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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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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
82
SEVEN ARTISANS
Clayton Road Ranches
Petite Sirah
 Suisun Valley 2007
$18.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
If possessing all of the toughness and very high tannins of Petite Sirah, this brushy, vaguely earthy, chocolate-tinged offering has virtually no compensating fruit at its heart, and its harsh, out-of-bounds astringency makes a second sip all but impossible.
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
ROSENBLUM
Kick Ranch
Petite Sirah
 Sonoma County 2007
$35.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Blunt, blocky, dense, smelling of overripeness but not as full in body as its nose predicts, this wine is a bit of a challenge because it does not have the fruit necessary to bring itself into complete balance. Its tannins will offend some, but aficionados will flock to its power and not mind.
Reviewed: July 2010
84
URSA
Naggiar Vineyards
Petite Sirah
 Sierra Foothills 2006
$22.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
The softest and ripest of the four Ursa offerings, this bottling starts out with a solidly spicy Petite Sirah nose, but its comes up heavy and flat on the palate with nominal tannins and a bit of heat surpassing its fleeting fruit.
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
90
ROSENBLUM
Reserve. Rockpile Road Vineyard.
Petite Sirah
 Rockpile 2007
$45.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeSpicy Dishes
Old-fashioned Petite Sirah of the type Rosenblum fans hope will continue to appear under the label now that is entirely taken over by the Diageo folks (Beaulieu, Sterling, Chalone) and had its production moved out of its long-time home winery, this gutsy, ripe, tannic wine is deep in berries and black pepper spice with more than a little richness to call its own. It is hard to get this much swagger into a wine and still have it stay in reasonable balance, but it has happened here.
Reviewed: July 2010
84
VICTOR HUGO
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2007
$22.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeLamb
Moderately fruit and sweetly oaked at first sniff, then revealing itself to be somewhat less than fully ripened in its fruit, this wine is medium-full in the mouth and somewhat stiff in texture. Initial flavors of blackberries give ground to green acidity by mid-palate and offer limited hope for the future.
Reviewed: July 2010
91
VINA ROBLES
Jardine
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2007
$26.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeSpicy Dishes
Let us start by saying that this is most definitely not a wine for the faint of heart, but then Petite Sirah is rarely chosen for its delicacy. This one is a big, expressive, fully-ripened version that seems sure to scare off those cannot abide high-alcohol reds, but the rest of us will find plenty to like in its deep, genuinely juicy blackberry fruit. It does not wander into chocolaty excess and is surprisingly well-balanced for the sizeable wine that it is, and, while it has a full complement of varietal tannin, it is no tougher than young Petite should be. Look for five to ten years of certain improvement.
Reviewed: July 2010
87
URSA
Shell Creek Vineyards
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2006
$22.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeBeef/Lamb
While this bottling displays a clear bias to ripeness, neither its chocolaty leanings nor its sizeable tannins get in the way of its expression of well-defined, somewhat peppery, blackberry fruit. Fans of the grape will find its astringency forgivable and, in fact, very much to the varietal point, and those with less tolerance to Petite Sirah toughness should find it a useful partner to savory stews in but a few years.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
URSA
Old Vines Reserve. Shell Creek Vineyard.
Petite Sirah
 Paso Robles 2006
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
If rife with dark chocolate and very dense on the palate, this brawny wine comes up short on the fruity essentials. It is full-bodied, fairly tough and a touch thick in feel, and it is too soon blunted by bitter back-end tannins and finishes with a bit of a thud.
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
87
OLD CREEK RANCH
Branham. Obsidian Vineyard.
Petite Sirah
 Napa Valley 2007
$30.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Loaded with sweet spices that seem somewhat wide of the varietal mark, this wine earns kudos for its blackberry fruit and intriguing hints of soy, tea and root beer. It is supple to start on the palate then runs into coarse tannins in the late going and will need a bit of age or service alongside hunks of meat if it is to be enjoyed young.
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
83
ROSENBLUM
Pickett Road
Petite Sirah
 Napa Valley 2007
$35.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Over the top pruniness and a sour edge drops this wine from any serious consideration, and even those who like bold Petite Sirah will still wonder what happened with this one. Its fleshy, soft and thick palatal impressions are followed by massive tannins that are its only varietal trait.
Reviewed: July 2010
88
SUMMERS
Petite Sirah
 Napa Valley 2007
$28.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
What we like about this bottling is its uncommon brightness and juicy, ripe-berry fruit, and its ample infusion of sweet oak spice only adds to its immediate appeal. It starts out on a comparatively supple note, then quickly toughens and runs into a fair share of varietal tannins, yet it keeps a very valuable grasp on defined fruit right to the end. It will serve handily with hearty stews three or four years hence, but further unfolding assuredly awaits those with more patience.
Reviewed: July 2010
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
89
PARDUCCI
True Grit
Petite Sirah
 Mendocino County 2006
$30.00
Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
The Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah has become a perennial CGCW favorite, and the latest again hits the mark as classic Petite Sirah. Big and bold and showing plenty of varietal sinew and swagger, it balances plentiful blackberry fruit against its considerable tannins and never quite crosses the line into excessive toughness. It seems certain to grow for a decade or more but is so rich that forgiving fans of the grape will find lots to like in the shorter term.
Reviewed: July 2010
85
ROCK WALL
Petite Sirah
 Mendocino County 2007
$28.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Very ripe in the nose with glimmers of raisins set against sweet oak, dried flowers and a wisp of dried spice, this uneven wine is both tart and very astringent, and its colliding acids and tannins make things so coarse at the finish that it might still be tough after a generation has passed.
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
87
TRINITAS
Old Vine
Petite Sirah
 Lodi 2006
$22.00
Limited AvailabilityDrink NowSpicy Dishes
A bit of heavy-handedness shows up in this rich wine, but it has enough bacony, ripe blackberry, meaty character at its heart to overcome that minor distraction. It is, instead, full and supple at the front of the palate with a noticeable but not abrasive streak of expected astringency. It could use a few years of cellar aging but does not demand it.
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
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
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
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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.

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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.

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Availability

Generally available in most markets.

Limited production and/or limited geographic distribution.

Very limited availability.