Thursday, September 25, 2008

Titus Maximus

This week's first Wine.woot offering was the Titus 2004 Lot 1 (Napa Valley), a blend of 65% Petite Sirah (of course), 30% Petit Verdot, 5% Zinfandel. It was aged 22 months, 60% new barrels, 50% French and 50% American oak. It is 14.5% alcohol. Wine.woot was the last place you can get this, and in addition to the "labrat" sample bottle I got, I have 3 on the way. The winery produces this as a limited allocation for its wine club/mailing list and it is now completely sold out. Sorry to tease you, folks!

This wine should easily last for 15 years; I don't expect it to have the typical PS dumb period, due to the extensive blending, and the vinting (see below). However, if you were lucky enough to buy it, hold onto it for at least another year before opening -- and don't be afraid to use your decanter.
Petite Sirah has inherently powerful tannins and is more acidic than other red varietals. It can only benefit from extended aging because of this. Depending on the winemaking style and/or growing season this may be the necessary amount of time needed to have the tannins and acid come into balance with all the other parts of the wine. Because the tannins are so massive, Eric and Phillip [Titus] have slightly departed from perhaps the traditional way of making Petite Sirah by removing the juice from the skins earlier than "normal," before fermentation is complete. It's kind of a less is more approach so that the fruit can shine through more and the finish gets some extra length and complexity. It's the Titus version of finessing this varietal.
I had this wine with my friend Chris last night, and we were both very, very impressed. While Wine.woot offers a serious discount from retail and often even wine club prices, and subsidized shipping, this was still a pricy bottle at

45 mins in decanter. Nose: predominantly black raspberry liqueur, with white flowers, hints of molasses, vanilla, and nutmeg, and some sort of underlying meatyness. Very dense and extracted. No heat. AMAZINGLY dense color -- more impenetrable than the Ursa. Incredibly structured, initiall hint of confectionary, then some smoky meat.

This wine frakking COATS THE GLASS. Legs nicer than Tricia Helfer's. I don't know if I've ever seen legs like this in a wine before.

The tannins are very noticeable, but they're very integrated and chewy, not stand-alone liquid sandpaper. This is very elegant and well structured, with particularly distinct transitions between attack, mid-palate, and finish.

65 mins: the nose is jammier, more liqueur, more blackberry than raspberry at this point. White pepper and black pepper on the finish balancing the nutmeg and molasses, with hints of baking spice. This is getting more complex and continuing to open up.

90 mins: The finish turns to black cherry; on the nose and front-end, that 5% zin is really punching above its weight and making itself known, at least for a bit.

105 mins: Here come the tannins -- it took them a while to wake up, but they're making their presence felt.

This is a massive, elegant, integrated wine. It will pair wonderfully with things with a hint of sweetness like bbq ribs or burgers or brisket. I would give this at least 2 more years; it isn't quite ready yet. Though it got very well integrated, and is excellent, it will only get better.

Friday, September 19, 2008

SamPleS from Twisted Oak

Ok, I've been completely derelict in my duties, due in large part to work commitments and a tight deadline.

So, just under 2 weeks ago, I received 2 sample bottles from Twisted Oak Winery, courtesy of Jeff "El Jefe" Stai.

I received these on a Thursday and consumed them on a Saturday evening, so it's quite possible that they suffered from some travel shock. Ordinarily, I'd have let them sit for a while longer, but reviewing free wine is a different schedule than drinking for pleasure. I let both wines breath in-bottle through the neck for about 5 hours before the first taste, and went back and forth between them. They were accompanied by cheese and crackers.

