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.
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.”
“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.
And I thought Harmony was just a really bad Elton John song.. sung by a shit faced barbershop quartet consisting of Homer Simpson, Apu, Principal Skinner and Barney the Drunk..
David- That's my favorite band. Right next to The Osmunds doing Wild Horses.
Hose- You brought me my first chuckles of the day. Thanks!
I was laughing so much my wife came in the room to find out what was so funny. Too many great lines for a single post - it made my ribs hurt. You are The Master. I was going to rate Kramer's book 100 points, but when I heard it was a 375ml, it only got 50 points. I guess that means if he writes another magnum opus maybe I'll break out 150 points.
The Caitlin-bulge comment fit right in here, didn't it? Sort of like all the Kramer-isms. None of it makes any sense but there it is, staring us in the face. Another keeper, Mr. Hose or Mr. Master or Just Call Me Ron. Tim McNally
Well, it is a bad Elton John song (which is redundant, of course). "Harmony" is just "Balance" in drag. Essential? If I knew what it was. It's strictly defined in music, in wine it's just mushy thinking. But I'm a satirist, mushy thinking is my friend.
You're welcome. Hope your day has many more chuckles. Thanks for dropping in.
Aren't you up for a Poodle?! Congrats, I guess. If you want it, I hope you win. If you don't, then I hope you win. Or, if you don't, you can have mine!
Thanks for the kind words. I didn't write for a couple of weeks because I was weary. So to get back to it, I picked a subject and just made myself sit down and crank it out. Sort of like taking Ex-Lax. This was the movement.
Your bulge analysis is right on, but, then, I knew it would be. One of the seven essential words when talking the Bulge is Surprise! And maybe Layers.
Great to see you in SF, my friend. Happy Trails!
A great piece! Very little "nuance" though and while I thought nothing you write could "surprise" me--I must admit, I did pee myself…a little…while reading it!
When it came to Harmony, I didn't want to go there because I could only make a snide remark, and I was certain HoseMaster could do that for me. Maybe Kramer's harmonic can be tied into the Clark Smith method of enjoying wine with music, but you'll have to pair wine and music that are in the same key, and that could have made Irving Berlin chuckle.
Oddly, I peed myself while writing it. Which didn't go over that well at the public library.
Thanks for the kind words.
The wine and music thing has always made me laugh. I can't remember the last time I listened to music while I was drinking wine. I'm usually having a meal and spending time with my wife. Why the hell am I playing music to go with my wine? What kind of jackass does that?
Next time I go to a restaurant, I'll call ahead, ask what shitty music they play on their Sirius radio so I can bring the appropriate wine. The menu? Who cares? I want the wine to match the music! Kenny G? Cool. I'll bring something cloying.
Not cloying; bring something saccharin.
Excellent! On point! And was laughing so hard at the cafe...well, didn't care what people thought. I was LAUGHING, People! Thank you!
Yes Ron, I'm up for 2 Poodles. I'll take them as long as they're housebroken. I might actually have a chance now that you're not in the running. When you're nominated there's no reason for the rest to show up. You're like Meryl Streep but with better tits.
Thanks. Much appreciated. Laughing is always good at the cafe, with a side order of a little pee.
I thought I saw your blog on the list of nominees. Good for you. I'd vote for you, but I'm not voting. I was lucky and escaped nomination this year--I like to think it's because I asked people not to nominate me and not that I just sucked all year. If you want to win that meaningless award, then good luck and Godspeed! It will get you a few more views. Though your mileage may vary.
I do have better tits than Meryl Streep, though, honestly, they're rentals.
Even though few if any of the "winos" you mentioned, I have ever heard of, I split sideways laughing at your latest posting when the email came in while I was taking a dump. Trusty ipad2 gold, however better half thinks I take to the shitter so I can view naughty pages and tug on my wire....... the nerve!!
Given the parsimonious or nonexistent pay [*] for wine blogging and online "content" creation, perhaps the "Idiots" guide should be titled "Making Cents of Wine."
[*Citing the Wall Street Journal review of "Wired" magazine editor Chris Anderson's book titled "Free: The Future of Radical Price":
"If you have a blog, 'no matter how popular,' the revenue from AdSense -- a Google service that places ads on Web sites -- will probably never 'pay you even minimum wage for the time you spend writing it.'"]
Thanks for that vivid depiction of reading HoseMaster. Longtime common taters will recall that there was a time I provided the jokes AND the naughty pages. Ah, the good ol' days--you had to be there.
