This is ultra-common for columnists in all walks of life — Roger Ebert surely makes a fortune repackaging movie reviews every year and selling them to readers who didn’t catch his musings on the latest Spy Kids the first time — so this shouldn’t (and doesn’t) surprise me. And this is actually Kramer’s first such book, which is remarkable if for no other reason than to make you realize the sheer amount the man has had to say about wine over the years.
Kramer is a good wine writer because although he clearly has an exhaustive knowledge of the subject, he speaks for and to the everyman. He loathes froufrou language and openly says that blind tastings suck. He complains that wine merchants (not critics) are the ones that decide what wine is “good” and what isn’t, and comes this close to decrying large-scale competitive wine tastings (like those his employer organizes) as hopeless bullshit. Kramer expounds on the awesome winemaking prowess at a Gallo outpost but will also let you know what he thinks about Lagrein. (It’s a grape, in case you didn’t know.) He laughs directly at many a wine collector, calls the wine-biz movie Mondovino malicious agitprop, and calls out restaurants by name for poor service and bad policies.
In other words, Kramer repeatedly bites the hand that feeds him. And yet, it keeps feeding him.
The good news is that’s our gain, and this collection of essays — while all over the map (literally) — is a fun way to re-experience Kramer’s writing if you didn’t catch it the first time. (And he writes for so many outlets that you couldn’t have seen it all in print originally.)
The book ends with a curiosity: A multi-thousand word profile of Angelo Gaja that was rejected by The New Yorker but which was paid for — $15,000 — in full. I didn’t get through it all, but that’s OK: Kramer is actually best in small doses, as his quippy writing style works well in the short form, where he can drop a gag and run out the room before his host realizes he’s been had. In some cases, that means you and me.
B+ / $12 / [BUY IT FROM AMAZON]