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Volume 34, Issue 9: July 2010

Petite Sirah

In a slow but continuing climb back to full grace in California, this year’s versions of Petite Sirah edge closer to what might be called “brawny accessibility”. It matters not that massively tannic Petite Sirah can age for a couple of decades or more (a thesis we will test one of these days with wine from our cellars going all the way back to the early 70s). What matters is that this muscular wine, when not littered with unmannerly astringency, has a center of fruit that cuts through its mass and muscle as a mealtime mate to sturdy hunks of savory beef, lamb and venison. With wines of that ilk on the increase, Petite Sirah is likely to continue to gain popularity.



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88
ARTEZIN
Garzini Ranch
Petite Sirah
 Mendocino County 2007
$36.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
This chunky, moderately tannic youngster comfortably makes its way into recommended ranks by dint of its generous and very accessible fruit. Its somewhat strawberryish themes remind a bit of Grenache, but its peppery spice and firm spine of tannin are those of classic Petite. While sturdy, it is not overly tough, and with a few years of age, it will provide useful drinking with well-seasoned meats on the bone.
Reviewed: July 2010
86
ARTEZIN
Petite Sirah
 Mendocino County 2007
$25.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
A bit longer on the lightly dusty, somewhat peppery spice of the grape than it is on evident fruit, this tough, tannin-framed working nevertheless flirts here and there with suggestions of dark berries, and its astringency is still within varietal bounds. It will benefit from a half-dozen years of age and is the kind of wine that will want pairing with savory, marinated lamb.
Reviewed: July 2010
90
AVER FAMILY
Hope
Petite Sirah
 California 2007
$35.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
An intriguing blend, this wine uses Petite Sirah as the structural frame upon which is hung more expressive fruit than the variety typically manages. Its blackberry, black pepper, caramel/vanilla notes in its aromas are paralleled by an equally attractive, richly cast set of flavors whose light overlay of chocolate simply adds to the wine's ability to charm. With Petite Sirah reduced in scale here, the wine keeps its tannins well in check, and while it can grow with aging, it needs only a bit.
Reviewed: July 2010
87
BALLENTINE
Fig Tree Vineyard
Petite Sirah
 St. Helena; Napa Valley 2007
$24.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Here is a solid, well-extracted look at Petite Sirah that stays within the varietal lines. It is fleshy, full-bodied and fairly tough, but it counts ripeness and a fair bit of fruit in its favor. It holds onto fruit throughout and tastes of dark berries from front to back, and, if its tannins are elevated, they are still appropriate for the grape.
Reviewed: July 2010
86
BERRYESSA GAP
Reserve
Petite Sirah
 Yolo County 2006
$18.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
It would be hard to argue that this wine is especially revealing of classic Petite, but its milder manner and accessible, slightly strawberry-like fruit are far from being liabilities. It slowly gives ground to back-palate tannins and gets a bit gritty and sere at the end, but its fruit never quite fades from view and has a fair chance of surviving the half-dozen or so years of cellaring that seems called for here.
Reviewed: July 2010
89
BOGLE
Phantom
Petite Sirah
 California 2006
$16.00
GOOD VALUE
Generally AvailableDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
This Petite Sirah-based blend is fairly supple and nicely balanced on the palate with not a hair out of place. Its blackberryish fruit notes come with mildly spicy and minerally nuances, and its nice background lift from supportive oak helps out by bringing a spot of richness to the proceedings. Somewhat tannic but not overly so, this wine rates as a great buy now and a likeable wine both today and if given some three to five years to soften.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
BOGLE
Petite Sirah
 California 2007
$11.00
GOOD VALUE
Generally AvailableDrink NowLamb
If you do not mind a little caramel heading to molasses in your medium-bodied Petite Sirah, and you are not one who requires mass and muscle as part of the deal, then this direct, easy-going effort will reward both your palate and your pocketbook.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
BOGLE
Petite Sirah
 California 2006
$11.00
GOOD VALUE
Generally AvailableDrink NowLamb
You have to hand it to Bogle-three solid wines at their stated prices. This one is seemingly a bit stiffer than its 2007 mate above and less dense in its fruit, but it has clean, bright, direct character and decent balance, and if not Petite Sirah in the classic, brawny manner, it is a wholly useful wine for lighter red meat dishes.
Reviewed: July 2010
84
CANIS MAJOR
Petite Sirah
 Dry Creek Valley 2007
$25.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
To its credit, this very dense and highly ripened Petite Sirah is wholly on point with respect to varietal sinew and strength, but it is undermined by a marked streak of sourness, and its combination of stiffening acids and hard-edged tannins leaves it well short of success.
Reviewed: July 2010
90
CLAYHOUSE
Show Pony. Red Cedar Vineyard.
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2007
$40.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Rich and ripe in the best, generous manner of the wines from this area, the Show Pony Petite Sirah smells of dark berries with whiffs of dried violet, milk chocolate, minerally spice and a hint of dried grape sweetness. Full and rich on the palate, deep, very ripe and intense in flavor and fleshy to the point that some will find it too soft for their liking, this wine has plenty of appeal to fans of big, well-stuffed wines. Try it with chewy hunks of well-spiced lamb or beef.
Reviewed: July 2010
88
CLAYHOUSE
Estate
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2006
$23.00
Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Ripe and slightly blousy in its aromas of blackberries with a tinge of a somewhat syrupy component, this full-bodied wine is noticeably more firmly and tightly structured on the palate even though its flavors do drift in the direction of high ripeness. Their berry-like focus is joined by a hint of tea leaf and by typical tannins that argue against near-term drinking.
Reviewed: July 2010
92
CONCANNON
Reserve
Petite Sirah
 Livermore Valley 2006
$38.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Our easy pick as the best of the current Concannon bunch, this deep and very outgoing effort offers up lots of ripe, chocolate-tinged, berry-like fruit graced with highlights of sweet oak and classic peppery spice. Full-bodied, fleshy and still fairly rugged, it comes complete with a good dose of gruff tannin, yet it is not ever coarse or overly tough. It is, in fact, both vital and balanced, and its combination of structure and fruity drive tag it as one to wait on for at least five or six years.
Reviewed: July 2010
89
CONCANNON
Heritage
Petite Sirah
 Livermore Valley. San Francisco Bay. 2004
$50.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
Long before Petite Sirah gained popularity, Concannon was making it in the Livermore Valley, and when it began to lose its place a couple of dozen years ago, the winery stayed with the grape and were the leading volume producer of it for years. While there may be others who have usurped that one title, no one is going to challenge the place of Concannon as the winery whose stylish versions of the grape were then, and are now today, worthy of emulation. To be sure, this aged, rich wine is no shrinking violet with its with peppery, meaty focus and its broad yet tannic palatal impressions. It is a wine that invites service with rich meats and can age a bit as well.
Reviewed: July 2010
86
CONCANNON
Captain Joe's
Petite Sirah