Many people have said to me over the years, "Why do you write your blog for free?" And it's usually the cheapass people who would instantly vanish if they had to pay to read my crap. My answer is simple. I wrote for free for most of my life. There's nothing foolish or stupid about it. But there was no internet, no way to publish my nonsense in a public forum that was this simple and convenient and universal. I wrote underground newspapers in high school, I wrote a humor column for my college newspaper, I wrote spec scripts and reams of jokes, all for no pay. But I don't do it for free, really, I do it for pleasure.
However, considering that most wine blogs read like the author spent fifteen minutes writing each post, most of the bloggers are vastly overpaid.
That's all well and good for people who do not mind not making a living at writing. But for those of us whose source of income--small as it has noemally been--is thought expressed as the written word, the proliferation of free writing (or digital writing that pays rates lower than a waiter receives before tips) has helped to devalue the writing profession, not to mention what it does to literacy.
The devalue culture extends from writing into other spheres. People online sell a variety of creative services at such low prices, and often after having to bid themselves down in a race to the bottom that has taken a firm hold.
Sorry, I am in a bad mood over a few recent eye-opening examples of this race to the bottom that our culture so readily accepts.
Yup, I agree. The unforeseen consequence of the Internet has been the devaluation of almost everything. It's vanity press gone insane in the wine world, myself included. For that, I'm actually sorry, and it often crosses my mind as a reason to quit. Do I deserve to be paid? Don't know. I do know that not getting paid makes it easier not to edit or rewrite--which shows, of course, but I'm OK with that.
Every new medium sees the same sorts of objections, be it radio or TV or the Internet. Write comedy for Netflix and you can make money. Be a journalist? Those days seem to be far behind us. For the moment.
Racing to the bottom, by the way, is my specialty.
I have stayed out of this conversation because everyone is saying how funny your post is. OK, maybe it is, but I took it seriously because this was more than just a lampooning of a bunch of buzzwords different from authentic, natural, balanced, terroir, varietal, etc. This was an absolute skewering of the tendency to try to make wine simple through blurred meanings or substitutes for the well-worn concepts--nuance for complexity.
Oh, and the absence of slurpiness really hurt me personally because if there is one thing that wine must be, it is enjoyable to drink. Forget all that other shit. If you don't like it, then what good is harmony or nuance?
So, you have done the world a great service. Unlike some of your other book reviews which were not really reviews, this one is. It gets right to the heart of the matter and enables us to read the book the same way you did--not at all.
To me, HoseMaster resembles fierce species like a Jaguar, gimlet-eyed with the agility and prowess to hunt down the prey. Well, in his case, it's not prey but the CFOs - the cheesy, fake & obnoxious.
"...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." - sharp-witted lines that only the master can produce. It makes me wonder if HoseMaster is the direct descendant of that boy who said “But he has nothing on” at the emperor’s parade to display his new clothes.
Often, I was clueless when I read Mr. MK's remarks on wine. Like this one for example, the wine is "gorgeous and mighty tasty - dense, liquorous texture suffused with the flavors that distinguish great Chardonay such as crystallized lemon zest, minerals and a hatful of fruits unseen since the days of Carmen Miranda..." Does it mean this bottle of Chard is high in alcohol(liquorous texture) and fruity? What's unusual about these characters in Chards? I don't get the distinguish-ability at all. Perhaps his specialty is paraphrasing what others have said. I remember more words from MK to describe wines: dimensionality, in stereo, profound, luminous in its layered, delineated flavors. I'm baffled and clueless about the exact meanings of these words when applied to wines.
I've always preached that a wine's first job is to be delicious. If it ain't that, there's little use bothering with a detailed analysis--unless you're a paid wine critic. So we agree. Delicious is in the eye of the beholder, but it doesn't need a four page definition, like Authentic or Nuanced. We say, "Man, that's delicious!" Case closed.
I already had Kramer's book in my sights, but then Tom Wark wrote his paean to Kramer, and that got me motivated. 128 pages to talk about seven words? Isn't that hilarious enough without Tom praising it as a revolution in wine writing? Oh, brother. (As a word of advice to everyone, when a title of anything says, "If you ___ one ___ this year, make it ____." just put it on your No Fucking Way List.) How was wine written about before Wine Spectator and Parker? Exactly like Kramer suggests. It's hardly a revolution. And is it a superior way of writing about wine? Not when Kramer does it. Give me Hugh Johnson and Tim Atkin (shameless ass-kissing) and Gerald Asher every time. And in an internet age that rewards shallowness and speed, Kramer's suggestions are laughable. Plus, the essential words he chose mostly obfuscate, not enlighten. OK, really, I should read the book before I level these kinds of criticisms
The idea of Blind Book Reviews was to pass judgment without knowledge--something a lot of people do these days in wine blogs. That the BBR strike home once in a while is gratifying, and totally unfair to the writers. Which is what makes it funny.
