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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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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
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
TRUE VINE
Estate
Petite Sirah
 El Dorado County 2007
$28.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Ripeness is as prominent as keenly defined fruit here, yet this bottling conveys a certain accessible richness with suggestions of blackberries, earthy spice and chocolate running its length. It toughens up as pushy tannins take hold, but it does not dry out, and it has the concentration and depth to carry it for a good eight to ten years.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
91
MIRO
Petite Sirah
 Dry Creek Valley; Sonoma County 2007
$23.00
GOOD VALUE
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Miro has done an altogether remarkable job here at bringing a sense of winemaking polish to Petite Sirah without sacrificing the fundamental strength and sturdiness that are the varietal's signature gifts. Leading with very deep, slow-to-unfold aromas of blackberries, pepper and clove, the wine is rich and invitingly fruity with expansive, long-lasting flavors that show a bare hint of chocolate to the same themes of berries and spice. It is not at all sparing in tannin, yet it is never overly tough, and it is by all standards a complete and compelling effort.
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
88
ROCK WALL
Petite Sirah
 Dry Creek Valley 2007
$22.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Better than its partner from Mendocino by dint of its increased fruit and slightly throttled-back tannins, this gutsy youngster sits securely on the varietal track. It ends with the taste of tea and black pepper even as a bit of acidity accentuates its astringency, but those with a penchant for Petite should find its toughness no more than par for the course.
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
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
88
ROSENBLUM
Pato Vineyard
Petite Sirah
 Contra Costa County 2007
$25.00
Very Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
With intimations of game and roasted beef in its aromatic mix, this fully weighted, rich, chocolate-tinged bottling finds sufficient stores of expressive fruit at its heart to hold off the on-rushing tannins that stagger it in the finish. The wine's ability to hang on gamely at the end earns it kudos.
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
86
ROSENBLUM
Heritage Clones
Petite Sirah
 California 2007
$18.00
GOOD VALUE
Limited AvailabilityDrink Now or AgeSpicy Dishes
Starting off well enough with plump, ripe, dried berry smells and adding in a nice touch of dried spice, this wine drifts away on the palate where its fruit comes up a bit on the short side to counter its wave of crashing latter-palate tannins. At the price, it is going to find plenty of takers who admire its no-holds-barred muscle.
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
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
86
SILKWOOD
Stanislaus County
Petite Sirah
  2007
$39.00
Very Limited AvailabilityAgeBeef/Lamb
Out-sized astringency and extreme oak stand out before most everything else in this brash, very ripe, big-bodied effort, and, if a dollop of fruit lurks at the wine's heart, it fails to fully come to the fore. For all of its ripeness and sweet barrel spice, this one is ultimately defined by its twenty-year tannins, and only dyed-in-the-wool optimists need apply.
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.

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Availability

Generally available in most markets.

Limited production and/or limited geographic distribution.

Very limited availability.