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In Rare Harmony with Matt Kramer

At Matt Kramer's Wine Experience seminar, our wine tastes aligned
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Oct 31, 2013 3:10pm ET

It happens. Not often, but it happens: Matt Kramer and I agree on a wine. In this case, three wines.

Kramer had just led a seminar of Portuguese and Spanish wines from terraced vineyards, and I complimented him on his wine selections, which momentarily caught him off balance.

"I'm happy," I offered in jest. "Your palate is really coming around."

I think that pleased him until he realized … he's not accustomed to me liking the same wines that he does. It's something we've come to appreciate over the years.

It's a friendly repartee; we've known each other for 30-plus years, tasted together on several occasions, share many viewpoints and enjoy when we agree to disagree, or even those rarer occasions when we fully agree.

Some of his past wine choices for his seminar have left me baffled, but that's the way wine goes. Everyone has his or her own tastes and perspectives. In fact, you only have your palate.

Our views and tastes are not only unique, but also reflective of where we come from. Kramer learned about wine as a Francophile—Burgundy was his library and laboratory. He is a more curious, adventurous taster than I am, and by that I mean he drinks from a wider circle of wines than I do, something that I admire about him. I taste in a narrower range, mostly California wines. We're looking for different things when it comes to wine.

Kramer prefers wines that are trim, higher in acidity and marked by minerality. I prefer fuller-bodied wines with ripe, expressive flavors. I like oak more than he does and value sleek, rich, textured wines, more in the plush, velour mouthfeel style.

Kramer doesn't much like flavor descriptors (the I Spy this fruit or that game), and his style of wine writing doesn't much call for them. If he did what I do, it would be different. He'd have a full fruit stand of superlatives.

The terms he uses most frequently are finesse, minerality, "crisp, refreshing acidity," because, he says, "I suspect that the word 'acidity' alone somehow—and wrongly—is perceived as a pejorative." He routinely turns to words such as originality (what I call distinctive), singular, austere (my flinty), silky, nuance (my subtle), layers, shadings and supple (some of my favorites, too). "Oddly," he said, "given all my writing on the subject, I almost never actually say 'sense of place,' although I might say a 'somewhere wine' as opposed to a 'nowhere wine.' I might even refer to an old juxtaposition I once coined about a 'wine of fear' versus a 'wine of conviction.'" We both have a thorough appreciation for tannins.

I share this moment in the spirit of a longstanding wine affiliation, with someone I respect because he does his homework and delves into his subject with great passion. It's even better on the rare occasions we embrace the same wines, as we did this past Saturday.

Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  October 31, 2013 6:30pm ET
"Your palate is really coming around." LOL - thanks for sharing your sense of humor with us! Love it!
John Petrick
Louisville, Kentucky,USA —  November 1, 2013 7:17am ET
Great piece. As one of the "experienced" (aka: old)wine drinkers in Bourbon Country, I'm often asked for my opinion for purchases, gifts, etc. My opinions typically follow the same guideline as the old axiom.

I enjoy reading the comments and appraisals of the WS team members, and use them in very much the same way someone uses a tour book when traveling abroad: You know you want to go there, you have an idea of what you want to see, you make a few choices, and then form an opinion which may or may not align with the author. After time, you begin to figure out which author represents your tastes.

The fact that WS has many "tastes" to choose from makes it all the more enjoyable to pick up.
Adam Lee
Sonoma County, CA —  November 1, 2013 3:31pm ET

Thanks for the blog post. I enjoyed Matt's wines as well (and thought so many of the wines at this year's Wine Experience were truly fantastic).

And, like John, I also appreciate the different voices working at Wine Spectator. Much like my daughter, I can't carry a tune in a bucket, but amongst a large group both Amber and I sound pretty good. With the Spectator I find recommendations I appreciate and others that I don't always find to my taste --- but as a whole, it represents a great resource for all of us.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines
Kevin R Barris
Houston —  November 1, 2013 10:21pm ET
It's so much fun (not) when you guys write about yourselves as if you're someone special! I read Wine Spectator to learn about/understand wines. Don't be like sports writers who think we care about them. It's about the wine!
Igor Ostrovsky
Boston —  November 2, 2013 7:40pm ET
Wow, Kevin, that was harsh.

I know I Can't speak for everyone but I do care for the writers of WS. Over the years, you guys have lead me to countless wine pleasures, taught me much and have given me hours (days? weeks? years?) of reading pleasure. While we've never met, I almost think of you (and the magazine) as my friends.

My takeaway from Jim's piece was that, while we may not always agree with one another, we can still appreciate, respect and learn from others. Just because Jim and Matt (or me and Jim or Kevin and Matt or Adam and Don and on and on) like different wines, that doesn't mean that either of us is right or wrong. A wine is good if you like it; end of story.
Randall Rae
Vancouver —  November 3, 2013 1:48am ET
The great thing about writers is that if you don't want to read their article you don't have to read their article. Remember it's their opinion and their column...they chose the subject, it's the reader's choice to read it or not.
No reason to be rude about it.
Robert L Winters
Philadelphia, PA —  November 3, 2013 12:57pm ET
The article is interesting as is, but I wish it had named the three wines in question. Any chance of a potscript to the blog that does this?
Robert Taylor
New York —  November 3, 2013 1:38pm ET

