America’s Wine Essayist

Krameronwine Despite his claims, Matt Kramer is not a Journalist. This should be clear within the first few moments of cracking his new book, a retrospective of his columns from various venues entitled: "Matt Kramer on Wine: A Matchless Collection of Columns, Essays, and Observations by America's most original and lucid Wine Writer."

Matt Kramer, best known for his long-running column in the Wine Spectator and his classic "Making Sense" series of books, is an essayist. And he's the best one currently working in wine. This should be clear within the first few moments of cracking his new book.

What makes Kramer's retrospective so compelling and so necessary is the perspective it offers. Kramer's compilation of past columns from the Wine Spectator, the Oregonian, and the New York Sun offers the reader a well-trained and insightful eye on the development of a wine culture in the United States. Despite the fact that many of the columns in the new book focus on wine outside the United States, Kramer's eye is decidedly American in nature. Throughout the columns one reads under various chapter headings, there is a sense of discovery and uncovering that is the decidedly American approach to wine appreciation over the past three or four decades. 

Kramer is at his best when he is taking the long view, when he is deconstructing wine myths and "wine hokum", and when he looks for the essence of a wine idea. These themes show up throughout his work.

One of his best pieces, "The No-Wine Magazine", concerns the determined approach taken at the NewMattkramer
Yorker magazine to ignore the American wine culture when it is not denigrating wine appreciation in general. Kramer once received a $15,000 kill fee from the magazine when a story on Angelo Gaja he was assigned to write was killed from publication. In outlining the evidence for the New Yorker's disdain for the American wine culture, Kramer wades into the meaning of that culture, how Americans have adopted wine as a truly American artifact and the disappointment many of us feel when our honest belief that wine can uncover truths about us and the American way are dismissed as inconsequential. 

The new crop of wine bloggers will be interested to know that Matt Kramer has taken on all the issues that get them riled up and writing. Terroir, corkage, the wine business, wine writers, wine reviewing, etc. The entire stable of wine blogging "go-to" topics have already been explored by Kramer and often much better than any of us could hope to ourselves. I mention this because I'm one of those people that know for a fact that the best way to become a good writer is to read good writers. Kramer is decidedly a good writer.

As you read through the essays that are arranged by topic and not sequentially, the writers reading Kramer should try to note that as time has progressed, Matt's edge has not diminished one bit. And there is an edge to his writing. Kramer is known for possessing great reverence for certain wines, wineries and winemakers (read is words on Mayacamus Vineyards Chardonnay). Yet even in writing about his greatest wine loves, his prose and the ideas they explore maintain a steady, even heightened, pace that gives the reader a sense that an important conclusion is coming you won't want to miss. And that conclusion often arrives just as you expect. "Pace" is not easy to maintain throughout an essay, nor throughout three decades of writing.

I don't know if retrospective editions and compilations get recognized by those who give out writing and publishing awards. They might be seen as akin to a musical group releasing a "Greatest Hits" album for the sake of making a bit more money off something that has already been created and is now just being repackaged for commercial reasons.

It would be a mistake to understand the new "Matt Kramer on Wine" in this manner. What we have here, and it's very rare in the wine publishing world, is an open window on the developing mind of one of America's most important wine writers and, just as important, an idiosyncratic path through the history of the American wine psyche of the past 30 years as it has developed, taken turns, stopped to ponder and moved on to new ideas.

"Kramer On Wine" should be purchased and read by those interested in this path as well as those interested in understanding what the work of one of America's greatest wine essayists looks and feels like.

5 Responses

  1. Anatoli Levine - August 18, 2010

    Truly agree. I read a number of Matt Kramer books, and I usually start reading Wine Spectator from his column. I learned great deal about wines from Matt Kramer’s work.

  2. John Montague - August 18, 2010

    Quite frankly, Kramer’s column is the only reason I subscribe to the Wine Spectator. His writing is, as you noted, most insightful plus enjoyable reading – no wasted words.

  3. Tesco wines online - August 19, 2010

    The wine spectator is an enjoyable read for all wine enthusiasts but I must mention Kramers writing is of exceptional quality and very informative.

  4. AP US History Essay - October 2, 2010

    Excellent posting here people will get lot of information with the help of posted
    information & topics from this blog. nice work keep it going.

  5. Juliet Johnson - July 26, 2011

    Kramer’s column never fail the readers…very interesting topics and wisdom to share. Wine lovers and enthusiasts can surely benefit from Kramer’s unending passion for wines and writing.

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