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Traditional rosés have more depth of flavor than blush wines

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2011 La Source Chateau Vignelaure

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Spring's soft touch will soon arrive to stay and create ample opportunities to enjoy al fresco dining. And when luxuriating under blue skies and brilliant sun, tasty, slightly chilled dry rosé wines offer the perfect choice.

The style's blend of fruity aromas, juicy flavors and refreshing, zesty acidity creates versatility with many al fresco favorites such as seafood salads, grilled vegetables, and simple baguettes with olive and garlic tapenade.

To support dry rosé's growing popularity, the Rosé Consortia gathers an impressive array of international producers working together. Notable domaines hail from Australia, California, Chile, France, New Zealand, Oregon and Spain. Consumers can join as affiliates at www.roseconsortia.comand receive a complementary newsletter.

The group 's key goal rests on favoring traditionally produced dry — or slightly off-dry — rosé wines. The grapes vary from pinot noir, grenache, syrah, tempranillo, zinfandel, malbec, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Depending on the amount of skin contact during crush, the wine colors run the gamut from the palest salmon to vibrant hot pink. But the traditional style does not include modern “blush” wines made from blending white and red wines.

New World producers have popularized the “blush” style with the decidedly off-dry and often downright sweet “white zinfandels.” Other popular “blush” wines include the cleverly named Ménage à Trois, described on the wine's Web page as “a madcap blend of merlot, syrah and gewürztraminer ... a fruit-laden roller coaster ride of raspberries, strawberries, lychee nuts and flowers.”

Doubtlessly, it makes a pleasant, fun wine in and of itself. But such off-dry “blush” fruit bombs simply cannot match well-made rosés for enhancing savory al fresco dishes such as s alade niçoise or green beans and fresh goat cheese.

Even so, in 2009, European Commission regulators recognized “blush” wines' lucrative sales and considered incorporating the blending method for European rosé wines. French producers protested loudly until the European Union withdrew the proposal.

So traditional French producers, as well as those in the Rosé Consortia, still employ two time-tested methods to create their wines:

• Direct pressing involves picking, crushing and immediately pressing red-skinned grapes. This minimizes the naturally colorless grape juice's contact with the red skins resulting in a pale-pink color in the final wine.

• Saignée or “bleeding” involves steeping the juice of the newly picked and crushed grapes with red skins in a vat for anywhere from a few hours up to 24 hours. The producer then simply opens a valve at the bottom of the tank and “bleeds” off the juice. This results in a more deeply colored pink wine.

Both methods require a practiced hand and savoir-faire to produce elegant, well-balanced dry rosés. Ideally, the 2012 rosés would already be on the retail store shelves, but not to worry. The following 2011 wines from producers in rosé's spiritual homeland in the south of France succeed admirably:

The 2011 Château Vignelaure La Source Côteaux d'Aix- en-Provence, France (Luxury 39950; $13.99) comes from grenache, cinsault and syrah vines growing at high altitudes in limestone and clay. Fresh citrus, floral and light strawberry aromas waft from the pale salmon color. The wine exudes tremendous fresh acidity to balance citrus and berry flavors through a fruity, delicate dry finish. Highly recommended.

The 2011 Château du Donjon, Minervois, France (Luxury 45734; $13.99) comes from the Panis family, a producer with roots traced back over 500 years. The current proprietor, Jean, still makes wine in the estate's stone tower with 2-foot thick walls. The old structure provides natural insulation even in the Languedoc's hot climate.

This saignée-style rosé from syrah, cinsault and grenache sports a vibrant pink robe. Subtle strawberry and grapefruit aromas open to lush, yet crisp red-fruit flavors and a refreshing dry finish. Recommended.

The 2011 Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris, Corbières, France (Luxury 39348; $15.99) comes from grenache gris, grenache noir, mourvèdre, carignan and cinsault grapes grown around Boutenac, long Corbières ' most-celebrated appellation. Domaine founder Yves Laboucarié has unearthed Roman grape-growing artifacts in the vineyards.

A benchmark for t he saignée style, the wine's “onion skin” color unfolds strawberry and peach aromas. Crisp quince and citrus fruit flavors balance through the dry finish. Highly recommended.

Dave DeSimone writes about wine for Trib Total media. He can be reached at ddesimone@tribweb.com.

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