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HEADLINE: Summer Sippers

SUBHEAD: A look at some of the more promising wines of the season

BYLINE: By Brenda Maitland

Although area residents got a cool breather -- like, we almost had spring -- for a few wonderful days that stretched into weeks over the past several months, the tide has turned and the hot-and-heavy, humid summer season seems to be hurtling full force at us. Which, of course, calls for calm and cooling beverages and lighter cuisine.

While enjoying a frosty iced tea or lemonade, or even a Cosmopolitan or Planters Punch to re-hydrate and revive, consider a light, perhaps slightly chilled glass of wine for those summer evenings sitting out on the deck, sharing nibbles by the pool or other leisure activities.

And if you're out and about, wine works well for uncomplicated, portable quaffing, yet offers so many different tastes, textures, aromas and flavors to complement food or just to enjoy on its own. Lighter white wines and the pink-tinged lovelies that are so in vogue make pleasant refreshers.

Red wine lovers needn't feel left out. The Sideways boys got one thing right: Pinot Noir, the most food-friendly wine of all, can be enjoyed in light- and medium-bodied styles. Another red grape not to be overlooked is Gamay, which makes those delightful Beaujolais wines that just beg to tag along on picnics and other seasonal outings.

The following summer sippers represent a selection of simple, inexpensive and easygoing wines to savor. See if you can find some pleasurable summer favorites among them. (Stores listed current at press time.)

2003 Adelsheim Vineyard Pinot Gris Oregon / $12-$15

Certainly one of the world's most chameleon-like grapes, in this Oregon incarnation in the hands of Adelsheim's capable growers and winemakers, Pinot Gris develops into a fresh, lightly textured, medium-bodied wine with a bright fruit profile. Sourced from seven estate vineyards on the Chehalem Mountains and Stoller Vineyard in the Dundee Hills, the grapes were kept in separate lots during the fermenting process, then blended to achieve a classic, vibrant intensity. In the glass, expect a floral bouquet with pear and apple flavors dominating on the palate and some additional cake spice nuances. Goes well with spicy foods, including Thai and Cajun cuisine, ceviche, poached salmon, shellfish and bisques. Available at Whole Foods Market (Magazine Street location), The Wine Seller and Cork & Bottle.

2004 Terrazas de los Andes Chardonnay Mendoza, Argentina / $9-$11

Like Chile, its neighbor to the West, Argentina's wine industry has made enormous progress in modernizing equipment and restyling wines to suit global tastes and trends. The Chardonnay grapes for this wine, mainly grown for the export market, flourish in vineyards high in the Andes Mountains where growing conditions are considered ideal. The combination of sunshine, cool breezes, dry soils and high altitude permits the grapes to ripen to their fullest expression. Expect intense aromas of peaches, apricots and citrus followed on the palate by ripe fruit flavors with caramel and vanilla notes. Enjoy with seafood, chicken and pasta dishes. Available at Cork & Bottle, Dorignac's, Union Supermarket, Rouse's (Veterans Memorial Boulevard and Covington locations) and Habano's of Slidell.

2003 VF (La Vielle Ferme) Costieres de Nimes Rosé France / $7-$10

If you're thinking pink, undo the screw cap on this bright, pomegranate-colored wine from Rhone Valley vineyards in southwest France, just north of Camargues. Over several thousand years, the historic terroir of glacial sandstone debris from the Alps eroded into the large, round heat-keeping pebbles that blanket the chalky-clay soil. A blend of 75 percent Grenache, 15 percent Cinsault, 10 percent Syrah, the wine offers lovely flavors as well as hues. Clean, fresh aromas of toffee and red currant marmalade lead to exhuberant mixed berry fruit on the palate. Delicious as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to salad Nicoise, cold chicken, ham and potato salad. Available at both Martin Wine Cellar locations and at Cork & Bottle.

2003 Kaiser Hymne Gruner Veltliner Austria / $10-$15

Nicknamed 'Gru-Vee' by its legions of light wine lovers, Gruner Veltliner came out of Austria to take the world by storm and put Austria back in the limelight. Austrian Rieslings remain highly regarded, but Gruner Veltliner accounts for 40 percent of all the grapes planted in the country and it's become the darling of the trendy set. A great food wine, Gru-Vee mixes well with all types of cuisine as well as in the social scene. Simple, well-rounded, with a great fruit and acid balance, the wine offers light citrusy aromas with zesty lemon, and white pepper on the palate. Good with boiled shrimp, shellfish salads, grilled fish, and stir-fried pork and vegetables. Available at Dorignac's and Cellars of River Ridge.

