In the Italian home in which I grew up, the wine was red, and pink was reserved strictly for plastic flamingos. Maybe that's why it took me many years to appreciate the virtues of pink wine, otherwise known as rose.

Roses do in fact have many distinctive virtues. Chief among these is the ability to complement summer cuisine. Many summer dishes are between light and medium in weight. Roses are an ideal choice for such dishes, as they are lighter and more refreshing than reds, but provide some of the red berry and earth flavors found in reds but absent in whites.

These qualities make roses a great match for grilled or seared rare salmon, soft-shell crab and broiled or steamed lobster, among other dishes. Also, since they are served chilled, roses are a thirst-quenching choice for summer picnics and other outdoor soirees. At such outings, they may be served alone or accompanied by summer munchies such as pretzels, chips and vegetables with dips.

Finally, I must make the obligatory disclaimer concerning white zinfandel: Despite its pink color, "white zin" isn't a true rose in my view. Most are too simple, too sweet and too mass-produced to qualify as serious rose wines. There's nothing wrong with them but I hope my recommendations will inspire you to check out other pinks that deliver more than just a pretty color.

The following are my favorite roses from recent tastings, listed in order of preference. Note the modest pricing, a strong point of roses. Approximate prices, regions of origin, and importers, distributors or vineyards are in parentheses in case your wine seller does not have these in stock.


Bonny Doon 2004 Vin Gris de Cigare ($12, California, Bonny Doon Vineyard):The clear winner in this tasting, the 2004 Vin Gris de Cigare is delightful in every way. The fresh bouquet offers a melange of aromatic herbs, citrus and spring flowers, followed on the palate by flavors of cranberries, wild strawberry and orange peel. On the finish, these flavors expand boldly against the wine's crisp acidity. As it is modeled on the famous roses of Provence, try it with a classic Provencal dish, such as bouillabaisse. For me, this was an inspired pairing.


Chateau Grande Cassagne 2004 Costieres de Nimes Rose ($9-$10, France, Robert Kacher Selections): Exploding on the palate with red berry and tart strawberry fruit, this luminous pink blend of 60 percent syrah, 35 percent grenache and 5 percent mourvedre is fresh and delicious. Drink it over the next four to six months.

SoloRosa 2004 Rose ($15; California, SoloRosa Wines): Unusually powerful for a rose, this tangy blend of sangiovese and merlot is one of the few that will match up not only with seafood and shellfish, but also with meat dishes such as barbecued ribs and grilled burgers. Though meant to be consumed now, this offering could prove interesting if given a year in the cellar because of its intensity.

Mas des Bressades 2004 Rose ($10; France, Robert Kacher Selections): This blend of 50 percent grenache, 30 percent cinsault and 20 percent syrah has a super-ripe raspberry-like bouquet, with an expansive palate of tart cherry accented by mineral and wild herb notes. The complexity of this wine rivals that of an expensive Provence rose.

Domaine de Fondreche 2004 Cotes du Ventoux Rose "L'Instant" ($12; France, Robert Kacher Selections): Pale pink-salmon in color, this easygoing blend of 40 percent grenache, 30 percent syrah and 30 percent cinsault is crisp, clean and fresh. A wild herb note makes it an especially good match with salmon grilled in dill or other herbs.

Tasca d'Almerita 2003 Rose di Regaleali ($12; Italy, Winebow): As deep in color and body as a rose can get while retaining its delicacy, this full-flavored wine should be enjoyed with grilled burgers, pork spareribs and light meat dishes. Serve chilled.

Also tasted: Domaine Saint-Antoine 2004 Costieres de Nimes Rose ($9); Domaine de Gournier 2004 Rose ($9); Ca'del Solo 2004 "Big House Pink" ($10-$11); Argiolas 2003 Serralori ($12; usually better; wait for the 2004).