Welcome to Spring 2000, the first primavera of the new millennium. While I’ll be visiting wineries in Austria, an always inviting wine country, and later Slovenia, its mighty-mite neighbor just over the Alps, you’ll probably be indulging yourselves in hanami, that annual eternally poetic pastime. Be sure to celebrate by including some suitable wine in your hanami picnic basket.

Is there a wine just right for viewing cherry blossoms? Indeed — in fact quite a few. Something fresh and light and perhaps even floral comes to mind.

First, though, the food. I suggest that you pack something as simple as finger sandwiches and fresh fruit and/or such Japanese favorites as makizushi (roll-type sushi), inarizushi (rice encased in fried tofu) and, perhaps best of all, onigiri (rice balls containing a dab of salmon, bonito, or pickled plum). Lovely stuff, and light on the midday stomach.

With these simple treats you might consider any number of refreshing light, dry white wines, such as young Riesling, pinot blanc, chardonnay — something neither sweet nor too assertive — and Asti Spumante, a good choice with fruit. Champagne and other sparkling wines such as Spanish cava, German and Austrian sekt, and creants from Luxembourg, the Loire Valley and Alsace are very good choices.

This is also a perfect occasion for light, dry rose wines such as those salmon-pink types from Saumur and Provence in France and from Penedes and Rioja in Spain. Don’t forget the California blush wines, including alcohol-free versions if you like wine sans alcohol.

Find a place to ease back in serene repose and enjoy the wispy elegance of cherry blossoms in full bloom. If it isn’t mealtime, you might consider simply fresh fruit with a dry muscat as you revel in the fleeting frailty of the cherry blossom. Consider a dry muscat from Alsace, one of the producing regions where the otherwise sweetish grape muscat (also moscato and muscatel) is vinified into a dry wine.

In common with the blossoms, the wines you drink will also be charming but evanescent: fresh and light and right for the occasion, but unlikely to linger on the finish. For lasting memories, you can count on the whole ensemble of this hanami experience — cherry blossoms, food, wine, and, one hopes, some bright spring sunshine.

I’ll be thinking of you in Austria, one of the many international wine-producing lands that appeared recently at Foodex 2000, the massive food and beverage event that attracts wine producers from every vinous corner of the earth. This year that included not only the major Old World producing lands such as France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania but also New World producers such as California, Australia, Chile and Uruguay, an important if little heeded wine country. Tunisia and Lebanon were also there.

It all adds up to exciting new wines on the Japanese market, many of which I’ll report on once they’re here. Meanwhile, make a note of June 6, 7 and 8, the three-day run of the first Vinexpo ever held in Japan, at Tokyo Big Sight. I’ll be there, and hope you can be, too.


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