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by Kim Westerman

May 28, 2000

It's spring, when a wine-lover's fancy turns to medium-bodied, aromatic reds and the occasional well-built rose. My favorites are those wines that complement barbecues, picnics, or simply hors d'oeuvres on the patio at sunset.

What better place to start than Provence, where the air is perfumed with wildflowers? The 1997 Mas de Gourgonnier Les Beaux de Provence is a remarkable wine in its price range ($12), a blend of Grenache, Carignane, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its essence is somewhat fruity (cherry or blackberry), somewhat spicy, made even more exciting because it is organic, an idea that is catching on in France. I can't think of a more perfect wine with grilled chicken and spring vegetables.

Closer to home, the 1998 Flora Springs Sangiovese ($18), from Napa, is high in alcohol (14%), but light-bodied and jammy. The grape, the Italian varietal responsible for Chianti, is gaining in popularity in California. It's a sunny red, a good picnic wine, for a menu of turkey sandwiches or light cheeses (such as young goat) and fruit .

Kendall Jackson winery, whose wines often lack character because of a big business mentality, have undeniably scored with the release of their 1997 Syrah Vintner's Reserve, which, despite the grand title, is only around $13. It has an impeccably smooth mouth feel, a slight black pepper flavor, and a solid, medium-bodied structure. I would drink it anytime with grilled lamb chops and a big salad with feta and olives.

Oregon is now on the map with some delicious and affordable Pinot Noirs, and one of the most widely available is Argyle's 1997 release ($14). It won't knock your socks off, but it's a perfectly respectable representative of this delicate and rather finicky grape. Though it's thin, it exhibits nice ripe fruit.

When spring slips discreetly into summer, a rose usually fits the bill at my house. Americans are afraid of them because of their (visual) associations with white Zinfandel, the soda pop of all wines, but there are, indeed, some lovely dry roses to be had with gazpacho, grilled fish, even asparagus. I love the 1998 Heitz Grignolino ($15), a direct, crisp, light fruit experience. It's also a fabulous afternoon sipping wine.

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