Meet the New Pink 

Same as the old pink?

At family reunions, your great aunts have at it while you make a beeline for the PBR. Some call it blush, some say rosé — but whatever the name, you know that for years you've dismissed it as overly sweet and insubstantial, unworthy of your attention.

But you have been unfair. Over the last few years, pink wines have made a sophisticated comeback, and inventive producers here now excel at making both dry and somewhat sweet wines from red grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Merlot, and — ever battling infamy — Zinfandel.

A great example of the new and improved pinks comes from Napa's Folie à Deux winery. Refreshing and light, the 2005 Ménage à Trois California Rosé Table Wine ($9.99) smells like fruit punch with a pleasant alcoholic tickle, and the taste is fruity as well — sweet but nicely balanced. It finishes with a welcome bitterness.

A similar concept rendered somewhat less impressively comes from Beringer: the 2005 white Merlot ($4.50). Our first tip-off was the aroma, which evoked Sno-Cones. The taste was equally cloying. "On ice, with Sprite, for Grandma," said our Token Winemaker, complaining that the treacly cherry and strawberry flavors had not been adequately balanced with acid. I thought this one could be passable if served properly chilled with an appetizer that would offset the sweetness (think spicy Asian, like spring rolls or kimchi).

We both panned our third wine, the 2005 white Zinfandel from Shenandoah Vineyards in Amador County. In a glass the color looked too pale and tawny, and the aroma was barely there. A thin flavor and absence of finish branded this a tasteless waif of a wine — a big disappointment, given that one of our favorite pinks hails from Shenandoah's neighbor, Amador Foothill Winery. Although not for sale in East Bay stores, starting next month the '06 vintage of Amador Foothill's perfectly dry Rosato of Sangiovese will be available for $10 at AmadorFoothill.com.

Alternatively, visiting the vineyard is often a wise move when drinking pink. The biggest and most obvious pitfall with these wines is that their sweetness can render them undrinkable. The amount of residual sugar in a wine is not revealed on the bottle, but sampling the wine will give it away in an instant. And because rosés are still battling a bad rap, most local wineries unload them for a song. Others to try within a couple hours' drive of the East Bay are Toad Hollow Vineyards in Healdsburg and Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz. Both are producers of rave-earning rosés.

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