 Livermore Valley 2006
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
It may be fair to complain that this wine compares a touch too closely with the producer's Nina's Cuvée in that its aromas show more interest that do its flavors, but, in this instance, it is a bit better filled and weathers its formidable finishing astringency without giving up. Beauty, however, is now and will remain well out of its reach, and it is a wine that needs tagging for drinking with rustic fare.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
CONCANNON
Nina's Cuvée
Petite Sirah
 Livermore Valley 2006
$30.00
Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
There is a lot to like in the complex and concentrated ripe-berry nose of this very promising wine, but promise is not met on the palate, and the its limited flavors come up surprisingly shallow and lacking in range. If it is slightly lighter in tannin by varietal standards, its truncated finish is dry and puckery owing to the absence of fruit.
Reviewed: July 2010
83
CONCANNON
Conservancy
Petite Sirah
 Livermore Valley 2007
$14.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Although its dusty, lightly spicy, loosely defined nose conveys a scant note of berries, this wine proves to be thin and withered at its heart, and its sere, acid-pushed tannins are never matched by nearly enough fruit to suggest that time will prove to be an ally in any meaningful way.
Reviewed: July 2010
83
CONCANNON
Petite Sirah
 Central Coast 2007
$10.00
Generally AvailableDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
From its odd, half-candied aromas to its undercurrent of souring acid, this cheap-tasting wine does little to please, and it is entirely lacking the strength, spice and dark fruit that, in the end, are the defining traits of Petite Sirah.
Reviewed: July 2010
84
CUPCAKE
Petite Sirah
 Central Coast 2007
$14.00
Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
If, on the one hand, this relatively firm, medium-full-bodied effort offers up a pleasant bit of raspberry-like fruit, it does not deliver expressive Petite Sirah character. It sits at the lighter end of the varietal spectrum with regard to tannin and shows an angular edge of tangy acidity as its fruit pulls up short at the finish. It may reward a few years of keeping, but it possesses very clear limits now or later.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
ESOTERICA
Chavez-Leeds Vineyard
Petite Sirah
 Rutherford. Napa Valley. 2007
$40.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
Unusual might be a better way to describe this wine than "esoteric". True, it is the limited ripeness of the wine that takes it far from of the varietal norm, but it offers nothing special or demanding of special knowledge-unless thin, underripe Petite Sirah with a leafy, green streak and hard-to-find varietal expression qualifies.
Reviewed: July 2010
87
GRGICH HILLS
Miljenko's Vineyard
Petite Sirah
 Napa Valley 2006
$45.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeSpicy Dishes
Resiny, sinewy, ripe and tough-smelling, if such a thing is possible, this wine flirts with disappointment in the low level of fruit shown by its aromas and with its drying, alum-like pucker on the palate. Those willing to wait for it to open up are going to need a half decade of patience but should be rewarded with a more evenly shaped wine.
Reviewed: July 2010
82
GUENOC
Petite Sirah
 Lake County 2007
$15.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
If faintly herbal and hinting at blackberries in the nose, this sere, acid-edged wine is wholly without fruit out in the mouth, and its combination of mouth-drying tannin and wiry tartness makes for an unpleasant finish.
Reviewed: July 2010
87
HERINGER
Heringer Vineyards
Petite Sirah
 Clarksburg 2006
$25.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Far and away the preferred of the Heringer bottlings, this hefty, well-ripened wine is very much fixed on the peppery, blackberry traits of Petite Sirah and has the fruity substance to effectively buffer its undisguised tannins. Gruff now and likely to be later as well, it will take well to aging and should develop for another five to ten years.
Reviewed: July 2010
81
HERINGER
Holland Landing
Petite Sirah
 Clarksburg 2005
$21.00
Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
Although its peculiar mix of dried herbs, old leather, earth and souring berries might be charitably called complex, this murky take on Petite is both too tart and too tannic, and it misses any reasonable varietal mark.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
J. RICKARDS
Brown Barn Vineyard
Petite Sirah
 Alexander Valley 2007
$24.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Despite a bit of help from its complement of slightly sweet oak, this chunky, not-quite-filled wine wants a little more fruit with which to buffer its hard-to-ignore tannins. It has solid varietal credentials but winds up tough and a little washed out at the end, and we do not see how aging alone will fill in its too many spaces.
Reviewed: July 2010
92
JC CELLARS
Eaglepoint Ranch
Petite Sirah
 Mendocino County 2007
$45.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Here is a very successful proponent of the "hard as nails" style. Its head-turning aromatic array of roasted meats and game, leather, charry oak and black pepper leads to an equally head-turning dose of tough tannins on the palate, yet here again, the wine is deep and complex in its delivery of highly concentrated blackberry fruit tied to notes of mocha, espresso, pepper and black soils. It is textbook tight in astringency but is far more than "by the book" in depth, and it promises to age well for six to ten years for starters.
Reviewed: July 2010
78
JUDD'S HILL
Old Vine
Petite Sirah
 Lodi 2006
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
Even without its off-putting infusion of stewed vegetation, this heavy, poorly constructed wine is at the same time so fat and so tough that it would be hard to like even with age. It is one that is easy to leave on the shelf.
Reviewed: July 2010
81
LANGE TWINS
Petite Sirah
 California 2008
$18.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink NowLamb
One of its Lodi-area neighbors has made a good go with this unusual blend, but the Lange Twins have not. The wine is odd in smell with a bit of cooked meat melded with wet wool and green spices in the nose and follows with wan, burnt wood flavors of little charm.
Reviewed: July 2010
87
LANGTRY
Serpentine Meadow
Petite Sirah
 Guenoc Valley 2006
$40.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
If leaning a little to ripeness, this weighty wine musters a fair bit of dark-berry fruit all the way through, and its accents of sweet oak and cocoa afford it a nice boost in richness. It is not without considerable tannin, but it is never austere or wildly astringent, and its ongoing richness assures mealtime success with hearty hunks of well-seasoned meats.
Reviewed: July 2010
88
LAVA CAP
Granite Hills Reserve
Petite Sirah
 El Dorado 2006
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Perhaps it is the Zinfandel that has pushed this wine away from Petite Sirah in focus, but whatever the genesis, this one smells more of boysenberry and cranberry than it does of anything one might associate with the variety. It gets tannic and a bit angular in the late going and takes advantage of direct fruit to offset its rustic turn.
Reviewed: July 2010
83
LAVA CAP
Reserve
Petite Sirah
 El Dorado 2007
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink NowBeef/Lamb
There was a time when Lava Cap was one of our favorite visits in the Sierra Foothillls, but the winery has been seen far less success of late, and wines like this one are now as likely to be seen as its more likeable mate above. "Reserve" or not, this one is lighter in cast with its cranberry, blackberry fruit looking for greater depth and for more specific varietal definition. It is soft, woodsy, close to empty on the palate.
Reviewed: July 2010
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Tasting Note View

