Book Review: “Making Sense of Wine” by Matt Kramer

kramerwineEvery time I receive a new issue of Wine Spectator, my ritual is always the same. First, I always flip to the back of the magazine to ogle the point rankings. I suppose I’m like most people — I have a strange fascination with the very things that I rally against — but I must admit that I do enjoy reading the scores. I am always eager to see which wineries are anointed with high marks, and likewise, I’m always interested to see how I might agree or disagree with the magazine’s assessments. But shortly after thumbing through the rankings — once I’ve had the opportunity to shake my head in mock disgust — my second step remains instinctive: I flip to the front of the magazine to read Matt Kramer’s column.

For me, Kramer is by far the most redeeming fixture at Wine Spectator. His columns are clever in ways that often transcend the work of most other wine writers, and I compare Kramer’s output to the wonderful food writing of Jonathan Gold and to the legendary sports writing of the late Jim Murray. For that, wine drinkers are fortunate that Kramer has offered to share his expertise outside the pages of Wine Spectator. Over the years, Kramer has authored several great books, but none is more critical than 1989’s “Making Sense of Wine.” Nearly two decades since its release, this book remains an indispensable reference guide, answering the questions that other books seem to miss.

In many ways, “Making Sense of Wine” — much like Kermit Lynch’s “Adventures on the Wine Route” — presents readers with a philosophical overview. And while neither one of these books is going to help wine drinkers memorize things like vintages or the five First Growths of Bordeaux, there are scads of wine encyclopedias that already fill that need. What makes Kramer’s book unique is that it addresses many of the grey areas surrounding wine, such as cellaring and food pairing, while it also helps to demystify some of the other areas, such as the chemistry of winemaking. Throughout the text, Kramer’s explanations remain clear, concise and approachable — never lofty or overly abstract.

“Making Sense of Wine” is a terrific book to revisit from time to time, as I have done recently. Kramer’s style is engaging, and it soon becomes clear why this book is now in its second edition. As wine increases in popularity, it seems as though the basic wine-related questions will always need to be answered. To be sure, a legion of would-be wine aficionados will continue to come of age, each wondering how long to age their wine, whether or not to decant, and what type of stemware to use. Kramer addresses each of these topics, and then some. “Making Sense of Wine” is the first book that any wine drinker should read.

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