The three wines featured in Matt Kramer's seminar were the Dominio do Bibei Ribeira Sacra Lalama 2009, Guimaro Ribeira Sacra Finca Meixemán 2010 and the Wine & Soul Douro Quinta da Manoella Vinhas Velhas 2010 (92 points, $100). You can read all about them in our Wine Experience coverage of Kramer's seminar, linked to in Laube's blog above, or here: http://www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/49138


Robert Taylor
Associate Editor
Jeremy Matouk
Port of Spain, Trinidad —  November 3, 2013 5:29pm ET
Kevin Barris, your comment was mean-spirited. Understanding the differences of opinion between wine critics is important to understanding wine criticism and commentary. Especially so when the writer goes through the trouble to explain why that may be so, which James did. I would suggest you would learn more about wines if you understood that wine writers have different perspectives. That is essentially what James was saying.
Perhaps you didn't "get it"?
Cheer up man. Wine is supposed to make us happy.
Homer Cox
Virginia —  November 4, 2013 7:06am ET
Thank goodness everyone doesn't like the same wine, including the experts. I would be suspicious if the editors here did.
Michael J Moses
Allamuchy, NJ —  November 4, 2013 10:54am ET
I agree with Jeremy. That is the sort of insight that provides the novice wine afficionado with background and perspective that allows them to open their minds to expanding their own palate, instead of being beholden solely to shelf tags and scores for making wine choices.

The thing I enjoy most about Wine Spectator is the overall volume of content the site has. If you want to read about scores exclusively, then read the insider reports and set the wine ratings section of the site as your homepage. Most other sites are score based as the majority of their content for two to three times the price of a subscription. Wine Spectator offers scores, news, trivia, video content, as well as the personal side of the world of wine. The site's cup runneth over with content, and it's very well done. One last point, this is Mr. Laube's personal blog. Just sayin'.
Stephen Martin
Paso Robles CA —  November 4, 2013 4:46pm ET
An interesting article that just touches on what I feel is a fundamental necessity in the wine world. James Laube has covered california wine for years and while I will not try to pretend that I understand or "get" his palate I appreciate his admittance to a palate that veers to a richer but balanced scope(Not to be interpreted as overripe high alcohol...). Matt Kramer, dare I say ,leans to perhaps the opposite spectrum in his palate. The fundamental necessity is that one needs the other.
My wife and I as growers here in Paso go around and taste at various wineries just to keep up on what is going on out there. We both have our particular palates. While we do enjoy the latest generation of winamakers who are revolutionizing our area we also enjoy going to Le Cuvier where winemaker John Munch challenges our taste buds with wine that has not been made in what we might call the traditional way or modern way. John has a unique style that is radically different than what we might be used to. The necessity is that every once in a while your palate needs to be recalibrated.. challenged from another point of reference. If you don't I think we will miss out on the gems out there that otherwise go unnoticed and perhaps more importantly your palate will become locked in to an uncompromising point of view that will not allow for experimentation. I suspect that in some way perhaps both Matt and James provide that for each other
Ralph Foong
Boston —  November 8, 2013 3:29pm ET

The characterization of differences between Matt's and your preferences is very helpful indeed.

I was wondering if there is a convenient way to also map in the other WS reviewers' preferences as well.

While there is a risk that it may end up being overly-generalized, it would nonetheless help us calibrate the tasting notes written by the various WS review team members.

Dennis D Bishop
Southeast Michigan, USA —  November 10, 2013 5:55am ET
I'm with you Mr. Laube when it comes to an appreciation of California wines, especially the reds, and in particular the cabs and cab blends - for all of the reasons noted in your blog. However, I lean towards Mr. Kramer's methodology of descriptive wine tasting, using "sensory" rather than "flavor" aspects. Matt's most often used (and recommended) words; finesse, harmony, detail, fatigue, surprise, layers, complexity, texture, density, proportion and balance help me define my personal tasting experience and the extent of my appreciation of a wine. I am challenged when it comes to defining flavor characteristics such as currant, chocolate, vanilla, licorice, tar, earth, lemon, basil, chalk, etc. To me, most reds are dominated by "dark berries" and carry different degrees of spice and minerals. I get it and I like it. However, I feel that the true difference in a wine's quality is best judged utilizing Matt's sensory descriptors. I am not saying that you do not use sensory descriptors - you do and quite nicely I might add.... it's just that I lean towards Matt's approach a little more than yours.
Dr Abraham Rosenberg
Miami, florida  —  November 10, 2013 9:47am ET
I was at the recent wine experience in NYC. I, as well as most of the attendees, felt that this was one of the best ever. I also fully concur with Matt Kramer and Jim Laube that these wines Matt presented are just fabulous. Only problem is I cannot find them here in the states. If possible, can you or Matt contact me and let me know where I can purchase them. Thanks
Jon Robinson
Bozeman, Montana —  November 16, 2013 7:47pm ET
In my naïvete I have always thought of Jim as a wine reviewer and Matt as a wine writer (and a Laugh-out-loud one at that). I like the work of both men immensely. Matt's writing is witty and entertaining(Making sense of....etc,) while Jim's is more precise in terms of the wine's description(California Wine).... In other words I read Matt's on the beach in Hawaii for entertainment and Jim's in the wine shop for real world recs!
I'm really curious as to how Matt and Jim view themselves.....
Great blog.

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