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Pretty in pink 

Discover the joys of dry rosé wines

Back in the early '70s, when many of us were just a gleam in the mailman's eye, an earth-shattering event took place in the wine world: White Zinfandel was invented. It all started when a winemaker at Sutter Home decided to use some of the juice from his red Zinfandel grapes to make a dry pink wine in the French style. Yeah, I said "dry." But when the tasting room masses rejected it, he added sugar. Next thing you knew, everyone in the freaking country was drinking the stuff.

Not to say that I wasn't one of the sugar-swilling masses. White Zin was my initiation into wine drinking -- and it was certainly a step up from the berry-flavored wine coolers I favored in high school. It was only after I started college and took a job at a wine bar that I learned the unfortunate truth: In the eyes of real "wine connoisseurs," people who drank pink wine were like school on Saturday -- no class.

Luckily, I've since realized that not all pink wines are worthy of scorn. Sure, some of 'em are tooth-rotting swill, but there's a side to pink wines you may not know about -- the dry side. Unlike their rosy cousins, dry rosés are light, refreshing, fruity -- and dangerously drinkable.

Though they differ in style, dry rosé and White Zin wines are actually made in pretty much the same way (plus or minus a whole lot of sugar). Whether they're sweet or dry, pink wines are made from red grapes, such as Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah or Grenache. After the grapes are crushed and put into a tank, the skins begin to tint the white juice red. (Even red grapes have white juice -- go figure.) After the juice turns the desired shade o' pink, the winemaker takes out the skins.

Another way to make rosé is to "bleed off" some pink juice while making a red wine. Extra skin contact makes the remaining red wine richer, and gives the winemaker a chance to make some rosé while he's at it.

Whichever method is used, dry rosés are crisp, easy drinking and perfect for hot, summer days. (If you don't believe me, ask someone from Southern France, Italy or Spain -- they drink gallons of the stuff at outdoor cafes all summer long.)

Refreshing quaffability aside, dry rosés also are great with food. You can drink them with anything you'd normally wash down with beer, like spicy Thai food, fajitas, tacos or Cajun food. That said, one of the best things about dry pink wines is that they taste great all by themselves.

So, when the weather heats up, grab a bottle of something rosy and head for the nearest patio. After a few fruity sips (or glasses), you may just forget about rosé's sugar-stained image and declare that you're proud to drink pink.

Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 2000 ($9): The label of this popular pink wine features a cigar-shaped UFO hovering over a vineyard, in violation of an old French law that forbids space craft from landing among their precious grapes. In contrast to the label's cheeky humor, this wine is seriously tasty. It smells like a combo of strawberries and citrus and tastes like pink wine heaven.

Fife Redhead Rose 2000 ($14): Made in the dry, southern Rhone style, this Mendecino, Calif., rose is made from grapes that originate from the South of France. It's "fruit-forward," meaning it smacks you in the face with fresh fruit flavor as you sip it. It's a good thing, really. Drink it alone or with someone.

Storybook Mountain Vineyards Zin Gris 2000 ($13.99): Made from Zinfandel grapes, this watermelon-colored wine smells like summer berries and tastes like Sweet Tarts. (I mean that in a good way.) Unlike most rosés, it's 100 percent barrel fermented (most are made in steel tanks to preserve the wine's fruity quality). Light and refreshing.

Have a fabulous wine or wine experience you want to share with us? E-mail or mail to Corkscrew, 1310 East 9th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605.

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