Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Zin of a Lifetime

A winemaker once told me that the greatest regret of his lifetime was that he only had 40 chances to make the perfect wine.  If that’s true, then Joe Healy, the winemaker at Bella Vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley, can die a happy man.  I recently tasted a Zinfandel there that changed forever my ideas of what that grape – and silky tannins – can be when done to perfection.
Just getting to Bella is a treat in itself.  It’s located at the end of a tiny winding road that meanders along Dry Creek and is picturesque even by Northern Sonoma County standards.  Upon arriving, you walk past the winery located in a quaint barn-like building surrounded by century-old olive trees through mysterious arched doors leading into a cave in the hillside.  Inside is one of the coolest tasting rooms on the planet, complete with cozy tables and eclectic hanging lamps that shine like a sky full of stars on a dark night.
But it’s the wine that makes the trip memorable.  While Bella has a well-deserved reputation for producing some excellent big red Rhones, it’s their Zinfandel that rises above all others.  In particular, the 2007 Lily Hill Estate Zin, which Wine & Spirits Magazine named this Year’s Best, is breathtaking.  The wine starts with 85 year old vines that concentrate all those flavors in only ½ tons of grapes per acre.  It’s then co-fermented with just enough (5%) Syrah to give it a wild edge.  After 12 days in a submerged-cap tank to fully extract the colors, flavors, and tannins, it’s all smoothed to harmonious perfection by 15 months in French oak.
The result is one of the biggest, baddest reds I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting.  Once you get past the mouth-filling texture and flavors of ripe, jammy blackberry and raspberry, hold on to your seat for one of the longest, smoothest finishes you’ll ever enjoy.  “Wet silk” is the only phrase that begins to capture those tannins, unlike any I’ve encountered.  No one was able to hide the cherry Kool Aid colored stains on their teeth through their big smiles after drinking this wine.
More posts on charming Northern Sonoma County to come, but in the meantime you can find out more about Bella at

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