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A Rosé Explainer and Buying Guide

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To be just a mite fanciful, one could consider rosé the platypus of wines. Neither red nor white, it's cute and interesting (and good by a pool), but hard to figure. So we here at KCET decided it's time for a rosé explainer, followed by some of the better Southern California versions you can get right now. And while they can age if you can keep your hands off them, they are meant for instant seasonal pleasure.

"Hey, rosé isn't a grape -- what am I drinking?"

It could be many varietals, which is one of the reasons enjoying pink wines is possible in many situations with many foods. In France, where many of the best rosés still come from (but they've had a multi-century head start, so the U.S. doesn't have to feel too inferior), the varietal tends to suggest where the wine originated. For example, Bandol, by the sea in Provence, leads with Mourvèdre; and Tavel, much more inland in the Rhone, leads with Grenache ... but we're just making keen varietal distinctions here. (Do not show this article to a French person, who will kill me for making light of what he or she would see as a crucial divide; for them it's like I have just confused San Pedro with San Francisco.)

All that said, while traditionally a rosé has some Rhone "blood" in it, in the U.S we throw tradition out the window. Rosés in California are made from almost every grape, from cabernet to zinfandel. And isn't it good that you have to be over 40 to remember what Sutter Home unleashed upon us with their first white zin? Now, most pink wines are bone dry, and often aged in stainless, offering only fresh fruit and bright acid and can be enjoyed with everything from grilled chicken to pineapple fried rice.

Okay, but there aren't pink grapes, so how is the wine made?"

There are two major ways, and a third way, blending white and red wine, but that's mostly used to create sparkling. Again we turn to the French to learn the term saignée ("bleed"). In an effort to make even better red wine, winemakers often bleed off some less concentrated juice at the beginning of the process. Smart folks that they are, who only have one shot a year to make their nut, they realized they could sell that, too, if they worked with it. Hence, that's one way to make rosé.

Other winemakers consider that method cheating, and grow specific grapes for their rosés, but don't leave them on skin contact long enough to get as red as they might otherwise after harvest.

Which is better? Depends upon the winemaker, and what you're looking for in a wine. If you want something heartier, skip the saignées. But for an aperitif....

So what's tasty right now, especially in light of all this fine information you've provided? (I love writing my own questions to answer.)

Botasea Rosato di Palmina ($18)
Here's your chance to see what an Italian-focused take on pink wine is like, as it's made from Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and Barbera. It's the one wine solely made by Chrystal Clifton at Palmina (her husband Steve is the main winemaker), and unsurprisingly it has a lovely feminine touch.

Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Pinks 2014 ($15)
This is summer in a bottle, a blend of the usually Old World grape Valdigue with pinot noir (since Hitching Post is all about pinot). It even ages well, developing depth rosés rarely exhibit.

Liquid Farm Rose Mourvèdre 2014 ($24)
Made from a "fuller" grape, yet in a lighter style, as they do in Bandol. Liquid Farm jokes the hashtag for this wine is #pinkcrack. Much minerality, but with layers of stone fruit.

Tatomer Spatburgunder Rosé Santa Barbara County 2014 ($27)
Graham Tatomer specializes in Austrian and German wines in Santa Barbara, and now you know that spatburgunder means pinot noir. Its salmon color is a hint as to what you should eat with this elegant delight.

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