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'Matt Kramer on Wine': What does a wine mean?

August 25, 2010 |  6:24 am

KramerMatt Kramer is a wine writer who doesn't think much about tasting notes. Which is not to say that he is short of opinions. Certainly not. That is what makes him so valuable and, sometimes, so provocative. A longtime columnist for Wine Spectator magazine (and a friend and former regular contributor to the L.A. Times Food section), Kramer prefers to focus on the history, culture, business and personalities of wine, rather than flowery descriptions. His books have been mostly lyrically written, in-depth looks at his favorite wine-growing places -– Italy, the Piedmont in particular; California; and Burgundy. But his newest book, "Matt Kramer on Wine," is something different. A collection of his columns from various publications, it's a series of provocative, muscularly argued takes on the state of wine today.

And there aren't many people who can argue like Kramer. He is well-read and an interesting thinker. He has a knack for coming up with the perfect telling metaphor and can thread a rhetorical needle in a way that would make a Jesuit weep for joy.

What's more, he's passionately in love with wine. Well, with certain kinds of wines. Kramer's particular pet is what he might call the "wine of place." He's not so much interested in teasing out flavors and fragrances, but would rather think about what a wine means. Instead of tasting a Pinot Noir and commenting on "gobs of red berry fruit," Kramer is more apt to ponder where the wine came from and how it came to taste that particular way, whether it’s that elusive thing called terroir, or the hand of the winemaker (he's definitely in favor of the former). And even beyond that, what that particular bottle might reveal about wine in general.

But maybe Kramer himself describes his approach best in one of his early essays on tasting: "Consistency in tasting is not about an unerring ability to identify flavors, like a retriever fetching a stick, producing the exact same results every time. Real consistency is about the values you bring to the wine. It's not the answers you get from the wine, courtesy of your acuity, but rather the questions you ask of it."

-- Russ Parsons