Does Tanzer love new oak?

Curious as I am perusing many of his reviews from Burgundy and find that many of the ‘not so traditional producers’ that are generally associated with ‘fuller’ Burgundy have huge scores.
The common comment on Tanzer is that he is a somewhat traditional reviewer that is somewhat ‘reserved’ in his reviews, but if you check, Dugat, Dominique Laurent, ect,(which most consider modern) they all have huge reviews.

So is this just Burgundy, because this is the only region that I have seen this to be true?

In my opinion a good reviewer should rate the quality - and not the style. He should nevertheless describe the style so a consumer gets a picture of what he can expect - but the decision (preferring traditional vers. modern producers) should be left to him.
But for the overal quality a good reviewer is important (if one cannot taste the wine himself)

+1, well put!

This begs the question, assuming that there is an objective standard of quality that allows quality and style to be determined independently of one another. I don’t find this to be accurate, though I understand how the illusion exists.

There is enormous social pressure to be viewed as “fair,” so it is much more comfortable to believe that one’s judgments are not being heavily influenced by stylistic preferences. The illusion is reinforced by the fact that sometimes one can accurately identify that a wine is a good example of a style the drinker dislikes. But the further the style diverges from one’s own preferences, the less reliable that assessment is likely to be.

A few examples come to mind to try to illustrate my point. Many years ago, a friend poured me a Kongsgaard Chardonnay. I disliked it quite a bit, but thought that it was an excellent example of ripe, rich, oaky California Chardonnay, it seemed fairly complex, and I noticed no obvious flaws so I advised a friend who likes that style to get on the list and he loved it. But the keys to my successful analysis were that, though I don’t like the style, I can tolerate it, and some degree of luck. I can guess whether a wine that exceeds my preferences regarding weight, richness, ripeness, and oak will appeal to those who prefer wines of that style, but it can be little more than an educated guess.

In contrast, I had a 2009 Pavie yesterday, which has been highly rated by a number of critics. I honestly can’t understand it. It was cloyingly ripe on the nose, but on the palate it was weedy, harshly tannic, and short, with the ripeness only apparent from the noticeable alcohol. It was an awful wine with pretty much nothing to redeem it, other than that it was less offensive than the excrable 2005 tasted blind a couple of years ago. To my knowledge, there is no objective standard of wine evaluation in which tannic, weedy, and short indicates quality. It may be that other people are tasting things that I don’t, but I’m confident (or perhaps arrogant) enough to take the position that if the quality isn’t readily apparent to me, having had hundreds of young Bordeaux over the past 20 years, many if not most of them blind, that there is no objective basis to call this a great wine.

I stopped subscribing to Tanzer years ago, so I can’t answer the question. But I do agree with Gerhard here. Points can quantify quality levels (to a degree), while notes are essential to qualify styles.

I have no problem accepting that there can be quality wines made in a style that I don’t like. That’s not to say that every wine with a few fans is a quality wine. But in a field where there is a significant subjective component, it would be arrogant to proclaim that all wines not in alignment with one’s preferences lack quality.

So Mike, you did for your friend what we hope the good critic can do: advise on a variety of styles, even those not in his wheelhouse.

I’d agree with you on this - they perhaps ought to describe the wine as accurately as they can within the confines of a single palate, but then the score should be their own opinion. Objective assessment of quality is a myth though there are wines where there would be a very strong concensus that wine a was better than wine b.

A good example last night was a sauternes drunk with friends. Not one I’d heard of before but I felt it was very true to type and I would have been happy if a ‘name’ label had been that tasty. Yet one of the group thought it ok, but she couldn’t get past her general dislike of sweet wines. So in her eyes it was a poor wine, bordering on unpleasant yet for me was really very good. This is an extreme example but there are many other examples e.g. differing appreciation of a touch of bitterness in (e.g. Sangiovese). Then there’s appreciation of ‘animal’ or ‘funky’ aromas, levels of acidity, complexity vs. intensity, primary vs secondary vs. tertiary, intolerance, tolerance or love of tannins. Our tastes do differ.

The idea that there is an objective standard of quality that can be evaluated apart from style is charming but hardly realistic. Parker used to offhandedly dismiss Loire reds as underripe and green. He took shit for it. He shouldn’t have had to. From his perspective the wine a Chinon generally renders is, as he would say, under wined. That is a quality flaw for him. If you don’t share his view, as I don’t, you shouldn’t pay any attention to him, but you shouldn’t blame him for judging a style rather than quality. For him the two are the same. Some members of this board and wine disorder, who dislike wines they consider overripe and too high in alcohol, routinely dismiss Chateauneuf du Pape. For them, there is no difference between Clos St. Jean and Pegau. They are both overripe and too high in alcohol. And if one thinks that alcohol above, say 12.5% is a flaw, a determination that you think is one of style is for them one of quality. My choice of Clos St. Jean was deliberately tendentious. As a longtime fan of CdP, I think high alcohol comes with the territory (though even I have my limits), but I really don’t like the polished, slushy tannin style the Cambie touch produces. I understand that lots of people love Clos St. Jean’s wines and I’m fine with that. But if I were a reviewer, I would be as a bad as Parker and those who don’t tolerate any CdPs. I can tell it’s a style I don’t like, but I doubt I could much distinguish between a good and a bad version of the style given that the style, in and of itself, is one that I think occludes what the wine is.