I think I'm falling in love with you.
Thanks for your kind words. The HoseMaster is a character, and tries to be a Fool, the classic Fool of legend and literature. The character who can speak Truth to the powers that be and get away with it because he's funny. So, yes, like the little boy who points out the Emperor is naked, only grown up and more opinionated. I intend to be funny and satiric, not wise. I miss more targets than I hit. I am, at best, a third-rate satirist. But there aren't many out there willing to make fun of the wine biz, and fewer with the talent and credentials, so I'll have to do. With a mighty tip of my Hose to Chris Kassel, who is more talented than I, has great credentials, and is more fearless.
Writing wine reviews is tedious and dull. The urge to fool around and write silly descriptions is one I give in to myself. Matt Kramer is humbled by wine, as are all of us poor scribes. I often say wine outmatches us, and it does. But we only learn from our betters, and wine is one of our betters.
"So who's this Chris Kassel guy that Hoser is genuflecting to?," I'm thinking to myself.
I let my fingers do the walking on the Web and came across this website titled:
"The Contra-Connoisseur’s Guide to Wine, Beer, Spirits And Other Stuff The World Got Right."
Charlie, this guy's stealing your act!
We write because we think we have something to say. If we are lucky, we find readers who agree with what we have to say--and readers who don't (all press is good press).
Why, then, do so many writers eschew learning the craft and just go ahead to write either above or beneath readers?
If there's one thing I've learned about the Hosemaster--he knows writing and writers. When he says, "Writing wine reviews is tedious and dull." and "wine outmatches us...", even though he may be one, he ain't talking through his ass.
Contra-Connoisseur has been on my Blog Roll for about three years now, right there with Charlie, STEVE!, Samantha. Alfonso and Tim Atkin. Glad to see you you're paying attention. Chris is brilliant, and he has a much different voice than the HoseMaster, a voice that makes me laugh (and that's pretty rare). I've never met Chris, we have corresponded once or twice, but anyone writing comedy about wine I am willing to promote. I'd urge all my common taters to read his stuff.
Don Carter, I need to spend some time at your blog, too. Not sure what you're up to, but I'm glad, at least, you find some time to be funny there.
As a kid, I loved baseball and writing. When I began working in restaurants in college, I fell in love with wine. Those have been my abiding passions my entire life. I'm sure you have a similar story. Only I wrote comedy.
A winemaker once told me, "There are only two kinds of winemakers--those who get it, and those who don't. And you only need to taste a handful of a winemaker's wines to know which one he is." I think that's true for writing as well. When I glance at a new wine blog, or even a famous wine writer's work, it takes one paragraph and I know, as do you, this person's gift is certainly not writing. And I walk away, as I might walk out of a tasting room when the wines are subpar.
I've often been asked if you can teach someone to write comedy. I don't think so. You can't teach self-loathing, for one thing. You can teach the tools of writing comedy, but you cannot teach the worldview, and you cannot teach the dedication to the craft, the frustration and the loneliness. Wine writing is like that, too, I think. You can learn facts about wine, but wine writing is something more contemplative, and is also grounded in experience. Spending twenty minutes on a blog post doesn't make you a wine writer, no matter what Tom Wark says, and slapping all the ingredients of writing onto a page doesn't make you a Michelin-starred chef, it makes you a slob.
Meanwhile, I just keep on cranking out the crapola...
A word borrowed from Mr. MK - profound -yes, your perspective on "writing wine reviews" is profound and helps putting myself in others' shoes. I buy it, and it sounds philosophically profound.
If Susan was a dual being, her character self also wants to fall in love with the HoseMaster. But, like a poplar bear & a penguin, they have two hemispheres in between to trek through to unite. I guess a zoo somewhere can domesticate them together. But love a rebel child and can't be tamed. Sigh.
Since blogging inflitrated the airwaves I've had the "writing" discussion often. On the other hand (yes, you have to leave one hand free when you do it) print wine writing hasn't been producing much inspiration lately.
As far as I'm concerned, there's no such thing as genre writers. A good writer should make the reader forget about specialty. It's how I feel when I read John McPhee. He kept my interest many times with subjects in which I have no interest. Right now, I am reading H Is For Hawk, a subject in which I am only lightly interested, but the way Helen MacDonald tells her story--and the way she marries hawking with humanity--is riveting.
