Matt Kramer is always right

Matt Kramer’s recent piece (‘Get Over It’) covers two points. The first is that wine lovers shouldn’t complain about the high prices paid at auction.

You don’t like the prices? Let me tell you what it is that you really don’t like: You don’t like that you can’t afford them.

The second point is old hat in the world of wine (not that a lot isn’t old hat in this smallest of small worlds): there is an issue with the subjectivity of wine tasting. Essentially, Kramer’s point is to say that on a subjective level individual taste is valid (in other words, what I taste is valid to me) but that experience – what Kramer tries to call ‘insight’ – is more valuable to others.

On a very very very basic level, these points are irrefutable. But let’s delve a little deeper:

Kramer is correct: I think Napa Wine Auction prizes are crazy. I think top Bordeaux prices are crazy. He’s also absolutely correct to say that I don’t like the prices because I can’t afford them. I’m jealous and I’m angry that money is the deciding factor in who gets the best wines. What is wrong with that? Why should I get over it?

It saddens me to think that Kramer reckons its okay that good wine is becoming elitist. Let them eat cake, he says. Is he not worried that good wine is increasingly becoming seen as a rich man’s drink (for these very reasons)? Is he not worried about the future readership of his magazine if middle America decides to abandon the world of good wine because it clearly can’t afford it, because it is being petulant and jealous and it should ‘get over it’?

Let’s move on and look at the second point: everyone’s opinion is equally valid. This is uncontroversial in the extreme.

What I do take exception with is the implied qualification that, because of years of experience and knowledge, Kramer’s opinion (his ‘insight’) is worth more than some first-time wine blogger in Nebraska.

This is false. Let me give two examples. The first is Robert Parker. When he started out, he was that first-time blogger in Nebraska (well, Maryland). Compared to the experiential weight (should I say ‘insight’?) of the British and continental wine trade, he was a joke. By Kramer’s reckoning, his opinion was of little to no value. His triumph (from 1982 onwards) was to prove Kramer’s original point: that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. In this case, the newbie’s was more valid than the ‘insightful’.

The second point is to look at the evolution of wine production in recent years. Experience (what generations of winemakers did until now) has almost lost out to new and ‘better’ winemaking techniques (what their children do now). As one producer in Spain once told me: just because it’s always been done one way doesn’t mean it’s always been done the right way.

Progress seems to occur because we listen to new ideas that don’t, if ever, come from the establishment (it is perhaps in the nature of the establishment not to want change).
The subtext of Kramer’s ‘insight’ paves the way for further elitism. It shows no mercy to minorities and dismisses all views that are not established or grounded in some learning or understanding.

But it’s also wonderfully vague. It may be interesting (not least for all the respondents to Kramer’s piece) to ask at what point Kramer will actually listen to your point of view (do you need to have spent six or twelve years in wine?), and indeed whether he has enough ‘insight’ of loving wine but living on a budget that he is able to tell the rest of us to ‘get over it’?

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