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The rosé renaissance 

Think pink for the all-purpose wine

Outside, the mercury hit 87 degrees. One swing of the door and the humidity slaps my face, sweat streams from my pores, and my fresh application of face powder degrades to a clumpy, taupe mess. I don't have a pool, but launching our lowly, old-school sprinkler offers a modicum of relief. I feel like a 10-year-old, but I'm cool -- at least in the physical sense. Summer as a kid meant all play, every day. Extended daylight ushered in hours of Kick the Can, rope swings and hanging with friends. This last part hasn't changed much in adulthood, but as summer plants its rump on my doorstep, backyard bonding over numerous bottles of rosé and grilled food become my new games.

I've recently decidedly that dry rosé (the opposite of blush wines like "white zin") has possibly replaced sparkling wine as the beverage that matches all cuisine. Not "perfectly" mind you, since that limb is precarious, but enough to pronounce it the jack of all occasions. And in case you haven't heard, grilled meat loves rosé. Men, for some reason the ordained grill masters, might consider it too girly-man to drink pink instead of beer, but it's time to surmount that macho hurdle. The subtle hint of sweetness, the fruitiness, acidity and slight tannins help combine and tame strong seasonings on delicious carbon-crusted meat, naked or slathered.

Pink wine -- now considered the coolest nip in chic New York City -- is often the cheapest thing in town, which makes the purchase easier. But rosé is so closely related to red, discrimination seems unjust. All grapes, no matter the color of their skins, have clear juice. Its tint depends on the amount of time the red grape skins stew with the liquid: days or weeks for red wines but only several hours for rosés. Some rosés look darker than others, indicating the winemaker kept the juice sitting longer with the skins, coaxing more flavor and tannins (aka "structure" in geek-speak) into the wine. The preferred production for high-quality rosés, this method is called "saignee" (san-YAY -- pronounced "bled" in French). Another method involves pressing the skins separately and mixing in the color before fermentation, producing a lighter-bodied, lower-alcohol wine.

Before, winemakers kept their rosés for themselves, fearing their prized treasure would languish on the shelves. But the rosé renaissance has them poking their pink-y in the consumer waters. Apparently, we're responding. I spy salmon-colored, screw-topped wine emerging from all parts of the globe, made from pretty much every red grape -- syrah, grenache, mourvedre, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel and even pinotage, the funky grape from South Africa. In France, the birthplace of bone-dry pink, obscure cinsaut and carignan flourish in the south.

Like Kick the Can, rosés are best appreciated at a young age. Lingering in your wine rack will tire them out, producing vapid plunk. A 2006 vintage or younger is best. Chill like a white wine, invite a few friends, and enjoy the easy living that summer offers. And maybe run through the sprinkler for old times' sake.

Recommended Wines

Turkey Flat 2007 Rosé Barossa Valley (Australia) Soft 'n' elegant, with cranberry, sweet cherry, ripe strawberries and fresh, lively acidity. Quite perfect, really. Drink this one all by yourself. Sw = 2. $17. *****.

Columbia Crest 2007 Two Vines Rosé Vineyard 10 (Washington) Bold and fragrant, this rosé has bright strawberry and raspberry reminiscent of a fresh, crisp fruit salad. Best rosé deal I've tasted in years. Sw = 3. $8. **** 1/2.

Monkey Bay 2007 Rosé (New Zealand) Refreshing with tart cherry, strawberry cream cheese and juicy watermelon. Bracing citrus finish. Delicious, with just the right sweetness. Sw = 2. $10. *** 1/2

Graham Beck 2007 Pinotage Rosé Robertson Valley (South Africa) A brisk, earthy wine with red cherry, a tinge of strawberry and smooth, refined acids. Sw = 2. $10. *** 1/2

Sweetness (Sw) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. 1 (star) rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.

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