Shafer Vineyards in Napa produces a meticulous red

Winemaker Doug Shafer pours a Shafer Vineyards wine

Winemaker Doug Shafer pours a Shafer Vineyards wine during a Napa Valley wine auction in St. Helena, Calif. (Credit: AP, 2006)

For Shafer Vineyards, 2012 was a vintage year -- in the bottle and on the page.

The Napa winery's 2008 Relentless, a concentrated syrah that's a taste of California by way of the Rhone Valley, was named wine of the year in Wine Spectator magazine. It's a meticulously made red.

And the University of California Press published "A Vineyard in Napa" ($29.95), by Doug Shafer, with Andy Demsky. The very accessible book delivers lively history and an easygoing primer on the wine industry.

John Shafer moved his family to Napa from suburban Chicago in 1973 and helped improve an industry. None of the Shafer wines seems bargain-priced. But, compared with their competitors, you could persuasively argue otherwise.

Starting at the top, winemaker Elias Fernandez's benchmark 2008 Hillside Select ($230) is an elegant, lush choice, with ample black cherry and blackberry. It outdoes many of California's costlier "cult" red blends, and will mature for years. The fruity 2009 One Point Five ($70) cabernet sauvignon, smooth and ripe, is a balanced and versatile winner.

Shafer produces a bright merlot that's full of red fruit. The 2010 Merlot ($50) is loaded with raspberry, cherry and plum, and is a food-friendly choice. And Shafer's 2010 Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay ($48) is a harmonious, well-structured white, ideal with seafood.

The 2009 Relentless ($63) currently is available, too. Look for it and enjoy an aromatic union of the intense and the subtle leading to a long finish, while paging through "A Vineyard in Napa."

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