Elsewhere in Europe

Want to taste your way through another country? Local restaurants are a good first stop

Cabeza o Corazon?

Drink First, Think later? Think First, Drink Later? With Spanish Wine, Either Works.

There are two ways to approach Spanish wine: with the head or with the heart.

Talk to Bill Summerville, managing director at Solera and the recently relocated La Belle Vie, and you'll glimpse the romance of the Iberian grape. Summerville traveled twice to Spain last year to tour vineyards, and the rocky peninsula hasn't yet released its grip on him. He tasted Basque wine along the northern coast and sherry in the south. He reveled in the dramatic landscape of the west coast. Everywhere, his hosts plied him with sumptuous meals.

"You're either eating to death or starving to death," he recalled. "If you hit two wineries a day they both want to feed you."

In Priorat, a dry, steep region just south of Barcelona, lives *ACCENT SECOND E Rene Barbier, the vintner's version of a mad scientist, according to Summerville, and one of Spain's top winemakers. "He's a big burly guy wearing shorts and a beard and these lace-up espadrilles. He reminded me of a cross between a hippie and Grizzly Adams," says Summerville.

Barbier can dress funny if he likes: Founders of dynasties get to do that. He's one of a group of winemakers who moved into Priorat a few decades ago and have met with remarkable success. "Now their kids are making wine and they're actually marrying each other, which is kind of scary," laughs Summerville. "There's definitely an artsy feel to it. Kind of hippie in a 2000 kind of way."

Barbier's eccentricities show up in the details of the winemaking process. "His winery is a clash of the smartest winemaking methods around, and incredibly low technology," says Summerville. "He'll cover a window with cardboard so a room will stay a little cooler."

You can judge for yourself--Solera offers a few selections from Barbier: the Clos Nelin 2003, for $59, and the Clos Mogador 2002, for $145. Though $59 is more than the average customer spends on a wine bottle, Summerville said, the Clos Nelin is a criminally good deal. "I should be charging so much more money for it because it's incredibly limited," he says. "There's not much of it, and we didn't mark it up much. We got maybe two cases."

A Classic Glass

Drink the Essence of Greece on a Busy Corner in Minneapolis

On a chilly October night, the headlight-smeared streets of Minneapolis seem very far indeed from the rocky seashores of Greece. If you're the literary type, you can close the distance with that dusty volume of Homer stashed somewhere in the basement. If you're more the bon vivant, you start mapping your route to the nearest bottle of Amethystos or Moschofilero.

If that's the case, you'll most likely wind up at the northeast corner of Lyndale and Lake, following the smell of roast lamb through the door of It's Greek to Me, a family-owned restaurant that's spent nearly three decades educating Minnesotans about Grecian cuisine and wine.

Co-owner Aris Arambadjis says their efforts haven't been in vain: folks in the Twin Cities have come to know and appreciate Greek wine. "They used to be hesitant before, because all they knew was retsina," he laughs. The pine-flavored wine has little appeal for people raised far from the Aegean. "Unless you're familiar with [retsina] or you acquire a taste for it, you don't like it."

Arambadjis is proud of the fact that the landlubbers who frequent his place can tell a Skouras from a Kouros. "They know what to order," he says. "Because we've been there and we have our regular customers, they know what wine they want." He doesn't often see diners falling back on more familiar wines, either. The restaurant lists a small selection of California wines, but sells few.

Over the years, at the same time that Midwesterners have been warming up to Greek wine, many farmers in the northern part of the country have shifted from growing crops to producing wine, and Greek wine itself has gotten better. "Greece became more adventurous in the last 20 years," says Arambadjis. "Northern Greece was more into agriculture before, and vegetables. The past 25 years, northern Greece started to get more wines."

The wine list at It's Greek to Me is a contradiction in terms: Though you'd have a hard time hunting these bottles down anywhere else in town, the prices don't reflect their scarcity. Most are priced between $16 and $26.

One of Arambadjis's favorites is the Moschofilero Boutari, for $26 ($6.50 by the glass). This is a powerful, flowery white that makes you hungry for mousaka and spanakopita. That's with the first sip. By the end of the first glass, that painting of the Greek fishing village starts to look familiar. You start to wonder if a wine can taste like the sea, or at least like being lost. As you finish the last forkful of galakotobouriko (phyllo-wrapped, cinnamon-sprinkled egg custard), you're pretty sure that you've remembered exactly where that dog-eared copy of The Odyssey is, and you're pretty sure you need to go home and find it and read it right away, before the taste of orange blossoms fades from your tongue.

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