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Think Pink 

Reconsider rosés, the reds of summer

An April report from the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) says Americans will overtake the French in wine consumption by 2008. Bars and restaurants I frequent certainly flow with more juice these days, so we could win the race. But the juice is normally white or red, and rarely my favorite summer red wine, rosé. I've been trying to free dry rosés from their trashy, sweet image for as long as I've been writing Corkscrew, and have made a few converts. But not nearly enough. Here again is my tirade on why you, too, should be drinking cool, crisp rosé wine this summer.

Rosés rock. Light and refreshing, they are perfect for any meal and any time of day. The invigorating, tart acids and understated tannins make them super food-friendly, matching most summer fare as well as spicy eats. In recent years, I complained of their lack of availability, but I'm seeing more and more of them on shelves and lists. Now there's no excuse, people (insert finger wagging here).

Rosé wines -- or "blush" as some wineries call them -- are created by allowing the juice from red grapes to sit with the skins for a few hours. All grapes, no matter their skin color, have clear juice, but exposure to red skins stains the liquid. Darker rosés indicate the winemaker kept the juice stewing longer, coaxing more tannins into the future wine to give it more power and structure. Red wine is the result of the skins sticking around for a few days.

Winemakers pretty much make rosés from any red grape, with my favorites coming from syrah, grenache and zinfandel (wineries fearing the "white zin" rep name their pinks "zinfandel rosé"). The most famous come from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, where citizens still guzzle them by the gallons. And, unlike many other French wines, high-quality rosés come pretty cheap. California, however, is getting into the good-quality, low-price rosé business, especially producers like Pedroncelli, Bonny Doon and Turkey Flat.

White zinfandel remains the top selling wine in the US, so some California producers continue to make sweet pinks. Their characteristic sweetness comes from adding sugar or stopping fermentation before the sugar has been transformed into alcohol. Dry rosés' sugar gets eliminated through full fermentation, yielding higher alcohol content. One reliable, yet not infallible, method of determining whether a rosé packs a sugar wallop is looking at this number, normally located on the front label. Those with higher alcohol content, normally between 12.5 and 14.5 percent, are dry, and sweeter wines show 10-12 percent.

Thoroughly underappreciated but finally getting some play, rosés yearn for your attention. Give it up and drink some pink.

Recommended Wines

Grande Cassagne Rosé 2005 Languedoc (France) This wine exudes perfumey red fruit like raspberries and strawberries. Also has a great backbone of sharp yet pleasant acidity. All day drinkable. Sw = 1. $11. ****1/2

Falcor 2005 Rosé California The first wine I've tried from this winery and I'm impressed. If you close your eyes, you'll think this is a white. Gushes ripe strawberries, tart orange like baby aspirin, but with a fascinating, earthy maple syrup aftertaste. Sw = 1. $15. ****

Julian Chivite Gran Feudo 2005 Rosado (Spain) Light on the tongue, but long on fragrant strawberry and lemon-lime tartness. It's made from the Garnacha grape -- the Grenache of Spain. A pool wine if I ever tasted one. Sw = 2. $10. ***1/2

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

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