Antonio Galloni, founder of vinousmedia.com, and, prior to that, selected-regions' wine critic for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, recently was interviewed by Liv-ex with the results published on the liv-ex blog in two parts. In responding to a question on the impact of wine critics on markets and growers, Galloni stated thusly (as it relates to the grower part of the question): "I firmly believe that it is not a critic's role to tell growers -- or even suggest by way of commentary/criticism -- how to make wine. Any sense of giving direction to growers is completely antithetical to my philosophy." I call this the "Galloni Doctrine."
Tom Stevenson, according to wine-pages.com, "is the world's most respected authority on Champagne and sparkling wine." Stevenson has authored The World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, the Annual Champagne and Sparkling Wine Guide, and Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, among others. Stevenson has been called "the champagne expert with the greatest depth of knowledge" (Simon Field MW -- champagne buyer of BBR -- as quoted in Patrick Schmitt, Points take on greater importance for Prestige Cuvées, The Drinks Business, 6/20/2012) and this depth has yielded in excess of 30 writing awards and numerous assignments with a number of hardcopy and online publications.
As I pointed out in my article on Jacques Selosse, Stevenson has been one of the most searing and persistent critics of Selosse's wines. According to Tom Hall, Stevenson omitted any mention of Selosse in the 1998 First Edition of Christie's World Encyclopedia of Sparkling Wines; and when he did mention it in the 2007 version, he described it as being too oaky. In his 2008 review of Selosse (The World of Fine Wine, Issue 21), Stevenson confirms the latter part of Hall's statement. He indicated that, in the 2007 edition of Sotheby's Wine Encyclopedia, he had stated that the wines had too much oak for his liking and that he did not "appreciate the style but appreciated that others did." Up until this point, Stevenson is a little close to the line but his critique still keeps him in the Galloni critics circle -- in that he is not telling Selosse "how to make wine."
But then he blows through the boundaries. In that same 2008 Selosse review article, Stevenson says: "Although there is no doubt in my mind about Anselme's passion, or the potential of his terroir, or indeed the quality of the grapes he produces each year, the wines do not live up to either his abilities or his terroir. They are too oxidative, too aldehydic, and too oaky, lacking in freshness, finesse and vivacity ..." In other words, buck up and make wines that live up to your ability and terroir. And you can do that by reducing the oxidative, aldehydic, and oaky nature of your wines. And in case the implication is missed, Stevenson states directly "I would love to see him make just one non-aldehydic cuvée." This Stevenson critique of Selosse's wines would, according to the Galloni Doctrine, constitute telling a grower how to make wine. And that is taboo in his book.
In a recent wine-searcher.com article on underrated and overrated Champagnes, Stevenson continued in the same vein. He began by identifying Bollinger as overrated and then tagged Selosse as "much worse than Bollinger and more expensive too." He wondered about Selosse using SO₂ at harvest rather than at the back-end, classing such an approach as "back to front." His suggestion was to use the SO₂ at the back end thus giving the yeasts the opportunity to suck up early stage oxygen during the first and second fermentations. This is very clearly winemaking advice and, as such, at odds with the Galloni Doctrine.
Now I am in no way implying that Galloni is in any way reacting to Stevenson's actions to date in either developing or discussing his "doctrine." It is most likely that his thoughts were developed within the context of his own values and experiences and is primarily a self-regulating vehicle. Nor am I saying that Galloni's "doctrine" is an approach that should be used as a framework or guiding principle for all wine critics. I juxtaposed his thoughts and Stevenson's actions as a way to generate some dialogue on the matter. My cautionary note is that the critic will never have the full array of information that the winemaker possesses when he/she puts a wine on the market. Maybe the critic should criticize what is rather than wish for what should be. I don't know. What do you think?
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