2003 Cavit Pinot Noir Delle Venezie Italy / $6-$9

For a single-digit dollar price, this little charmer offers smooth, supple fruit flavors and a youthful vibrance in a bargain package. Produced in northeastern Italy's Trentino-Alto Aldige province, the grapes were sourced from the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions. One swirl of the glass exudes delicate aromas of black cherry with mineral and light earthy nuances followed by red berry fruit with sour cherry, cranberry and a touch of spice on the palate. Medium bodied with soft tannins and crisp acidity. Very food friendly. Good with grilled or roasted meats, poultry, vegetarian entrees, egg dishes, risotto and firm-fleshed fish such as tuna, salmon or swordfish. Can be found at Sidney's Wine Cellar, Dorignac's, most Sav-A-Center locations, Cellars of River Ridge, and many other grocery and food markets.

2004 Mud House Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand / $13-$15

Grapes in New Zealand's renowned Marlborough region experience the enormous benefit of the longest ripening period anywhere in the world, allowing the fruit to develop its fullest expression. Arguably among the best Sauvignon Blancs made anywhere in the world, this lively wine is a classic Sauvignon Blanc, exhibiting a youthful freshness and crispness, racy acidity and dry, zingy flavors. On the nose, look for intense aromas of passion fruit, honeysuckle and some herbal undertones followed by vibrant flashes of refreshing grapefruit and citrus on the palate. Great as an aperitif, Sauvignon Blanc nails the 'most versatile white wine with food' award, pairing perfectly with oysters, mussels, salads, goat cheese, light seafood and poultry dishes. Available at Bacchanal and Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville.

2004 Norman Vino Rosado Paso Robles, California / $13-$16

The Norman family, long revered as a grape grower in Paso Robles, has achieved the status of acclaimed winemaker for its Zinfandels. This medium-bodied dry rosé wine, a blend of 50 percent Grenache and 50 percent Syrah, was barrel aged for three months in 40 percent new and 60 percent 1 1/2-year-old French oak. Look for floral aromas, balanced by hints of caramel from the oak aging. On the palate, the wine is bone-dry and crisp with soft, subtle red berry flavors. A great wine for a picnic, brunch or as an aperitif, it would pair well with sorbet, fresh fish, summer salads and roast turkey. Available at Prytania Liquor, Hugh's Wine Cellar in Mandeville, Habano's of Slidell and Louisiana Star and Rouse's (Covington location).

2003 di Lenardo Pinot Grigio Friuii, Italy / $11- $13

This stylish, focused wine shows why Italian Pinot Grigio has been the No. 1 imported white wine in the United States for the past few years. Grapes for this classic Pinot Grigio, from the Friuli region in northeastern Italy, were sourced from estate vineyards and harvested by hand. Modern winemaking equipment, refined methods of vinification and controlled temperatures during fermentation were employed to produce this top quality wine. Di Lenardo's best seller, the wine is elegant and refined on the nose with complex fruit aromas. In the mouth, the wine offers bright fruit, fresh, clean, crisp green apple and citrusy flavors. Enjoy as an aperitif or with grilled fish, seafood and shellfish, light salads, soft cheeses. Available at Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits and Dorignac's.

2003 Chateau de la Chaize Brouilly Beaujolais, France / $12-$15

This magnificent 17th century chateau in east central France -- designed in 1676 by the architects of Versailles -- produces the leading estate bottled wine in Beaujolais. One of the most easy-drinking red wines made anywhere, Beaujolais' are made exclusively with the fresh and fruity Gamay grape. At the top of the Beaujolais wine chain, Chateau de la Chaize' hallmark as a Grand Cru from Brouilly, one of 10 specific villages where the best of Beaujolais is born, reflects its prime terroir with a sound structure, fine tannins, balanced acidity, longer aging potential and denser, fuller-bodied wines. On the nose, enjoy fragrant aromas of raspberries and currents followed by vivid fruit flavors of black and red cherries and other berries. Serve slightly chilled with pate, sausage, cheese, pasta salads, light meats and veal. Available at The Wine Cellar, Cork & Bottle, Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits, Joe's French Quarter Wine Cellar, both Martin Wine Cellar locations, Dorignac's, Meme's Market, Bacchanal, and Rouse's (Covington location).

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