Think Pink...

Reputations can be tough to shed. Perhaps none are more stubborn than rosé's. Why? The wine industry--by cranking out millions of bottles and casks of bland, too-sweet white zinfandel in the 1980s--did its best to kill the notion that pink wine can be a tasty, refreshing, refined drink. There are few better wines than rose for summer sipping. Try one (or all) of these.

Today, though, rosé is no longer the pink-headed stepchild of the wine shop. According to data from the Wine Market Council, of those Americans who drink at least one glass of wine each week, 18% of the time they drink pink.

Chalk it up to a competitive global wine market, improved grape-growing and winemaking practices and a few important flag wavers such as highly regarded New Zealand winemaker Kim Crawford (in his case, with a rosé called Pansy!, mostly marketed to the gay community). Maybe it's a combination of all three that's made rosé one of the best value-for-dollar wine categories on the shelf.

That's what Charles Bieler of Three Thieves Wines, has been saying for years. He started out in the wine business in the early 1990s, promoting and marketing the rosé his father then made at Château Routas in Provence, France, by driving around the U.S. in a pink Cadillac--wearing a pink tux and top hat, no less.

Today, such gimmicks are unnecessary. Wine shops carry dozens of high-quality rosés from several different countries, including Bieler's--one from France that his family still makes, called Bieler Père et Fils, and the other called Charles & Charles, from Washington, in partnership with local winemaker Charles Smith.

But even though rosé has regained acceptance, the same rule applies for this style of wine as any other: Education equals better buys.

Rosé is made in the same manner as white wine, but using red grapes. The bunches are picked and crushed, and depending on how long the juice and grape skins sit together in the tank, the more red color is passed on to the juice. The juice is then drained off and fermented separately.

The hue shouldn't have as much an impact on flavor, however, as the vintage date. With only a few rare exceptions, rosés are not designed to age. It's 2009, so right now you should be drinking 2009 rosés from the southern hemisphere, and 2008s from the northern. Fresh rosés will be bright, vibrant and juicy; after a year or even less, the wines tend to dull in aroma and flavor.

Unfortunately, this was the case when we tried Domaine Ott from southern France, arguably the most highly sought-after and expensive ($40) rosé available. The 2007 we tried was still tasty, but not exuding the fresh aromas and flavors it likely did a year ago when it first arrived on store shelves.

Normally, buying according to pedigree is a good strategy. South Africa's Mulderbosch, for example, has a great reputation for its sauvignon blanc and chenin blanc; by association, the winery's rosé ($11) should deliver as well. And it did in our video tasting with Bieler--the flavors and aromas were all strawberries and raspberries, with a rush of acidity that makes the mouth water for more.

Also consider regional pedigree. As mentioned, southern France is where most of the rosés in your local shop are likely to come from; this is because pink wine has been a hallmark of summer drinking in southern France for decades. If you've had one southern French rosé that you liked, you're bound to enjoy another.

Finally, feel free to experiment. Most good-tasting rosés shouldn't cost more than $10 or $12--some even half that amount. So don't get discouraged if your first few tries don't result in a wine you love. After all, it's just a drink--no one's forcing you to wear a pink tuxedo to sing its virtues.