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Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest reds

Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 10:43 p.m.

Randle Johnson was trying to decide whether he wanted to be a doctor or a psychologist as he was traveling once through Wine Country. But his palate decided his fate.

“A job required me to travel to Northern California up to the Oregon border,” Johnson said. “I became curious looking at vineyards. I stopped at a few tasting rooms and began learning about wine. ... I thought about it for another six to eight months and then decided to abandon ideas of medical school and clinical psychology.”

Johnson is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Artezin, 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel at $25. It's a brambly zin with a great range of flavors. It's layered with notes of cherry, boysenberry, raspberry and violet.

Johnson calls it a classic zin, one that's red-fruit driven with moderate alcohol and with an easy-drinking finish.

“I shoot for that style because I believe zins are best young,” Johnson said. “However, many zins can age gracefully and retain character. But they should be thought of as immediately enjoyable and approachable.”

Johnson is the winegrower and winemaker of Artezin, a brand owned by the Hess Collection winery in Napa. He said what he likes best about zinfandel is that it's a classic varietal, balanced, easy to drink and invites you back for a second glass.

“I have worked with zin my entire career, almost 40 years,” Johnson said. “I am passionate about zin because it is not boring. It's always challenging. When there is a really good one, I have a sense of accomplishment. Zin is not a slam dunk whatsoever, again just like pinot.”

Top pick:

Artezin, 2011 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel, 14.2 percent alcohol, $25, 4 stars. A brambly zin with layered notes of cherry, boysenberry and violet. Great range of flavors. Nicely done.

Other impressive wines:

Alexander Crown, 2010 Single Vineyard, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County, Cabernet Sauvignon, 15.5 percent, $75, 4 stars. A gorgeous cab with bright red fruit, crisp acidity and round flavors. It has a highbrow intensity. Striking.

Carol Shelton, 2010 Rocky Reserve, Florence Vineyard, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent. $35, 4 stars. A rock-star zin, jammy with snappy spice. Aromas and flavors of blackberry, boysenberry and cracked black pepper. Lush texture. Lingering finish. a knockout.

Dry Creek Vineyard, 2011 Somers Ranch, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.5 percent, $38, 4 stars. A complex zin with great structure. Notes of blackberry, strawberry and cinnamon, with a hint of chocolate. Ripe tannins. Nice length.

Sebastiani, 2011 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, 13.5 percent, $19, 3½ stars. A cab with good bones (structure). Complex, with a range of flavors: blackberry, tea, toasty oak and a hint of raspberry. Balanced. Firm tannins.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or

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