Ros wines take a big step up They are gaining in popularity, thanks to the quality of new ones that are ideal for summer.

Posted: July 20, 2006

As recently as 10 years ago, if you presented a bottle of ros wine as a house gift, it might be consigned to storage without parole in the basement or garage. Ros's once sorry image can be traced to its lowly lineage, when the term represented, for the most part, treacly, dull wines.

Today, however, wine shops and restaurants in Philadelphia and beyond carry an increasingly varied assortment of delightfully light and dry ross - primarily from Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and California - that are ideal for summer sipping. Crisp, clean and snappy with lots of acid, these new ross are perfect complements to picnic foods, barbecues (as long as the sauce is not too combustible), seafood, poultry and salads of all sorts. A further incentive for trying them is price - even some of the best can be found for less than $15.

So why the newfound popularity? For one, they are so much better than in the past. And as a result, ross are getting a lot of favorable press. In turn, restaurants and wine merchants are not shy about promoting them.

Traditionally produced from the white juice of red grapes, ros receives its pinkish hue from contact with the dark grape skins. A wine's color is determined by how long the juice mingles with the skins - weeks or a month for red wine, two or three days for ros, and not at all for whites.

Do not confuse these fine ross with "blush" wines, called blanc de noir in France, a catch-all term for off-white wines from light pink to salmon in color. Today, some producers make blush wines by pouring some red wines into white. Many are on the sweet side, such as blanc de pinot noir, cabernet blanc, and pinot vin gris, and white zinfandel, the singles-bar social lubricant of the late '70s and '80s which is still enormously popular.

Fine ross should be crisp, light and faintly floral in aroma. They are made to be consumed as young as possible - for now, buy the 2005 and, when available later this year, 2006 vintages. Ross are relatively low in alcohol, about 10 percent versus 12 to 13 percent for wines such as chardonnay and pinot noir.

Because ross are so light, they are a fine cocktail party option. And while they are versatile, they don't have the muscle to enter the ring with a strapping sirloin. Try one with chicken paillard with corn salad (see the accompanying recipe).

A number of Philadelphia restaurants are expanding their ros selections for the summer and making efforts to introduce them to customers. Prices generally range from $25 to $40.

At Tria, wine director Michael McCaulley recently conducted a ros seminar for the restaurant's staff.

"I really like to turn on customers to different styles of ros," he said. The restaurant's wine list usually carries six or more revolving selections. In addition, he hosts a "pink wine dinner" each spring and serves ross at the restaurant's weekly "Sunday School Lunch." Among those available this month are the Cir Rosato, Librandi (Calabria, Italy); La Grenouille Rougant Ros, Frog's Leap (Napa Valley); and the Tavel Ros, Domaine de Longval (Rhne Valley, France).

At Meritage, you may discover ross from France, Spain, Washington state, California and beyond.

Ros is never going to sell as well as chardonnay or sauvignon blanc, said proprietor and sommelier Michele DiPietro. "But we have customers who are catching on, and it pairs so nicely with some of our dishes, especially for the summer months."

For instance, the Loire Valley smoked salmon and the Moroccan-spiced duck breast with sun-dried fruit are a lovely match with a Cheateau l'Ermitage 2004 from France.

This is not to say that ross have become an easy sell.

Cassie Brown, beverage director at Amada, recalled that over the winter, her two selections served as little more than bar ornamentation.

One of the hurdles to selling ros, she pointed out, is that many patrons who order it think they are getting a sweet blush wine and have mixed reactions.

"It's better now; customers are ordering it by the glass," she said, adding that she is offering ros cava - Spanish-style pink champagne - this summer.

For a festive occasion, you may want to spring for a bottle of ros champagne or the less expensive cava. They are slightly creamy and elegant, with subtle berry flavors.

Unlike still ross, which get their color from contact with grape skins, ros champagnes are tinged with red wine. Among some of the French labels to look for are Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer and Krug. They go for $30 and up. Dozens of labels are produced in Spain; among the most widely available are Codornu and Freixenet.

Chicken Paillard With Spicy Corn Salad

Makes 4 servings

3 cups fresh corn kernels

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and finely chopped

3 scallions, trimmed and finely chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed, minced (or to taste)

1/3 cup fresh coriander

12 basil leaves, thinly sliced crosswise

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast fillets (about 1 1/4 pounds)

1. In a large bowl, combine the corn, red pepper, scallions, jalapeno pepper, coriander and basil.

2. Place the mustard in a small bowl. Drizzle in the oil while whisking vigorously; whisk in the vinegar. Taste for seasonings - it may need salt. Combine the corn salad with the vinaigrette and set aside while the chicken is prepared.

3. Place the chicken breasts on a hard surface and cover with plastic wrap. With a meat pounder or heavy pot, pound the chicken until it is about  inch thick. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides.

4. Sear the chicken on both sides in a very hot pan; lower heat to medium and cook until there is no pink in the center. Remove from the pan immediately so it does not continue to cook. Distribute the corn salad evenly over four plates and top with the chicken breasts.

- From Bryan Miller

Per serving: 398 calories, 38 grams protein, 25 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams sugar, 18 grams fat, 82 milligrams cholesterol, 190 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.

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