Perfection and Value in a Bottle: Syrah Rosé from California for $16

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I'm just going to go ahead and blurt it out: The 2011 rosé from Syrah by Santa Barbara, California winery Ampelos is my favorite discovery for 2012 and it's my number one wine for the 2012 holiday season.

It's one of those rare wines that fire on all cylinders. It's fresh and it's clean. It's got great acidity (making it super food friendly) and a fantastic balance of astringency (thanks to its gentle tannin) and bright fruit. It weighs in at around $16 (well below my Eating Our Words ceiling of $25). And -- best of all -- it's widely available in the Houston market.

You can find it at Spec's or Richard's; I found the bottle in the bottle at the Spec's in Beaumont, on my way to Orange to visit the in-laws.

Some might find it strange that I'm recommending a rosé -- a pink wine -- as my number one holiday wine for 2012.

In the U.S., we have a unique custom of drinking rosé almost exclusively during summer months. This is due to the way that rosé -- blush wine and "white Zinfandel" -- were marketed to us during the 1970s and 80s.

In Europe, people drink rosé wines all year round. And the reason is simple: Rosé, when made in the European style (like the Ampelos), tends to be more versatile and food friendly. It can have the perfect balance of tannin, fruit, and acidity to go with nearly everything.

We'll be celebrating Christmas this year in Orange at my in-laws, where salty spiral ham and turkey (roast and smoked) will be the centerpieces of the dinner table. This wine (or a wine like it) is ideal because it won't overpower the flavor or fat with overly aggressive tannin but it will still deliver the rich fruit to complement the meats the same wine cranberry sauce imparts a sweetness that balances the savory of American holiday classics (think of the way ketchup goes with fries or the way tomatoes work in meat sauces).

Of course, there will also be a few bottles of my beloved Nebbiolo to sip after dinner as we munch on roasted nuts and cheeses.

But rosé, my pinked-nosed reindeer will be guiding us through Christmas dinner.

Stay tuned: On Friday, I'll be handicapping Champagnes available in Houston and sharing my notes on where to find the best prices.

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