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Rosy outlook for rose champagne

SAN FRANCISCO - In the mood for a bit of bubbly this season? You may want to join the blush rush.

SAN FRANCISCO - In the mood for a bit of bubbly this season? You may want to join the blush rush.

"Definitely, people are drinking more rose champagne than before," said Herve Rousseau, owner of Flute, a champagne bar with two New York locations and a third coming in Paris.

Not too long ago, pink fizzy wine was not the most sophisticated of tipples. But the rising popularity of drier rose (pronounced rose-zay) still wines has translated to the sparkling world as well, with a raft of elegant choices available.

"The market has discovered that sparkling rose can be delicious and dry and the color is certainly extremely festive. We're seeing huge growth in that market as an industry," said Eileen Crane, winemaker and president of Domaine Carneros, a sparkling wine producer in the Napa Valley that is owned by the French company Taittinger.

(A word about champagne vs. sparkling wine: To purists, true champagne comes from the Champagne region in France. The United States has agreed to stop new domestic producers from using the name; however, existing companies were grandfathered in.)

Classic sparklers get their bubbles from a secondary fermentation in the bottle, generally through adding sugar, yeast and a little bit of wine, often known as methode Champenoise. A second way to create bubbles is through the Charmat process, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in bulk tanks.

Bubbles around the world include Italy's popular sparkling wine prosecco and Spain's cava. Bubbles are also popular in Italy in wines such as the dry or semi-sweet red Lambrusco, lightly sweet sparkling Asti, and the even sweeter frizzante (semi-sparkling) Moscato d'Asti.

Several different types of grapes go into sparkling wines. Blanc de blanc is made from chardonnay grapes. Blanc de noir is made from the red grape pinot noir, although the wine itself is white. Rose champagnes get their pinkish tinge from allowing the red grape skins (known as the must) to stay in contact with the juice for a short time, or by adding small amounts of red wine.

An example of how far rose has come, looking at imports of champagne, roses made up just under 2 percent of the total in 1995 - 227,000 bottles out of a total of 12.5 million, according to the U.S. Office of Champagne, based in Washington, D.C. Last year, rose was at about 9 percent - 1.9 million bottles out of about 23 million.

"Dry versions of rose go beautifully with pink foods," said Karen Page, author with Andrew Dornenburg of "What to Drink With What You Eat." She suggested things such as salmon, tuna, lobster, bouillabaisse and even pork.

If you really want to get ahead of the curve think red; sparkling shiraz is beginning to emerge on U.S. store shelves. "It's very flexible with lots of different foods," said Page.

Winemaker Crane sees a general easing up when it comes to sparkling wine, whether it's a willingness to think pink or mix things up with champagne cocktails, also making a comeback.

If you don't plan to polish off the bottle, a key accessory is a champagne stopper, a device that prevents bubble breakaways.

Breaking down the bubbly

Types of champagne and sparkling wine and food pairing suggestions from Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of "What to Drink with What You Eat":

_ Dry: These may be called extra brut (up to 0.6 percent residual sugar listed on the label); brut, (under 1.5 percent residual sugar) or extra dry (1.2 percent to 2 percent residual sugar). Many cavas and proseccos and most champagnes fall into this category. Roses can be dry or off-dry; check the sugar level.

Goes well with: Savory dishes such as eggs, oysters or smoked salmon. Dry roses go well with duck, salmon, pork. Proseccos and cava go especially well with Chinese food and salty dishes as well as fried foods such as tempura and fish and chips.

_ Off-dry: May be labeled sec (1.7 percent to 3.5 percent residual sugar) or demi sec (3.5 percent to 5 percent).

Goes well with: Foie gras, pates, other rich foods. A rose in this category pairs well with pink fruits: cherries, raspberries, strawberries.

_ Sweet: May be labeled doux or sweet. Residual sugar is more than 5 percent. Best at the end of dinner.

Goes well with: Sweeter brunch items such as pancakes, French toast, breakfast pastries. Can handle all but the sweetest desserts. *