I can't recall any rivets entering my body from a blog post.
Thomas--I suggest that you read The Hosemaster lest you continue to make remarks like that last one and find pointed words entering your body.
My thoughts are never profound, but definitely pro-lost. Never mind, thanks for you sweet words and thoughts.
Smooch to You, too.
Well, I'd make the distinction between wine writing and wine reviewing. Yes, as a wine writer, one should strive to be interesting and riveting. As a wine reviewer, you are certainly a genre writer, though "writer" may be too kind.
Yes, McPhee was something. I've the H is For Hawk book is good, though I originally thought it was a Sue Grafton novel.
I make no claim to be riveting, though I'm often hammered.
You and Thomas are the senior common taters here (and maybe Marcia, though I'd never call her senior), I know he reads me. He doesn't get me, but he reads me.
OK, Susan that's "thanks for your sweet words." Another smooch for you.
Thomas, that "I've HEARD the H is For Hawk..."
I'm going blind in front of this stupid screen.
Perhaps your blindness is caused by all that wine you are drinking, its lack of harmony and finesse. Oh, and its round, smooth texture is derived from all the glycerin imparted by its high alcohol. I should know. After all these years of liking wines that apparently are too ripe, I went blind years ago. Now, I type my reviews without ever looking at the wine. It's a good technique when you use it right.
Charlie: Hosemaster isn't riveting as much as he is penetrating, but since he has not skewered moi, I have not felt the pain. (Will I be sorry I knocked that piece of wood off his shoulder?)
Yes, Ron: the difference between wine writing and wine reviewing is--and should be--monumental. I've read my share of wine reviews that make me ashamed of myself for having spent all those minutes.
Re, I've the H: nice to see you going back and correcting the way that I love to do. It shows that I in fact DO have some influence on others.Or were you mocking me?
Oh, I know all about reviewing wines with handicaps. I'm not only blind, I have anosmia, so I taste blind, and I taste tasteless. Then I just make stuff up. Seems to work for everyone else.
I learned a long time ago that it's hard to skewer friends and have friends. So I've never parodied Charlie or Samantha or you. Not that I couldn't, but I'd pull my punches and it would be flaccid. Yeah, I said, flaccid, don't go there.
The corrections were just that, not mocking. I was too lazy to delete and copy and past with corrections, so I did that. Hey, it's not all about you. Or are you mocking me? Because it is all about me.
Thomas, that's "copy and paste..." Happy now?
Yes, wine and books--the same thing. But I wonder if car reviewers also are up to the blind review? "Hey, I'm in a room with a Lexus. Must be good. And that new car smell. I love it. I can't smell it, but I know I love it".
We don't review Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Colgin, Bond and that lot because they are only available to winewriters at the winery with the labels showing, and we don't review wines that way. But I have been tempted to write reviews of them anyhow. My guess is that I could come pretty close.
Hey Ron, don't get too excited but Kenny G is playing at Rodney Strong's concert series.. don't forget to request Harmony.. yikes, wouldn't that tear you a new one.. ha ha.. have to self-loath to be a comic.. wonder if Robin Williams watched Mork & Mindy reruns with Jonathan Winters and decided to top himself.. said to a buddy the other night I never got Letterman, couldn't understand all that fellatial drivel about what a comic genius he is.. like wtf is so funny about throwing a watermelon off a roof or saying some stupid name over and over.. but my all time pet hate is Friends.. couldn't watch that show for more than 5 minutes without wanting to put my foot through the screen with that beyond annoying laugh track.. reminds me of Woody Allen in Annie Hall you need that stupid thing because your jokes aren't funny.. they got booing on that thing???.. hahaha
Is Matt Kramer's new book part of the new "Common Core"? Maybe that's why it seems so dumb. But, the real question is, will there be a test?
Cur and past; then, Kill the Mockingblog.
"I took Tom’s sage advice. I just read the title."
You just make me laugh and laugh, Hose.
Wow. One of my all-time favorites.
Made me think of "How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read" by the French philosopher, Pierre Bayard. Good stuff.
There is at least one major factual error in this column. Everybody knows that Pinot Grigio is dry, not wet.
"At least one factual error...?" You underestimate me, my friend. There are dozens hidden among the paragraphs.
As for Pinot Grigio, well, talking about the best sellers, I am reminded of The Great One, Jackie Gleason, "How sweet it is!"
Post a Comment