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Wine and Food Wednesday
Petit Sirah: Let Me Count the Ways

By Stephen Eliot

There is nothing endearing about Petite Sirah. It is the journeyman prize-fighter of the wine world replete with a broken nose, a couple of cauliflower ears and a blank stare. It is a brute, and I have always thought that a winemaker who chose to pursue it would be advised to do so with a whip, a chair and a gun. I remember with fondness a handful of bottlings some thirty-five or forty years back; Ridge, Freemark Abbey, David Bruce, Carneros Creek and Mount Veeder come to mind, but that was a long time ago, and I do worry that just maybe the wines have grown far better in memory than they really were at the time. And, other than matching them up with the heartiest, most rustic meat dishes, their utility at the table came with real limits…but I must admit that things seem to be changing.

At the end of last week, I dropped by Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda for the “Dark and Delicious” food and wine tasting presented by the Petite Sirah Advocacy Organization. I was surprised. Not only were there more than a few very interesting Petite Sirahs that showed an entirely different, more refined face, a good many of them paired up brilliantly with dishes that I would have not thought would work. Oh, there were the usual awkward attempts to pair tannic-beast bottlings with dark chocolate (I am still far from convinced), but what struck me most was the remarkable affinity that the more carefully crafted wines had with a array of richer pork preparations.

I admit to running out of time before I tasting all the wines and foods offered, but highlights of the former included new efforts from Brown Estate, Robert Biale, Miro, Robert Fulton and Vina Robles. While solid and sturdy, the wines as a whole steered clear of the brutal astringency that is Petite’s common failing, and they showed fine balance and real fruity depth while still being weighty and rich.

Skewers of well-seasoned smoked pork and savory pork-and-dried-cherry tartlets turned out to be delicious foils to wines’ lush, blackberry fruit, and a slow-cooked Yucatan Pork seasoned with achiote and limes was, for me, the biggest hit of the evening.

I am reminded of a rejoinder from Tom Pellechia who cautioned “never say never” when I recently wrote about the difficulties in pairing dry red wine and chocolate, and, if I remain unmoved in my pessimism for that particular marriage, I will gladly concede that my preconceptions about Petite Sirah and its place at the table are substantially changed. This time at least, there were rewards aplenty for putting aside my inclinations of “never”.

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