Matt Kramer On Wine: in praise of subjectivity

by Stevie on July 6, 2011

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wine is like art:   it demands that you form an opinion and take sides

wine is like art: it demands that you form an opinion and take sides

I finished Matt Kramer’s delightful On Wine a couple of weeks ago, but couldn’t quite figure out how to describe it to you, my dear readers, until just this moment. The dilemma, of course, is that I am completely on Team Matt, so I’m totally biased. I even met him over this newest publication. He came to K and L Wine Merchants in San Francisco for a book signing last fall. He inscribed my copy “To Steven—the best advice I know for wine is drink up! With regards, Matt.” Wow! I was in heaven.

But therein lays the problem: I wholeheartedly agree with his best advice. So what to say here?

I will say briefly that this wine book is different from many others; being a collection of various columns, many from Wine Spectator; some essays and chapter fragments from some of his other books and a fairly long never-before-published piece on the life and wines of Angelo Gaja. The topics, as you’d imagine, vary widely: everything from finding proper wineglasses, the challenges and pleasures of working with sommeliers, wine as big-business, hidden vinous gems, personal anecdotes and wine trivia, etc. I really like it. Kramer sort of whines a bit about his Gaja story. It does sound like The New Yorker editorial group was a political minefield, though I have to add after reading the thing myself, the piece needs some editing. And really Angelo Gaja, to all but wine cognoscenti, is a pretty obscure figure in the U.S. even today.

But what’s interesting about the book is that Matt Kramer has a voice. That’s right, a Voice. He cares about his subject, has opinions, biases and is not always a ‘nice guy.’ Just compare his writings on Bordeaux to those on Burgundy and American pinot noir for some prime examples. And that’s what I like: the subjectivity factor.

So much wine writing pretends that subjectivity doesn’t exist. Just look at any wine magazine that lists
numerical scores with their wine tasting notes; or rates vintages in various regions; or writes about all and sundry red, white, green, brown or pink wine as if they were interchangeable, implying that they might be equally appealing to everyone. Well, I don’t think that’s true for a second. Taste is subjective. And though it is a good idea, as Oldman writes, to push your wine boundaries and try new things, you are unlikely, in fact, to enjoy every kind of wine out there. I for one have become completely jaded with Australian shiraz, bored with Napa cabernet and have never warmed to Grüner Veltliner, for example. There it is, I’ve confessed. As my tastes continue to evolve, I suspect the wines that I truly appreciate will change, too.

But like fine art, automobiles and psychoanalytic models of the mind; wine demands that you notice it and take sides. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, but a wine is never only a wine. Matt Kramer takes sides, whether you agree or not. Cheers to you, Matt! And to you, too, weirdcombinations readers! What wine do you enjoy drinking right now, and, more importantly, why?

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