Brief ViewFull View
+

Rating System

THREE STARS:(95-98 points) An exceptional wine. Worth a special search of the market.

TWO STARS:(91-94 points) A highly distinctive wine. Likely to be memorable.

ONE STAR:(87-90 points) Fine example of a type or style of wine. Without notable flaws.

Note: Wines not marked with stars are often delightful wines. Each has unique virtues and any of these wines may be the best wine to serve your needs based on value, availability or for your dining and taste preferences.

95-98 3 Stars
91-94 2 Stars
87-90 1 Star
80-86 Wines of varying quality and value. See tasting notes for details.
70-79 Flawed wines to be avoided.

+

Ageworthiness

Drinkable now. Unlikely to improve with further aging.

Drinkable now. Further bottle aging can improve this wine.

Cellar for future drinking. Wine will improve with bottle aging.

Not suitable for drinking.

+

Food & Wine Pairings

Soft and fruity wine Quaffable by itself or with light foods.

Crisp white. Medium acid and dry. Fish or delicate flavored foods.

Mellow white. Dry to slightly sweet. Enough acid for white meats.

Full and balanced dry white. Try with rich seafood and fowl dishes.

Light Red and powerhouse White. Fowl, veal and light meats.

Medium Red. Balanced, good depth, medium tannin. Beef and lamb.

Robust Red. Full tannin, intense flavors. For highly spiced meat dishes.

Sweet Dessert wine. Enjoyable by itself or with sweet desserts.

+

Availability

Generally available in most markets.

Limited production and/or limited geographic distribution.

Very limited availability.