The Eyewitness Companions series of travel guides is rightfully famous for its full-color photos and high-quality paper and for its intriguing details on famous buildings and personalities, but the format doesn't work quite as smoothly in Wines of the World, which is a slightly ungainly combination of tour brochure and wine primer. At times it strains for prettiness, and its factoids often read like picture captions, but it eventually gets its rhythm. The discussion of tannins and their role in wines is trenchant, the descriptions of key flavors and the explanations of how to read wine labels of various countries is useful. Still, there's a sort of conundrum: the maps and wine region trails, followed by capsules of dependable labels, would seem to be more help to someone actually on the ground, but the book is best used as a buying guide. And while it includes commendably strong sections on less well-known wine regions in Hungary or Romania, for instance, giving Nelson Mandela credit for sparking the winemaking revolution in South Africa is a bit of a stretch.

Eve Zibart is a restaurant reviewer for the Washington Post and author of The Ethnic Food Lover's Companion.

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