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Touring, Tasting and Buying in the Most Beautiful Wine Regions

By Ornella D'Alessio and Marco Santini
(Rizzoli, $35)

Reviewed by Sylvie Greil

With great wines coming out of New Zealand, South Africa and Chile, Europe’s long-standing monopoly has gotten a bit corky. Yet even without Euro-centric bias, you’d have to concede that the Old World is the birthplace of the vine. And we’re certainly not going to get into an argument over entitlement in the face of a beautiful work that lovingly trails, via twenty itineraries, the terroir of European wine-producing regions “from Champagne to Chianti, Douro to the Rhine, Slovenian Collio to Andalusia.”

While Europe also had to give up the privilege of being the one and only civilized cradle, where serious-about-culture, self-respecting Americans hone their skills (whether writing the next big novel or learning to handle knife and fork properly), there are still plenty reasons to visit, as Wine Country Europe points out. Where else in the world can you taste a Chenin Blanc in calcareous tufa grottos other than in the French village of Vouvray? Or how about sipping pretty near a Teutonic monastery in South Tyrol’s Alto Adige, a region of hills bucolically blanketed by vines? Nor can you beat flower-framed temple ruins in Sicily. En route you get to know winemakers of ancient wineries, find out where the locals feast and, most importantly, what labels to look for. Even lodging ideas are suggested.

Whether you embark on imaginary travels in your armchair or actually buy a plane ticket, we dare you to experience the “bull’s blood of Eger,” an intense wine from Hungary, or take part in the opening ritual of a new vintage in Portugal that involves a trick with fiery hot tongs.

The authors, being Italian, unapologetically included six Italian wine regions and six from France (of course) but skimped a bit on other countries like Germany, Austria, Portugal and Hungary. But we weren’t looking for a comprehensive tome. Wine Country Europe works perfectly as an aperitif, to get you started. It delivers aromas and flavors that whet your appetite and set you yearning for the old countries. If anything, you’ll walk away with a shopping list of fine European wines.

(Published: 12/09/05)

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