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Savor fruity flavors of rosé

Rosé has such a miserable history yet such a lively custom. A staple in southern France where Europeans flock for August vacations, it was a taste brought to this country by returning GIs who grew fond of this easy drink while defending France in World War II. Any baby boomer worth his salt will remember those iconic wines: Lancers and Mateus.

These cheap, off-dry rosés eventually gave way to more sophisticated white wines only to be reincarnated by a California winery's regrettable mistake that became a wine producer's goldmine: white zinfandel.

The real rosé never had a chance in this country. First, it had fizz. Then, it had sugar. Is it any wonder that most consumers have a hangover memory of any pink wine?

Meanwhile, the French never blinked. The rosé they knew was a light-bodied, bone-dry pink wine that exuded fresh fruit flavors that cooled the body and made them want to dance. That's the rosé we know and love.

In recent weeks, we have been tasting our way through dozens of rosés from France, Spain, Australia and California. Generally, it's hard to find a dog in this group because the process is relatively simple and the best grapes are widely considered to be grenache, mourvedre, syrah, cinsault and sangiovese.

The word "rosé" ("rosado" in Spain) symbolizes the color of the wine — ranging from a peachy orange to a watermelon red — but it also represents a style of wine. One style is achieved by draining the juice shortly after the grapes have been crushed and before the red grapes have a chance to add a deep pigment. The second style is known in France as saignee: bleeding off some juice of the crushed red grapes and letting the rest produce red wine.

Rosés are well-liked for their simplicity and fun. You can get serious about these wines, so snobs need to park their noses and just enjoy the wines. However, some French producers — most notably Domaine Ott — are serious about their rosés. Those from Tavel and Bandol, for instance, are the most serious rosés. Spanish rosados are relatively simple and, frankly, you never know what you're going to get from California rosés. The more we taste these wines year after year the more we see the differences between the West Coast fruit bombs and the elegant, simple rosés of southern France. We guess you know our preference.

The beauty of rosés is that they can range in price from $12 to $30 — and our favorites are in the $12 range!

*Chateau Grande Cassagne Rosé 2009 ($10). The Grande Cassagne from southern France is a deep red explosion of fruit. Blended with grenache, syrah and mourvedre, it is packed with strawberry and raspberry fruit. Don't think, just drink.

*Mas de Guiot Rosé 2009 ($10). Pink color hints of the delicacy of this excellent wine that we have bought by the case for many years. Made in the Costieres de Nimes region of southern France, it is a blend of syrah, grenache and cinsault. Rose-petal aromas and cherry, strawberry flavors.

*Marques de Caceres Rioja Rosé 2009 ($10). A blend of grenache and tempranillo, this deep-colored roseé sports dark berry fruit and good depth.

*Cline Cellars Mourvedre Rosé 2009 ($12). Cline Cellars spared some of its prime mourvedre grapes to make a stellar roseé. Dark in color for a rosé, it has intense plum and strawberry notes.

*Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache Rosé 2009 ($18). Generous, bright strawberry and cherry flavors with good depth and finish. Blended with syrah and mourvedre.

*Les Lauzeraies Tavel 2009 ($13). This southern Rhone Valley blend includes syrah, grenache and mourvedre — the ruling grapes in the best rosé. Perfumy aromatics are followed by lots of raspberry and watermelon flavors with good minerality and a touch of spice.

*Chateau Montaud Cotes de Provence 2009 ($11). Beautiful orange color found most often in Provence, this wine has melon, citrus and strawberry notes with fresh acidity.

*Mas Rouviere Bandol 2009 ($24). Rosés from the Bandol region of southern France tend to be lighter in style — you can add elegant to this beauty. Supple, red berry flavors with crisp acidity and lingering finish. Very, very nice.

*Crios Rosé of Malbec 2009 ($13). This Argentinian beauty from Susan Bilbo uses malbec to give a unique flavor of wild strawberries.

Note: Some of the wines recommended in our column may have been provided for review by their producers.

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