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Wine Without Pretense: 3 swell choices of pink
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Wine Of The Month

The wine: Markham Vineyards Chardonnay 2010.

The grapes: 100 percent chardonnay.

The source: Napa Valley, California.

The verdict: For about two decades, chardonnay was the most popular white wine in this country. About 10 years ago it was deposed by pinot grigio. This stellar example shows just why chardonnay really is the monarch of white wines. Rich, lush, almost viscous, with well-balanced fruit/oak flavors this Napa beauty conducts a primer on what chardonnay can be when well-made. And the hands that produced this one belong to Markham’s veteran winemaker Bryan del Bondio, who played a huge role in propelling merlot ahead of cabernet sauvignon in popularity in the 1990’s. In the glass this wine shows off the classic green-gold trademark of a fine chardonnay. This one’s almost too good to serve with food, although it shines with shellfish. Make sure you swirl, sniff and sip some before you sit down to dine.

The price: About $25.

Quick question: What color do you generally associate with February?

If you’re still grumbling about the Christmas bills gobbling up your bank account it may well be "red." Or, if the weirdos from Publisher’s Clearing House just pounded on your front door, the answer could be "green."

Typically, with Valentine’s Day plunked in the middle of the month, and with all the shopping hype rolling around in every store except the tire center, it’s "pink."

So today we’ll chat about three very good pink wines I’ve encountered recently and which I recommend to you. But first ...

Too many folks look at a bottle of pink wine and two words resonate in their minds — "White Zinfandel." White zinfandel, while frequently a charming and quaffable beverage (especially on a hot summer evening) has done for pink wines what the swill from mass wine producers in the 1950s and ‘60s did for Port, Sherry and Muscatel. Ruined their image.

Just because the wine is pink does not mean it necessarily will be the semi-sweet, fruity juice that is white zin. No, friends and neighbors, there are wonderful pink — read dry rose — wines that are well balanced and go terrifically with food.

The first example is local — Tiger Mountain Vineyards Rose. TMV co-owner Martha Ezzard gave me a bottle of the 2010 vintage and advised me to serve it with food. "We’re really proud of this one," she told me.

And rightly so. Recently I popped the cork and served it with a baked salmon dish prepared by the bride. Wow! Wonderful dry fruit, great aroma and even a hint of oak. It was terrific with the salmon, and would have been a great mate to a plate of fried chicken or sautéed veal scallops.

This rose is made from a blend of as many as four TMV vinifera grapes — including viognier — and that blend varies year to year. It is barrel fermented, confirming that hint of oak. The winery is out of the Rose, but some may be found at local retail stores.

Tiger Mountain is about an hour away from Gainesville, over in cosmopolitan Rabun County. It’s a great place to visit and Dr. John and Martha Ezzard welcome company to the tasting room and recently opened café. Check the web site for hours and directions.

I really enjoy sparkling pink wine — the dry kind. Here’s a fine pink bubbly, at a sensible price. It’s Chandon Rose from the Napa Valley-based winery that once was called Domaine Chandon.

It was one of the pioneers in high-quality sparkling wine from California back in the 1970s and 1980s, using superb Napa Valley fruit to make Champagne-style wine with guidance from French Champagne makers.

This bright pink Rose gets a lot of its color from the addition of non-sparkling pinot noir wine as it is being bottled. It’s a happy, friendly wine that looks great in the glass, lending cheer to any gathering. It’s also a terrific food wine, with enough body to stand up nicely to heartier fare, such as red meats.

Chandon sticks to the classic Champagne grape varieties with its sparkling wines and the Rose is 65% chardonnay, 34% pinot noir and 1% pinot meunier. I’m comfortable recommending the entire Chandon line, not only as great values, but also as very fine wines — sparkling and otherwise.

You can find this lovely sparkler at most wine shops, including supermarket shelves.

Last I’m reintroducing a European-style dry rose. But this one comes from Argentina. And if you know anything about the rise of Argentina to become the world’s fifth-largest wine producer — just below the U.S. — you should recognize the name of the grape that put it there: malbec.

I’ve been a great fan of Susana Balbo of Argentina and particularly this well-constructed rose, Crios Rose of Malbec, either 2010 or 2011. Balbo is one of Argentina’s best-known winemakers who just happens to be a woman. "Crios" means "offspring," and those wines show youth, sprightliness and full flavor. Plus, Balbo says she regards her wine as her children.

The Crios Rose is made in the saignee (bleeding) method, in which part of a wine intended to become red is bled from the batch and made into a rose.

Malbec is Argentina’s trademark red wine grape, and these grapes come from 30-year-old vines. Malbec has its origins in Bordeaux, but the Argentines make great wines — red and rose — from this grape. Check for a faint aroma of strawberries in the nose.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at murrwine@aol.com. His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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