wines. Your work in Italy is excellent and appreciated. And your work ethic is impressive, but indicative of a man who has a full plate - and then some!

Do you disagree that, if you did not need to cover California and Burgundy and Champagne, you could spend more time with more producers in Italy? I find Italy fascinating and inspiring. On a recent trip to Italy I was moved by a Gagliopo. So many varieties to discover! I confess I was making an assumption: When you have less time to visit a country's producers, I assume you will visit more recognized producers in more recognized regions first. I fear the fascinating varieties that go far beyond the usual will have less focus.

Finally, do you find that you can evaluate a wine equally as successfully with the producer as you can in a clinical, office setting?

Cheers, and many thanks.

I should add that another of my favorite specialized reviewers is Advocate's David Schildknecht. He will have to pick up some of the slack from the departure of Jay Miller, which is too bad. David's work in Germany is of the highest quality. The addition of Jay Miller five years ago was clearly a mistake, but Robert Parker has also made some excellent additions to his staff in Galloni and Schildknecht. I only hope they can continue to cover the areas that they so highly excel in covering.


It is a matter of balancing coverage for our readers, and giving our subscribers the coverage they want most, along with hopefully exposing them to new things along the way.

I don't see my assignments in California, Champagne and Burgundy as burdens. I spent 3.5 weeks just in Napa Valley this year and loved it. I spent over 2.5 months in Italy this year, including all of July and August, which allowed me to see the period leading up the harvest in numerous regions, where I also filmed video interviews with a number of growers in their vineyards.

Wines will always reveal different facets of their personalities depending on the setting. Tasting with a producer lets you get more context, while a tasting in an office might allow you to do a more comparative tasting across a number of wines.

Antonio - You have a motor that most can't comprehend, I think! I agree that balance is a great thing to strive for; I don't seek to malign your work in, say, California. I simply have come to rely on your work in Italy, which seems so natural for you. The wine world is simply huge, and growing, and the demands on you must be intense. While I can't come around to the notion that your work in Italy is unchanged by the new assignments, I admire your vigor for the endeavor.

Thanks for the post, Evan. There isn't much that I can add to this discussion -- you, Richard and Antonio did a fine job -- but I would like to applaud the fact that at least Antonio (and most, if not all, of the writers I respect most) visits the regions that he is responsible for.

I often wonder how some writers can really feel comfortable writing extensively about any region, or even winery, without setting foot there -- at least once and better regularly.

I can speak from personal experience that I had tasted many Finger Lakes wines before visiting the region several years ago -- but after walking the vineyards and meeting the men and women behind those wines I felt a connection to them and a personal depth with them that simply can't be achieved remotely. The same is true of my admittedly brief visit to Niagara USA in the spring. I hunger to go back to meet more people, spend time with those that I've met already and immerse myself.

Seems like this discussion was linked to by Eric Asimov in the "What We're Reading" part of the NYTimes' "Diner's Journal" blog.

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