All of these critics who taste 5000 to 10,000 wines per year very quickly blow out their palates and lose the ability to discern any subtlety or eccentricity in a wine.

I don’t know whether it happens as quickly to dudes like Stuart Pigott or David Schildknecht, who specialize in tasting mostly [?] white wines.

But all of the dudes who do these hotel ballroom tastings of big red wines very quickly lose their chops.

PS: Which is not to imply that there is necessarily anything wrong with long-hang-time heavily-oaked low-acid high-residual-sugar reds. Particularly not if that’s what you enjoy drinking. And if you are willing to accept the risk of cellaring wines made with a style of winemaking which is still too recent to have any proven track record of ageing well. And who knows - there are lots of rumors that many of the heavily Parkerized Australian Shirazes from circa 1998 to 2002 are now turning into very nice wines.

I’ve watched Tanzer taste for review. It is far from a cattle call. Instead it is thoughtful, well paced, and open to dialogue. Considered.

He has thrown a joke or two my way about my preference for the less large wines of the world. There have been several times that his own discussion of a wine that I have found too modern has made me look again at the qualities of the wine. Sometimes he has changed my own view of a wine producer through what he has said. I have never found him less than informed, and he is far from hasty.

We do disagree about wines and also movies, but that’s life.

You have done studies to prove this? Where were they published? Could make for fascinating reading.

Nice to see you on here Levi. I don’t believe you’ve had Tanzer as a guest yet. Perhaps in the future?

I would agree somewhat with the OP’s original assessment. I think Steve is less put off by oak than some of us, and likes wines that have more oak than many of us can tolerate (witness reviews of the clerico wines). the only problem with that is that his reporting of how much oak influence is present in a wine tends to be pretty subtle, and you have to read between the lines.


Levi, that’s a very thoughtful observation. It reinforces my idea of what Steve is like–in a good way. Thanks. I’d agree with John Stimson that Steve appears less adverse to oak than many others . . . but so am I, so I view that as a positive. One thing I really like about Tanzer, is his objectivity. I get the sense that he–more than other reviewers-- goes into a tasting with few preconceptions, or a set hierarchy of where the wines belong in relationship to each other. He calls them like he sees–or tastes–them.


That sits perfectly with me. But then again I am not a professional critic.

That is one aspect of Parker that I do appreciate. He does give what he deems as under fruited wines high points just to please the other people who might end up liking them.

Sanjay-your post is missing a very important “not.”

I agree with many of you that there is no

I also agree with Mike on this:

But from there to almost total levels of relativism is a long road, seemingly taken to absurd levels.

Not meaning to pick on you or be obtuse, Ian. But your friend’s opinion of the Sautern is ok for a ‘layperson’, unacceptable for a critic. I am very fond of sweet wines, drink little of it and have scarce appreciation for Sautern because I find them cloying and too influenced by botrytis. However I can appreciate a good example, would not see myself fit to seriously critique them because of my preference, but would never say they are inherently poor because not to my taste.

Intolerance of tannin, or as others have uttered in other threads, of acidity, frankly means the person does not like nor minimally understands wine, but rather wants to drink some form of manufactured beverage and would be wholly unfit to critique any wine. It’s all about the quality and amount of structural elements, and the wine’s total balance; there is room for many tastes and opinions but in seriously discussing high level wine can be no room for absurd outlier opinions like no tannin or no acidity.

Sorry, but this is patently ridiculous. Those people too, to the extent they exist, know not what wine is and are wholly unfit to critique anything. You cannot routinely dismiss CdP, sorry, no matter how much you like Chinon or whatever. You can say you don’t like it and prefer to ignore it, fine but that is different. Alcohol above 12.5% being an inherent flaw is beyond absurd. In warm climates like the south of France or Italy, most of Spain and many other places making wines at 12% is senseless and making complex, balanced even elegant wines at 14-15% eminently possible. You may not like or appreciate them, but that does not give you the right to outright dismiss and choose to live in your own vinous bubble. Especially not as a critic. I share some of those people’s appreciation for light, fresh, acidic and even slightly bitter reds. I also drink good CdP, love Barolo at 14.5% and can even appreciate Sardinian Cannonau at 17%, though the latter is very hard to make in a balanced way. Not to say everyone has to have similar versatility, but a critic needs a minimum of objectivity and a vision of what wine, and wine’s many natural styles, can be.

Where I strongly believe

…and where to my mind many, most all, critics fail at their jobs and fail to inform consumers, is all the heavily manipulated, spoofilated wine made with high doses of additives and technological cellar techniques. These wines are, in a historical context and in a philosophical discourse on great wine, aberrations and objectively bad. There is much of it made, even at very high price levels. Hardly anyone calls anything out. Partly from ignorance or incompetence, partly from chumminess and codependency, partly from fear and partly from the fact it is difficult to make hard and clear statements as to what has gone on or into the bottle. I’m not at all saying all wine needs to fall in line with the Natural Wine credo or agenda, but the lack of frank discourse on what constitutes heavy manipulation and what outright spoofilation is disheartening.

Sorry to be obtuse Geir, but what’s your point?

That’s the usual platitude that seems to make sense until you think about it for 2 seconds. What about wines where the reviewer thinks the quality is lousy because the style is lousy?