BOOK: "The Accidental Connoisseur" by Lawrence Osborne (North Point Press, $24)

TARGET AUDIENCE: Wine lovers who've read Robert Parker, but just can't seem to detect that essence of "melted asphalt" in their expensive Bordeaux.

QUICK TAKE: Osborne, a British-born journalist and author ("American Normal"), sets out innocently enough on a gustatory quest to find the Holy Grail of "taste." If wine is a "matter of taste," then what is taste? Where does it come from? And what makes wines distinct? From California through France and along the length of Italy's boot, Osborne creates vivid portraits of some of the world's most important wine routes and explores the forces now colliding there: earth ("terroir") and technology, poetry and greed, agriculture and marketing flimflam.

He discusses American tastes and Bob Dylan with Italian winemaker Antonio Terni, lunches with the imperial Robert Mondavi in Napa and the world-weary Marchese Piero Antinori in Florence, sips at the vaunted Chateau Rothschild-Lafite, witnesses a riot of French viticulteurs and drinks with eccentric independents on two continents.

RANT: Occasionally, Osborne lets the Everyman veneer drop and quotes Nietzsche.

RAVE: Osborne allows the wine world's tastemakers to hang themselves with their own tongues, starting with Parker, who, he says, dubiously claims to have more papillae on his tongue than the average mortal.

-- Robert V. Camuto