The next time you shop for wine, consider turning it into a leisurely expedition to Le Vin Vivant. Start in the store’s cool, gold-painted cafe with a tasting of five recommended wines. The selection changes every other week and costs 1,800 yen (single glasses are 300 yen). If you are feeling peckish, sample the French cheeses as well (a plate of five is 1,200 yen). The tasting will fortify you for a treasure hunt in the adjoining stucco-and-timber wine cellar.

Sommelier Naoko Saito is your guide to the unknwon wines of Europe.

Le Vin Vivant is the direct importer for many of the interesting bottles in its climatized, three-room cave. In addition to precious Bordeaux and Burgundy, the shop specializes in tracking down affordable discoveries from up-and-coming appellations such as Languedoc-Roussillon. On a recent visit, for example, we came across spicy Rhone reds from the excellent 1998 vintage, including Vacqueyras Cuvee Seigneur de Lauris (1,680 yen) and Cha^teau de Saint-Cosme Gigondas (3,200 yen).

Although the emphasis is decidedly French, the shelves also contain intriguing finds from other countries, such as Italy (check out 1996 Paolo Scavino Barolo Canubi — a favorite of wine guru Robert Parker) and Austria (1998 St. Severin Blauer Zweigelt Kremstal is a graceful red from a country traditionally known for white wines).

People looking to splurge will encounter temptations such as Port, Amarone and Sauternes (the luscious, honey-colored 1990 Chateau Sudiraut is 4,480 yen per half-bottle). But Le Vin Vivant sommelier Naoko Saito says that most customers want wines in the 1 yen,500-3,000 range to take home for dinner. Saito speaks impeccable English and is keen to talk with customers. Let her be your guide in unfamiliar terrain.

One of her summer recommendations is a thirst-quenching sparkling wine — Vincent Edouard Poirier Vin Mousseux de Qualite NV from France’s Loire Valley. At 1,500 yen per bottle, this elegant bubbly made from the Chenin Blanc grape is an exceptional buy, with flavors of citrus, peach, smoke and a flinty mineral undertone. If you are planning a celebration on a tight budget, it will taste extravagant without breaking the bank.

For folks who prefer the luxury of Champagne, Veuve Fourny et Fils Premier Cru Brut NV is well-priced at 3,500 yen (the Rose edition is 3,800 yen).

Le Vin Vivant also offers tasting seminars. On Wednesday, July 25, the winemakers will lead a vertical tasting of Chateau Sauman (from 1989 vintage) and Chateau Tayac (from 1985 vintage), Bordeaux estates from the Cotes de Bourg appellation. There is no fee to attend, but advance reservations are required.

Le Vin Vivant, Ichihara Building 8F 4-13-2 Shiba, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0014, a three-minute walk from Mita Station. Tel: (03) 3454-3033; fax: (03) 3454-3321; www.LVV.co.jp Open Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-8 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (Closed Sunday and national holidays.)

Our wine of the week is the 1998 Marc Kreydenweiss Lerchenberg “Les Allouettes” Pinot Gris (1,890 yen). This fragrant Pinot Gris from Alsace is made by an excellent producer who is a proponent of organic viticulture.

The heavy viticultural use of herbicides, pesticides and fungicides can result in groundwater contamination, and disrupt the ecology of the vineyard environment. Yet for a long time, organic wines tended to inspire skepticism in wine lovers. Marc Kreydenweiss defies stereotypes with his beautiful wines, crafted according to the strict “biodynamic” principles of Austrian scientist and philosopher Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925).

This white wine has a complex filigree of flavors — lime, tangerine, melon, honey and white pepper — mingling with its floral aroma. It is perfect for sipping well-chilled with brunch or a picnic.

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