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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

In a short time, rose wines have soared in popularity

Have you noticed? It was almost as if it happened overnight, beginning in Europe and spreading rapidly to California and other winemaking regions: Rose (ro-ZAY) wines, long a tiny and slightly more expensive share of most wineries' output, were suddenly popular.

Debutantes danced to blush champagne, ships were christened in pink, and select off-reds had a visible role in presidential inaugurations. The balance shifted within no more than the past five years. Pick an unqualified zinfandel from a restaurant wine list, for instance, and you'll almost surely have to explain to the server that you expected a deep, classic red, not the sickly pink offered in place of it.

Going back more than a century, winemakers have had several methods to color a normally red or white wine pink, and rose (the preferred term) has been the style among cognoscenti. The crisp dried bodies of an Oriental beetle, crushed to a powder, seems to have been the first technique used, although the color faded rapidly and a white wine turned brown rather than rose. Thankfully, that method is no longer employed.

One satisfactory technique to achieve the rose effect is blending red and white wines. To protect the integrity of the Champagne D.O.C. the governmental guarantee of a wine's origin the great champagne houses rely on the exclusive cultivation of the same pinot noir that is the predominant red in a typical champagne blend as well as the source of the rose. These fine reds come from vineyards in Bouzy, an eastern corner of the Champagne district.

Winemakers also use a fermentation technique that gives the wines their distinct blush.

Area wine shops have been offering two contrasting twin Spanish wines that illustrate how a master winemaker, using the same fruit predominantly Tempranillo and Viura can make two different wines in the same winery from the same grapes. The label is El Coto, a loose generic word for the land, the soil, etc.

One is El Coto de Rioja Blanco ($11), which is dry, white, and delicious. The other (what a difference a word makes) is El Coto de Rioja Rosado ($14), which is a semi-sweet rose.

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