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Carol Shelton is a self-proclaimed zin fanatic, and that’s why zin is the core of her wine portfolio.

Shelton is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner – Wild Thing, 2012 Mendocino, Old Vine Zin at $19.

The zin is a knockout, muscular yet balanced. It has aromas and flavors of cherry, black cherry, plum, cracked black pepper and a hint of caramel.

Shelton said she’s a true fan of zinfandel, with one caveat. It has to be made well.

“I love its deep berry fruit flavors and sweet spices, and ‘user-friendliness,’ ” Shelton said. “Also it is so great to know that California sets the benchmark for zin. We do not have to try to match some standard set by the Europeans, like Burgundy for pinot noir or Bordeaux for cabernet.”

The most challenging part of producing zinfandel is getting the pick just right, Shelton said.

“Getting it harvested at the best maturity for full fruit flavors and acidity and tannin without rot or excessive raisining, especially since it is a very uneven ripener, is a challenge,” Shelton said. “You can have pink berries, good black berries and all kinds of raisins on the exact same cluster, so it comes down to my years of experience (and some gut feel) to decide when to call the harvest date in order to best balance out all those stages of ripeness.”

When Shelton began her career in the wine business in 1978, she said zinfandel was a forgotten poor cousin, made in a style similar to cabernet sauvignon.

“When we got the technology to remove alcohol in the ’90s, the wines became much more stylish and elegant if winemakers had the courage and money to afford to remove some just to the sweet spot of alcohol, where the fruit is sweet and full but not dull and boring,” Shelton said. “Of course there are still those yahoos who insist on making it ‘way over the top’ in alcohol, over-oaked and excessively sweet, though I think more folks are trying to make balanced zin these days and drifting away from that rather coarse style.”

Shelton said she’s been at the forefront of the alcohol-removal crowd, and one of the first to show that each zin can have several sweet spots.

“I do not choose to bottle any wines very far over 15 percent alcohol because they really do not age well, and they do not pair well with food,” she said.

You can reach Wine writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest reds

Wine writer Peg Melnik had a tasting this week that featured zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir. There were some real finds in the flight, but our wine-of-the-week winner is Carol Shelton’s Wild Thing, 2012 Mendocino, Old Vine Zinfandel at $19. It’s a bold and audacious zin.

TOP PICK

Carol Shelton’s Wild Thing, 2012 Mendocino, Old Vine Zinfandel, 14.5 percent alcohol, $19. ★★★★A muscular zinfandel that manages to be both bold and balanced. Notes of bright cherry, blackberry, plum and cracked black pepper. A rich and creamy zin with snappy spice and a hint of caramel. A knockout.

Other impressive wines

Siduri, 2013 Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.1 percent, $22. ★★★★A rock-star pinot noir with deep cherry, currant, herbs and spice. A steal for the quality.

Frank Family Vineyards, 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir, 14.5 percent, $35. ★★★★A pinot with a lot going on. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, raspberry, herbs and toffee. Great structure. Complex.

Gary Farrell, 2012 Maffei Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.5 percent, $45. ★★★1⁄2 A tasty zin with layered flavors. Notes of cassis, ripe plum, eucalyptus and tobacco.

Pennywise, 2013 California Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5 percent, $12. ★★★ 1⁄2 A tart cab with notes of cherry, currant, dark chocolate and toast. Approachable, yes, but surprisingly good for a $12 wine.