Monday, June 22, 2015
Blind Book Review: Matt Kramer's "True Taste, The Seven Essential Wine Words"
Knowing Matt Kramer, I was pretty sure the seven essential wine words were “true, taste, the, seven, essential, wine, words.” So I didn’t feel the need to actually read his latest wine book, “True Taste: The Seven Essential Wine Words.” Kramer is often referred to, at least by his publisher, as the “great demystifier of wine.” I’d say this is close. Kramer is actually the great defroster of wine, relentlessly blowing hot air at his otherwise impenetrable subject.
“True Taste” is not a very long book, it’s a mere 128 pages. Which made it particularly disappointing not to read for my Blind Book Review. Matt Kramer’s magnum opus is “Making Sense of Wine.” “True Taste” is his .375ml opus. A mere half-book to which I shall apply my legendary half-wit.
Matt Kramer has been writing about wine for 40 years. Yeah, I know, seems a lot longer. He is best known for his column in Wine Spectator where he tries to educate James Laube about wine every single issue, a Mr. Kotter to Laube’s Vinnie Barbarino—hopeless but amusing. Wine Spectator uses words, but sells numbers. Their seven essential wine words are “lifestyle, advertising, scores, vanity, paywall, lavish and rich.” Kramer’s “True Taste” selects seven different essential wine words. From an overpaid wine columnist for Wine Spectator, the book is a forlorn cry for help.
Of course, we all want to know what the Seven Essential Wine Words are. I’d guess, but I’m pretty sure Bashful and Dopey aren’t among them, though I’ve had wines that are both. I knew that whatever the seven words turned out to be, they'd be vague and vinously indefinable. In order to demystify, after all, one has to mystify first. The wine trade loves to throw words around like “balance” and “terroir,” and then argue endlessly about what they mean. After all, when there is no precision to terms, no agreed upon definition, it’s easy to claim your wine has it. It's like putting "Reserve" on your wine label--OK, it's Reserve if you say so. In my 40 years (yeah, I know, it seems a lot longer), I’ve never once had a winemaker say, “My wine is really good, but it has the balance of a dead Wallenda.” Nope. Everyone knows balance, and everyone knows terroir, and if you don’t, well, then, you’re the asshole, not the clowns who can’t actually define it. Now Kramer adds seven more words to that list. Gee, thanks.
Kramer wants us to talk about wine in a more meaningful way than it’s talked about in, say, Wine Spectator. Which is like wanting us to talk about women in a way that’s more meaningful than how they’re talked about in, say, Hustler. Bigger numbers are better. 98 pts, 38DD, now we’re talkin’! When we describe wines using countless adjectives, we’re missing the point, and looking stupid on top of that. So how do we talk about wine, especially when we’ve had a couple of bottles? Simple. Let’s get pretentious! And who better than Kramer to show us the way?
Harmony. Texture. Layers. Finesse. Nuance. Surprise. There’s six of the seven words Kramer says are essential. No mention of Corkscrew, which is pretty fucking essential, but it’s his book. I have no idea what the seventh essential wine word is. I got those six from Tom Wark’s wisely obsequious review of “True Taste.” Tom writes:
“Finally, it’s notable that the way in which Kramer addresses the obvious issues of style and what makes a wine fine—issues that must be addressed in such a book—are done in a delicate and ecumenical way. He’s not trying to start a revolution. But he may be trying to nudge one along. After all, just read the title.”
I took Tom’s sage advice. I just read the title.
Kramer wants us to talk about wine in really vague terms. I’m all for this. He replaces Balance with Harmony. This is genius. If only Fox News would suddenly declare themselves Fair and Harmonious, what a better world this would be. What is Harmony in wine? I don’t have the vaguest idea, and that’s the point. I thought maybe a wine with Harmony is one that makes your girlfriend want to give you a hummer, but apparently that’s not it. Kramer probably takes several pages to explain what Harmony in wine is, which makes it the perfect essential wine word! You can use it and be confident the person you’re speaking to is as clueless about what you’re talking about as you are. This is how educated people talk about wine. Not just over your head, but over their own as well. How long before Raj Parr starts In Pursuit of Harmony? What is wine, a shitfaced barber shop quartet?
Texture is a concept you use for anything you put in your mouth—food, beverage, a loaded .38… It’s always part of a wine description. Every wine has texture. You can say a wine doesn’t have Harmony, but it has to have Texture. Unless it’s Pinot Grigio. Then it’s just wet. So I don’t need Kramer to explain Texture in wine. Used properly, Texture can be wonderfully vague. “I love the Texture of this wine” is the wine lover’s equivalent of “Man, your baby is sure alive.”
Layers is a usefully vague wine word as well. “Hey, which was your favorite Layer in that Chardonnay? I liked the second one.” So not only can a wine have Harmony, where all the pieces are seamlessly interwoven into one beautiful whole, it should also have Layers, where the pieces are layered and distinct—wine as a pousse-café! This is the kind of brilliant and radical thinking wine needs. And, frankly, isn’t it about time wineries started listing how many layers their wines have on the labels? Hell, wine has Brix, where are the damned Brix Layers?
I have no idea what Finesse is in wine. Therefore, it’s a perfect essential wine word! Bravo, Matt! Another bullshit word to use in wine conversation. “I think what I like about this wine is its Finesse.” Or, as Kramer once wrote in Wine Spectator, “Finesse is the quality of how a wine delivers itself to you.” I know my favorite wines use UPS. Does Finesse trump Harmony? What if there are too many Layers, what happens to Finesse? Can you have Harmony and Layers and not be a great wine because you used FedEx? Fuck, I’m confused.
Nuance is the answer. I need it worse than wine. I’m about as nuanced as Caitlyn Jenner’s bulge. Nuance is an essential wine word because if you are able to discern a wine’s Nuance, you are a superior taster. Nuance, by the way, isn’t Complexity. I guess. Complexity isn’t an essential wine word, but Nuance is. I’ve had a few wines lately that were so Nuanced I could barely taste them, so they must have been fantastic. So damned Nuanced! Why if Nuance were fraudulent wines, these wines were Bill Koch. You know how you know that wine is Nuanced? No, I didn’t think so. Dumbshit.
Speaking of Bill Koch, there’s always Surprise! Yes, Surprise is obviously an essential wine word. Great wine does Surprise us. As does corked wine, fake wine and the ending to “The Crying Game.” I know that the first question I ask a person who tells me he had a great wine is, “But did the wine Surprise you?” And if so, “Did you pee yourself a little?” The element of Surprise is why you see so many wine writers attending the DRC New Release tasting wearing Depends. Well, that and they’re all so fucking old.
On the bright side, it won’t take you very long not to read Matt Kramer’s newest wine book. You can not read it in a couple of hours, and I’d urge you to do so. I wish I’d been able to not read the book 40 years ago when I first began my wine career, it sums up everything I’ve tried to forget.