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All rosé wines aren’t just pretty in pink

With summer’s lighter, spicier dishes, you may want to pass over hearty red wines and try well-balanced rosés with berry notes — like this Rhône.

They appear on wine store shelves like clockwork each spring, around the time the lilacs bloom, which has been in the last couple of weeks. And like the flowers, we pick them, enjoy them for a little while, and then move on. But what is it about rosés that makes their time in the sun so fleeting?

For one thing, they are generally seen as refreshing, easy-to-drink summer wines,   which, on one level, they are (unless they’re too sweet). The very look of them - pretty hues of pink and copper and brick - doesn’t invite the deeper analysis that their red cousins command.

But there is more to rosés, at least some of them, than many wine drinkers (and some critics) appreciate. They can, in fact, be excellent food wines, a point sometimes lost because the wines are served chilled, which is another reason we tend to think of them as little more than light quaffers.

Their importance with food became clear to me again over the Mother’s Day weekend when I uncorked a bottle of rosé from France.  It was the deliciously fragrant 2005 Rosé from Mas des Bressades, a first-rate estate in the Costières de Nîmes area not far from Tavel, a town in the southern Rhône famous for its rosés.

I opened the wine before dinner on Saturday night and was struck by its ripe, just slightly sweet, notes of cherry and blackberry. The fascinating thing about rosés is that you get the essence of these fruit tastes, which impart a subtle and delicate quality on the wines.  This one, which has a suggested price of about $12, but which I found for $9.50 in a wine store in New York City, is a blend of three grapes from the region - syrah, grenache and cinsault, all of which can be found in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and other reds of the southern Rhône.

With its long and spicy finish, the wine was on the fuller end of the rosé spectrum. As an aperitif, one glass was sufficient. What it needed, I realized, was a food context. It would have actually worked with the steak I was grilling on the patio, but on this chilly, rainy night in May, I wanted to move on to something warming and red.

The next day, at brunch, I pulled out the rosé again. I had a feeling that it would complement just about anything short of spaghetti sauce, and my hypothesis was proven correct with eggs and bacon and potatoes. The wine was substantial enough to withstand the meal, but light enough to provide a refreshing counterpoint.

With still a little left that night, the rosé rose to the occasion once again with chicken pieces sautéed slowly, Moroccan-style, with onions, garlic, lemon zest, and dried oregano, basil and cumin seed, the latter with its unique nutty and peppery flavor. The wine is made using the traditional “saignée” method in which juice is quickly drained from the crushed fruit before the skins have given it full color, and then fermented.

Mas des Brassades is imported by Robert Kacher Selections and is available in some 40 states.  Keep in mind that there will be plenty of good rosés to try this summer, especially from Provence and the Rhône, but also from the Loire Valley and even Burgundy.  Beyond France, look for them from Spain and California. And don't forget to enjoy them with food -- and beyond summer.

Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch