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BERGER: Good vintages for spring

As North American soils begin to warm, people all over the country rediscover porches, patios, and backyards, and that calls for wines that offer the freshness of the spring air.

For the last several months, winter dinners were really stages for the warming effects of red wines, especially with beef stews and other winter-hardy foods we love. In spring, light whites and pinks seem best. And by coincidence, the wines that roiled in tanks last fall are finally ready to be released.

Even before all the 2012 whites are fully released, it's possible to begin planning for their arrival. Northern California's wine country seems poised for some stellar lighter wines, but other regions are also in the mix.

Using the cool vintages of 2010 and 2011, California winemakers had a lot of practice making crisp, delicate whites. The early 2012s I have tasted indicate it should be yet another stellar year. Here is a brief look at some of the best lighter whites and pinks to anticipate based on past-year's performances.

<strong>Chenin blanc:</strong> This lighter white once was a lot more popular than it is now, and fortunately a number of handsome versions remain in the market. Among the better wines historically are Dry Creek, Graziano, Clarksburg and the blended Chenin Blanc from Napa's Pine Ridge, which has a bit of exotic Viognier added.

Moreover, there is serious competition from Vouvray in France as well as some well-priced South African versions. The nice thing is that most are available for well under $20 a bottle.

<strong>Varietal ros?:</strong> It's been a long time since yucky-sweet generic ros? filled store shelves, yet some people still disparage pinks. They shouldn't. Some are so splendid that there is an underground movement to support ros?wines. And among the best are Pinot Noir Ros?, where the fruit stands out like a beacon.

For the last several years, the cherry-scented Toad Hollow pink Pinot Noir (quite dry) "Eye of the Toad" has been superb, as have literally dozens of others that are made in small amounts. (Many wineries make such wines and sell them at their tasting rooms, but few distribute them widely.) Another winner is the J. Pedroncelli Zinfandel Ros? which offers a different fruit profile, with more raspberry.

Again, imports are great alternatives, including Grenache Ros? from Spain, South Africa, and Australia; Sangiovese-based Ros? from Italy; Provence Ros?, and even ros?wines from the Loire Valley based mainly on Cabernet Franc. (And every now and then I get excited by a German ros?)

<strong>Dry riesling:</strong> This grape variety has risen in the public's estimation lately, partly as a result of better fruit and better winemaking. Few of these wines are totally dry, since a trace of sugar helps deliver Riesling's handsome flavors.


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