A Rosé by Any Other Name

Nevermind White Zinfandel, some rosé is for real

Newsflash: not all pinks stink. Without a doubt, White Zinfandel, with its strawberry syrup flavor, has sentenced the entire class of rosés to a crude and classless reputation, leaving the dry rosé 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 rosé 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 rosé'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 rosés 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.

Rosé 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 rosés 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 rosé from any red grape, with my favorites coming from syrah, grenache and zinfandel (wineries fearing the "White Zin" stain call their pink wines "Zinfandel Rosé"). 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 rosés 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 rosés' sugar gets eliminated through complete fermentation, yielding higher alcohol content. One reliable, yet not infallible, method of determining whether a rosé 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, rosés 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 Rosé Sonoma County Yet another dry rosé 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 rosé. Light cherry and almost overwhelming strawberry. Unusually full-bodied for a rosé, yet still refreshing. Try it with grilled goodies. $12. 1/2

Chateau de Parenchere 2003 Clairet Rosé 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.

Chateau Silex 2003 Costieres de Nîmes Cranberry and strawberry salad. Light, fun and uncomplicated. Dive in. $12.

Beckmen 2003 Grenache Rosé 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.

Question, comment or suggestion? E-mail [email protected] or call 813-739-4881. THE WINE LIST

WINE FESTIVAL Taste the fruits of our local wine at the Florida Estates Winery Festival. Event includes a variety of fresh produce, sauces, sandwiches, plants, homemade arts & crafts, live music and, of course, wine. Free. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat., July 31. Florida Estates Winery, 25241 S.R. 52, Land O'Lakes (813-996-2113). www.floridaestateswines.com

NOW THAT'S ITALIAN Come see why Italy is regarded as the best red wine country in the world. Taste Barbera from Piedmont, Chianti Classico from Tuscany, plus great Barolos and super Tuscans. Class format. $50. 6:30 p.m. Mon., July 26. SideBern's Restaurant, 1002 S. Howard Ave., Tampa (813-250-9463). Reservations requested.

ZINFULLY YOURS Epicurean Life in Sarasota hosts this year's Zinfest, a journey down California's zinfandel lane with over 30 zins and nibbles from Fred's Restaurant. If you're looking for a ride, go with Tampa Bay Uncorked. Their price includes a bus trip and a private zin tasting with Kent Rosenblum. $50. 12:45-7:45 p.m. Sat., Aug. 7. Bus pick-up is in front of Sears at Westshore Plaza, 250 Westshore Plaza, Tampa. More information at www.tampabay uncorked.org.

AMERICAN SPIRITS WINE TASTING American Spirits hosts a free wine tasting every Thursday. This week features White Haven and MacMurray wines. 5:30-7:30 p.m. American Spirits, 280 Third St. S., St. Petersburg (727-895-8700).

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