The Sonoma wine country, and particularly the greater Healdsburg area, becomes one of the most pleasant destinations on a tank of gas.
Healdsburg has sprouted a number of nice inns, terrific restaurants and many wine-tasting rooms. The area is also home to a number of specialty farms and a Tuesday evening farmers market in the town square. It is followed by a free outdoor concert. While the area has become a vibrant tourism destination, it has not lost its small-town feel.
Healdsburg is also home to the historic Seghesio Winery, an easy walk from the town square. Shaded by mature trees and sporting a bocce ball court, this is an ideal spot for a picnic while enjoying the wines.
Seghesio specializes in zinfandels, which the family first planted 100 years ago.
A fourth-generation operation, Seghesio was a bulk wine producer until the winery created its own label in 1983, about the time zinfandel was losing in popularity and most zin was going into white zinfandel. Seghesio continued to focus on red zinfandel, along with a number of other Italian varieties, and now is considered a leader in producing exceptional reds. It annually produces upward of nine zinfandels and a limited selection of zins from small growers.
The highly regarded Sonoma zinfandel is the flagship red and a great value. A blend of area zins, the 2007 Sonoma comes out next month. The winery also has great success with barbera and sangiovese, the latter coming from family vineyards that are the oldest in Sonoma.
The winery's Italian whites round out a perfect tasting opportunity.
Seghesio 2007 Arneis
Seghesio is the only Sonoma producer of this rare white grape. Dry, showing a mineral character, it has a melon and peach component that would complement Italian hard cheeses and fruits. Seghesio also makes a pinot grigio and fiano, two other limited-production Italian whites. About $20.
2005 Cortina Zinfandel
These old-vine Dry Creek Valley grapes mature later and yield a red with a briary character that retains more acidity than other zins. White pepper and black raspberry dominate this well-structured red. About $35.
2005 San Lorenzo Zinfandel
Dating to the 1890s, this is the oldest Seghesio property. This is a classic field blend, which means that the vineyard is a mix of grapes, a common planting practice in the early days. It is 80 percent zinfandel, with the balance being petite sirah and carignane; it displays complexity and depth, with a nice touch of spice and blackberry. About $35.
2005 Rockpile Zinfandel
This is from the highly acclaimed appellation overlooking Dry Creek Valley. It features strong boysenberry and jammy fruit aromas and rich, opulent berry flavors with a classic briary backbone; it finishes with a touch of cinnamon. A crowd-pleaser. The 2006 is to be released this week. About $35.
Wine picks are from Tom Bender, wine instructor at Columbia College and wine steward for O'Brien's Market, 4120 Dale Road, Modesto, 545-8100.