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In defense of the rosi

A couple of times a year I feel the need to rise to the defense of rose wines. It's because they don't get the respect they deserve.

True, a decade or so ago a spate of soft, sweet, bland roses and "blush" wines -- Kool-aid stuff -- flooded the market and hurt rose's reputation. But today there are dozens of roses that are dry, crisp, complex, intensely fruity and wonderful matches for food -- from small-plate "tapas" to spiral-cut, honey-baked ham.

Roses vary widely in character, in part because they can be made from just about any red grape. In the tasting notes below are roses made of 15 different red grapes, from cabernet sauvignon to pinot noir to zinfandel.

Roses are based on the fact that even red grapes give off white juice when first crushed. The longer the juice sits on the red skins, the more color it picks up. So winemakers let the skins soak, or "macerate," until the juice has the color and flavor they want, then separate them.

Being somewhere between white wine and red wine in character, roses naturally go well with a variety of foods. They're excellent with Spanish tapas, the small plate foods that range from chorizo sausage to potato-based "Farmers Omelets."

Fish? Why not? If red wine can go with fish, as many chefs argue today, roses certainly can. Especially healthy-fat fish like salmon, tuna and such.

Ham? Pink meat with pink wine. How can you miss?

Roses are great picnic wines. Toss a bottle in the ice chest, tote it to the beach and serve it extra cool with chicken or tuna salad, deli meats, sandwiches of all kinds, even fresh-cut chunks of fruit.

Roses have the restraint to go with vegetarian, even vegan foods.

Big, charcoal-grilled New York strip steaks? Not so much.

Finally, rose wines -- maybe because they're used to getting little respect -- don't take themselves too seriously. You're hard-put to find one over $20. You don't have to slosh them around in your mouth and pontificate over them. You can just drink them.

And isn't that nice?

>Highly recommended:

*2010 Tapena Rose, Tierra de Castilla, Spain (garnacha, monastrell, shiraz grapes): dry and crisp, with tart cherry and pink grapefruit flavors; $10.

*2010 "Enjoue" Rose, by Lassiter Family Winery, Sonoma Valley, Calif. (syrah, mourvedre, grenache): light and lively, with flavors of strawberries, lemons, apricots; $24.

*2011 Chateau Saint Sulpice Sarah Rose, Bordeaux, France (merlot, cabernet sauvignon): dark hue, full and rich and complex, with flavors of blackcurrants and spice; $15.


*2011 Rose, Michel Torino Coleccion, Cafayete, Argentina (malbec): crisp, with flavors of black cherries and cinnamon; $13.

*2010 "Cape Bleue" Rose, by Jean-Luc Colombo, Coteaux d'Aix en Provence, France (syrah, mourvedre, counoise); rich and full, with flavors of cherries, apricot and licorice; $12.

*2010 Clayhouse Adobe Pink Wine, "Red Cedar Vineyard," Paso Robles, Calif. (mourvedre, syrah, cabernet sauvignon): hint of sweetness, flavors of strawberries and cinnamon; $14.

*2011 Jaboulet "Parallele 45" Cotes du Rhone Rose, Rhone Valley, France (grenache, cinsault, syrah): full-bodied and rich, with flavors of black cherries and minerals; $15.

*2011 Carlo Santi "Infinito" Rose, Veneto, Italy (corvina, rondinella, molinara): light and dry, with flavors of tart cherries and cloves; $12.

*2011 Hecht & Bannier Rose, Languedoc-Roussillon, France (grenache, syrah, cinsault): rich and full, with flavors of red plums and a hint of minerals; $15.

*2011 "Attitude" Rose, by Pascal Jolivet, Loire Valley, France (pinot noir, cabernet franc, gamay) rich and full, with flavors of tart cherries and a hint of minerals; $15.

McClatchy Newspapers