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California Wine: A Passel of Pinks

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Come spring an oenophile's fancy turns to rosés. They definitely got a bad rap for years thanks to the proliferation of sickeningly sweet white zinfandels that began with Sutter Home in 1975. But even that wine was a mistake, a stuck fermentation that meant the yeast didn't eat up the sugars as it should -- the winemakers found the result interesting and when consumers went gaga for it, a new trend was born. Once again we learned that trends and taste aren't the same thing.

Meanwhile Europe kept making its fine pink wines that were dry and perfect for a lovely Mediterranean day -- just ask the French in Provence's Tavel region, and if you can get a bottle of Domaine Tempier from Bandol, please invite me over.

The last few years, Californian winemakers have been taking rosés more and more seriously, to the point where acclaimed zinfandel producer Turley Wine Cellars -- famous for creating some of the strongest, yet still balanced, wines in the state -- released a 2011 Turley Napa Valley White Zinfandel at a mere 11.2% alcohol. (You can only get it at their Paso Robles tasting room and at discerning restaurants.) Turley is doing serious work to reclaim a besmirched name.

One of the best things about rosés is they can be almost any varietal of grape. The coloring happens by letting the juice have some time with the pigmented skins -- there are different methods and terms like saignee that are more complex than we need to get into here -- but the point is most red wine grapes can make a rosé. That broadens the range of flavor profiles available and makes it a wonderful type of wine to match with foods, in particular providing a middle ground for hardcore white and red wine drinkers. It's also a great aperitif, its acids getting the flavor buds going, its alcohol less than a cocktail, its best serving temperature between a red and a white -- chill it, but don't go overboard or you'll have its flavors withdraw.

Here are just a handful of fine rosés available now:

Ampelos 2012 Rosé of Syrah, Santa Ynez Valley ($16)
A very balanced wine with no oak -- all clean lines and asking to be paired with your meals, from not-too-spicy Thai to a roast chicken.

Cuvaison 2012 Vin Gris of Pinot Noir Napa Valley ($19)
Cuvaison bleeds off some of the early juice from its Pinot Noir fruit to make this pleaser with just enough citrus to balance the berry notes.

Lucy 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands ($17)
Created by one of the prime Pinot producers in the state, the Pisoni Family, and you don't have to get on a mailing list to buy it. Plus, some of the proceeds go to breast cancer research (a common thing for pinks).

Press Gang Cellars 2012 Savanna Rhea Grenache Rosé ($20)
Winemaker Kyle Knapp of this small Santa Ynez up-and-comer named this strawberry-centric rosé after his wife, so you know it has to be good.

Tablas Creek Vineyard 2012 Dianthus, Paso Robles ($27)
The venerable Paso producer has rechristened its always delicious rosé after a deep pink flowering plant, but this wine, if any, will prove pinks aren't meek in the slightest, adding watermelon to the usual rosé tool box.

Tercero 2012 Mourvèdre of Rosé, Santa Barbara County ($18)
Larry Schaffer holds up those Bandols I wrote about in the intro as his model and he achieves something wonderful with this Happy Canyon AVA fruit.

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