Barbera is a feisty varietal with crisp acid, and that's what makes it such a savvy holiday pick.

"Barbera is a great wine for this time of year because it can go well with holiday favorites like ham and turkey and cranberries and especially the Italian holiday specialty, cioppino," said Greg Graziano, vintner and winemaker of his namesake winery, Graziano Family of Wines.

Graziano produced our wine-of-the-week winner — the <strong>Enotria, 2010 Mendocino County Barbera</strong>, a value at $17.

It doesn't get any better for Barbera than this. The Enotria has tangy red fruit, and it's smoky and meaty, with a crisp finish.

This striking red is particularly impressive for the price.

"One of the great things about working in Mendocino is that our grape prices are more reasonable than Napa and Sonoma, partly because our land prices are more reasonable and, unfortunately and incorrectly, we have a less famous reputation for wine than our friends to the south," Graziano said.

The vintner is one of the most prolific in Wine Country, with brands that also include Saint Gregory, Monte Volpe and Graziano. "My family members are grape growers from Piemonte, Italy, the homeland of barbera," Graziano said. "We are one of the oldest grape-growing families of Mendocino County, since 1918."

Graziano grew up in the vineyards, and later studied at UC Davis, where his daughter Alexandra now studies.

is also studying to be the fourthgeneration at the winery. Graziano founded the Graziano Family of Wines with his wife, Trudi, in 1988.

"I guess with my history, I was destined to be a winegrower," he said. "I really fell in love with wine and grapes at an early age ... I really knew the direction of wanting to produce Italian varieties from my first trip to Italy in 1982, when I visited my family in Asti and saw its small winery and vineyards."

Barbera can be challenging to produce for the inexperienced winemaker because of its low tannins and high acidity, Graziano said. But the upside is it makes quite an impression.

"The most gratifying part of making barbera is getting the wine in people's mouths and watching their reaction to the unique flavors and structure of this variety," Graziano said. "I love to hear the: 'Wow, that is really good, like nothing I've ever had.'"


<strong>Wine of the Week:</strong> Scouting for the tastiest Holiday Reds

<em>Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of holiday reds, from pinot noir to barbera and cabernet to merlot. What she found were seriously good holiday reds — all earning a 4-star rating. Our wine-of-the-week winner is the Enotria, 2010 Mendocino County Barbera, a $17 value red, an exceptional budget-wise pick for the quality.</em>

<strong>TOP PICK: </strong><strong>Enotria, 2010 Mendocino County Barbera,</strong> 14.5 percent alcohol, $17. **** It doesn't get any better for barbera than this. Feisty red fruit, smoky, meaty, with a crisp finish. This striking red is particularly impressive for the price, and it's a great holiday pick.

Others worth mentioning:

<strong>Arrowood, 2009 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon,</strong> 14.5 percent, $30. **** This is a complex cab, with layered flavors and great structure. It has firm tannins with aromas and flavors of cherry, currant, cassis and plum. A smart holiday pick.

<strong>Longboard Vineyards, 2010 Dakine Vineyard,</strong> Russian River Valley Sonoma County Merlot, 14.5 percent, $29. **** A juicy merlot that's fleshy and seamless. It also has an undercurrent of irresistible tangy spice. Gorgeous fruit. Great concentration. Knockout.

<strong>Stonestreet, 2010 Monument Ridge, Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon,</strong> 14 percent, $45. **** An elegant cabernet with great structure. Notes of black cherry, plum, herbs and cracked black pepper. Firm tannins. Nice length. An impressive holiday cab.

<strong>Failla, 2011 Hirsch Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir,</strong> 13.9 percent, $68. **** A lovely pinot that's bright and tangy and buoyed with great acidity. Layered, with notes of cherry, a hint of cranberry, and smoke. Lush texture. Seamless. A striking holiday pinot noir.