Zinfandel is an eclectic grape. It can make anything from a slightly sweet pink to an over-extracted, alcoholic fruit bomb.
Joe Healy of Bella Vineyards said the house style he strives for "is balance and easy-going food- friendliness."
Healy is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner, the Bella Vineyards, 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at $25.
It's a rustic zin that's ripe but doesn't push the envelope. It's balanced, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, a hint of plum and cracked black pepper.
Bella's alcohol level is 13.7 percent, while riper zins are 15-plus.
Other 4-star-rated contenders in the mixed flight were Raymond Generations, 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent alcohol, at $29, and C.G. Di Arie 2009 Interlude, Sierra Foothills, California Red Wine, 14.4 percent, at $25.
Making a zin that strikes a balance is a challenge, Healy said. "In my humble opinion, zinfandel is the hardest grape to grow and the hardest grape to make wine from."
Healy, who studied at Fresno State University, has been working at Bella in Healdsburg since 2001.
"I'm most proud of the fact that here at Bella we have been very successful at creating many lovely zinfandels every year," he said. "The credit for that is the ownership of Lynn and Scott Adams, who stress quality over quantity."
Healy said what makes him a good winemaker is that he has a thick skin, patience, and the ability to handle high stress.
"I can't quite remember when I fell in love with wine, but I can say that the longer I do this for a living, my love of winemaking and all things wine related grows year in and out," Healy said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."
Bella, 2010 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, 13.7 percent alcohol, $25. 4 stars.
A rustic zin that's ripe but doesn't push the envelope. Aromas and flavors of raspberry, plum and cracked black pepper. A complex zin with great appeal.
Others worth mentioning:
Raymond Generations, 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 15 percent, $29. 4 stars.
A bright cab with lively cherry, berry fruit and a seamless texture. Briary, with a tasty blend of herbs and spice. Good structure, good bones, nice length.
Forty-Seven Friends, 2010 Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.1 percent, $18. 3? stars.
An earthy pinot with refreshing, bright cherry, a hint of plum and a kick of spice. Tasty and approachable. A great value.
C.G. Di Arie 2009 Interlude, Sierra Foothills, California Red Wine, 14.4 percent, $25. 4 stars.
A striking red blend with concentrated flavors of cherry and berry. Smoky, with tasty herbs and spice. Has depth.
Pedroncelli, 2011 Mother Clone, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent, $17. 3? stars.
A jammy zinfandel with aromas and flavors of blackberry, herbs and cracked black pepper. Lingering finish. Yet another great value.
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or email@example.com.