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A Rosé By Any Other Name 

Never mind White Zinfandel, some rose is for real

Newsflash: not all pinks stink. Without a doubt, White Zinfandel, with its strawberry syrup flavor, has sentenced the entire class of roses to a crude and classless reputation, leaving the dry rose wines of the world to rot in trailer park hell. But fear not the rosy. The new, snazzed-up pink wine is fragrant with strawberries and watermelon, and packs a tart finish fantastic for summer.

My fridge is bloated with dry rose wines all summer long, since it's perfect for both day and nighttime, whether happy hour, picnic, lunch, dinner or brunch. I force it on everyone who crosses my threshold, desperately trying to change rose's sweet image. I then explain how the refreshing acids and understated tannins make it super food-friendly, matching both light fare and spicy food. The only thing bad about dry roses is their lack of availability. They don't exactly fly off the retail shelves since pink ain't cool, so they unfortunately aren't stocked very often. But they should be.

Rose wines -- or blush as some wineries call them -- are created by allowing the juice from red grapes to sit with the skins for a few hours. All grape juice, regardless of whether the grapes appear white or red, starts out clear. Red wine gets extra tinting when the red grape skins stew with the juice for days or weeks, imparting a dark color. Darker roses indicate the winemaker kept the juice sitting longer with the skins, coaxing more tannins into the wine to give it more oomph and structure.

You can pretty much make rose from any red grape, with my favorites coming from syrah, grenache, and zinfandel (wineries fearing the "White Zin" stain call their pink wines "Zinfandel Rose"). The most famous come from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France, where citizens guzzle them by the gallons. And, unlike many French wines, high-quality roses come pretty cheap.

White Zinfandel remains the top-selling wine in the United States, so California producers continue to make sweet pink. Their characteristic sweetness comes from adding sugar or stopping fermentation before the sugar has been transformed into alcohol. Dry roses' sugar gets eliminated through complete fermentation, yielding higher alcohol content. One reliable, yet not infallible, method of determining whether a rose packs a sugar wallop is looking at this number, located normally on the front label. Those with higher alcohol content, normally between 12.5 percent and 14.5 percent, are dry, and sweeter wines show 10-12 percent.

Underappreciated and shy, roses are like wallflowers at a dance -- willing to please but just needing the opportunity to shine. Go there. There's a wild beast inside waiting to get out.

Recommended Wines

Pedroncelli 2003 Zinfandel Rose Sonoma County Yet another dry rose year for this fantastic 75-year-old winery in Sonoma. Luscious, crisp strawberry has a party in your mouth, hanging with watermelon that lingers after you've swallowed. $12.

Iron Horse 2003 Rosato di Sangiovese Alexander Valley From this sparkling wine producer comes a deliciously intense rose. Light cherry and almost overwhelming strawberry. Unusually full-bodied for a rose, yet still refreshing. Try it with grilled goodies. $12. 1/2

Chateau de Parenchere 2003 Clairet Rose Bordeaux An unusual offering from the prestigious French region of Bordeaux. It's like smelling sunshine on a ripe strawberry, and on the tongue it even has hints of bubble-gum. Fun and yummy. $11.

Beckmen 2003 Grenache Rose Santa Ynez Valley Like candy to a tired tongue, this strawberry Jolly Rancher wine aims to please. Fruity yet elegant, full-bodied yet refreshing. Suck on this. $14.

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