Booked up for Christmas

Some wine books make you want to drink, and a few may make you think, but I don’t know of any that do both, except for “Matt Kramer On Wine,” recently published and the book I’m giving my godson for Christmas (while saving my copy for my son, for when he’s ready to pull his first cork).
       This is mostly a collection of previously published pieces, essays from the New York Sun and the Wine Spectator and a few chapters from Kramer’s books that underscore and tie them together, as well as a long (and fascinating) profile of Angelo Gaja commissioned but never published by the New Yorker. They are arranged loosely by subject, and seeing them in context—looking at the whole garments, as it were, rather than the threads in the weave—they’re even more provocative and thoughtful. Wine writing’s a genre not notable for subtlety or rhetorical skill, but they’re here in abundance, often presented so adroitly that you’re not quite aware of the seriousness of the point being made until it comes back around and nudges you afterward.
       For example, an easygoing essay on Rosé sidles up to some historical background about color
before concluding, “amplification is not substance.” (He is fond of Cyrano-like thrusts to end a refrain.) His definition of a “master blender” is: “A winemaker who lacks great grapes. Always applied to wine shippers who have just fed a wine writer a good lunch.” An “open letter to Bordeaux lovers” begins, “Are you folks nuts?” before dissecting the vagaries of the region’s soil, yields, attitudes, the 1855 classification, and pricing, in order to confirm their capacity for denial by pointing out that they “see themselves as the deepest channel of the mainstream. . . the essence of common sense.” (He is even-handed, though-- “Hospice de Beaune” is a “Burgundian dialect phrase for ‘Gotcha!’” and the American AVA is “an acronym for ‘Anybody’s Variation Accepted.’”).
       Provocative and thoughtful, for sure. On wry, with plenty of mustard. Sterling Publishing, New York, hardcover, $19.95 (a steal).

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