THE NEXT-BEST thing to tasting a good wine is reading about it. Interest in wine leads to gourmet food, travel and viniana, a British term describing books about wine.
Among the best of the books issued for the holidays are "The Wine Atlas of Italy," by Burton Anderson, and two books on Burgundy, one by Robert M. Parker Jr., "The Man with the Paragon Palate," and another by Matt Kramer, wine writer for the Portland Oregonian.
Anderson's book (Simon & Schuster, 320 pages, $40), subtitled "Traveler's Guide to the Vineyards," fills a great need.
Probably no country in the wine world is as unknown to most wine enthusiasts as Italy, although some of the greatest wines in the world are made there.
This book charts entire vineyards in detail, telling about the wines and the people who make them. Anderson is the first to map and describe every one of Italy's 20 wine regions. You read about 8,090 communes, including those controlled by official zones to ensure quality.
Such a book cannot substitute for personal visits to the vineyard, but Burton offers an invaluable insider's guide to the best wines. He describes the land, soil, climate and wine of each of Italy's 94 provinces. Detailed maps, divided into segments, focus on the quality of each province's wines.
This is a valuable reference and guide to help visitors identify Italy's more than 400 official wine zones.
The wine atlas is a fitting companion to Anderson's earlier books, "Vino" and the "Pocket Guide to Italian Wines."
The simultaneous introduction of "Burgundy" by Robert M. Parker Jr. (Simon & Schuster, 1,052 pages, $39.95) and "Making Sense of Burgundy" by Matt Kramer (William Morrow & Co., 528 pages, $24.95) throws light on the many mysteries of winemaking in Burgundy.
Parker has a no-nonsense approach in rating the wines. He starts with an overview of the region, listing 640 producers and judging their abilities and style of winemaking. In addition to a detailed analysis of each Burgundy district and summaries of the vintages, Parker lists hotels and restaurants for tourists.
Describing Burgundy as "the world's most complicated wine region," Parker provides the reader with a fundamental understanding of an area that has traditionally baffled wine experts.
Kramer takes a more literary approach, giving details of Burgundy's history and the division of vineyards over the centuries, a practice that leaves some owners with only a few rows of grapes. A great part of the difference in quality among these expensive wines, Kramer explains, can be attributed to various methods of vineyard cultivation and winemaking, which in turn can be traced to the practices of scores of different owners.
Researching records that the French government has since declared confidential, Kramer lists the names of the principal owners of Burgundy's prime wine-growing areas. Until now, this information had been a closely guarded secret. His book is the first and only public source of this data.
Both authors look at various aspects of buying Burgundy, the pricing and availability, the wine offering the best value and how to buy Burgundy futures.
Members of the Buffalo chapter of Les Amis du Vin will taste wine from Chateau Ste. Michelle in the Columbia Valley of Washington, Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel.
After an aperitif of Domaine Ste. Michelle Columbia Valle Brut, six more wines will be tasted. Call 634-2456 for reservations.
Have a question about wine? Write Bill Murray in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. Questions of general interest will be answered here.