European approach to wine

Imagine a restaurant that pours wine as matter-of-factly as iced tea in a Texas steakhouse.

You don’t have to imagine. Go to Western Europe. Go to Italy.

I recently spent two weeks in Italy on the Amalfi coast and in Florence experiencing this ancient, refreshing view of vino.

Prosecco is treated like a soft drink, table wine as iced tea. There was none of the show, pretense and expense of typical U.S. restaurant wine experience.

The Amalfi coast (the mountainous coastline east of Naples) is not noted for superior wines. But they make moderate alcohol quaffables, and you can quaff them lunch and dinner (did not try breakfast, but probably could) from pitchers placed at table without fanfare or wallet-walloping expense.

How refreshing, and an approach that would be welcome at local eateries. It would be innovative to have a drinkable house wine priced so you did not feel stupid when you ordered a glass knowing you could, for the price of the restaurant glass, buy almost an entire bottle of the same wine at a grocery store.

The European approach reinforces wine’s status as food, rather than as a pathway to booze buzz and restaurant profit. That is reason countries with the highest per-capita consumption of wine have the lowest per-capita incidence of alcoholism.

Italy, Spain, France, and the rest of Western Europe generally have the same attitude toward wine and meals. Scientists cite this as part of the “Mediterranean diet” and cause of “French Paradox.” It is not just casual, moderate wine consumption—vegetables, fish, moderate ingestion of red meat play a big part—but the science is undeniable. They live longer. In my view from recent experience, happier, too.

Tasting notes:

• Torre Zecchei Prosecco Brut. Dry, clean, crackling acidity; citrus, apple, apricot; flower flutter finish; killer cocktail with Lillet (a French aperitif). $15

• Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico 2007. Rich, bright, tight; plum, berry, sour cherry, chocolate, earth, leather, oak; decant. $45

• Damilano Barolo Cannubi 2008. Inviting rose nose; massive, vibrant cherry, plum, raspberry, leather, tar; oak tannin; finishes forever. $85

Last round: A meal without wine is called breakfast. And even then…