TWISTED OAK 2006 River of Skulls Mourvedre (90% Mourvedre, 10% Syrah) Twisted Oak Geek Sheet Ordering Info

First Taste: Color: dark ruby, transparent edges, translucent depth. Nose of tobacco and spice, like a dark-leaf cigar wrapper, wrapped around black cherry pie filling with a dash of liquid smoke, maybe raspberry reduction, some hints of vanilla bean ice cream. With some swirling, the fruit came more to the forefront, tobacco towards the back. In the mouth, thin but not unpleasantly so. Great acidity, very soft tannings, very food friendly, feels almost too young. Strawberries on the 15-20 sec finish. At the moment (bottom of first glass) not enough fruit to carry the acidity and alcohol, but opens up after 20 mins of sitting, sipping, and swirling. Some of the heat blows off, cherry fruit rollup notes as well. But also something bitter in the midpalate, almost like cherry pit, but not unpleasant. It works.

One hour later: fruitier and drier, smokier and creemier. The finish is longer and much more integrated.

Another 20 mins later: very nice, bright cherry fruit really towards the forefront.

I think this wine had some bottle shock and is very, very, very young. Let it sit for a while after getting it, and I think it has a few years to age as well.

TWISTED OAK 2005 Petite Sirah Calaveras County
Geek Sheet Ordering Info

First taste: Light reddish blueberry juice in color, but less depth of color than most PS I am used to. some heat on the nose, blueberry, and creamy oak. Not as extracted as most PS I am used to. Thinner in the mouth as well, but perhaps would pair better with lighter foods -- some plums, a bit of blackberry, baking spices on the background. Softer tannins than I expected and than I prefer; high acidity and fruit for a PS.

One hour later: Same on the attack and midpalate, but finish still has not quite come together yet. Still a bit sour/bitter.

30 mins later: Finally integrated, still soft on the tannins.

I thought both wines were pretty good for the price. Having never had either wine before, I had trouble separating out the winemaker's style from the effects of travel shock, with which I am familiar. I enjoyed both bottles but found them to be leaner, more acidic, and less full-bodied than I expected from the nose and my familiarity with the varieties. I'd definitely try and even buy both again (I've bought more Twisted Oak since this tasting), but I'd give them some more time in the cellar.

Thursday, September 18, 2008



Next year's PStravaganza is on Friday, 2/20. Tickets are on sale for us consumers on 10/22. Contrary to initial indications, it is *NOT* at Concannon's newly-renovated $25M tasting room. Instead, it will be in Alameda, CA, at the Rock Wall Wine Company. Per Jo Diaz, Concannon's license doesn't allow for pure awesomeness like D&D, due to grumpy neighbors who probably only drink Chard-oh-no!.

Stay tuned for further info.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal are, as it turns out, big fans of the Big Grape -- Petite Sirah!

Their most recent Tastings article focuses in on the redheaded step-child of California grapes. Not surprisingly, they agree with me :)

What we discussed, time and again, was the crispness of the wines. We don't generally associate crispness with big, red wines, but the fine acidity and tannins of Petite Sirah give these wines a little crackle. The best ones are polished wines, and we mean that almost literally. They seem to have a sheen about them, like bright sun on a shiny wooden dresser. That makes their big, bold, somewhat grapey tastes complex, interesting and unexpected. It means that, in the good ones, the wine never gets boring. We sensed many different smells and tastes in these wines, from black cherries to chocolate, from herbal tea to smoked bacon (although, as it turned out, none of our favorites were heavy on the bacon).

Our favorite, from Jaffurs in Santa Barbara County, was bursting with beautiful fruit. It was a big wine, but so effortlessly fruity that Dottie said, "It seems like the most natural thing in the world -- so easy -- when they get it right." Jaffurs says it made 392 cases of the wine, but we bought it right off a shelf. In fact, when it comes to Petite Sirah, it's a good idea to look for small-production wines, which often have particular intensity and verve that comes from hands-on care and straight-up passion. Aside from some of those in the accompanying index, we also had an excellent Petite recently from Proulx (2004 Paso Robles) that was remarkably refreshing for a huge red wine that was also 15.9% alcohol.

But it's not just the little guys. Our best value was Concannon, which has been one of our go-to Petites for many years. Concannon says it first made Petite Sirah as a varietal wine in the 1961 vintage and, to us, it's amazing that it has remained as consistently good as it has, especially considering that it costs around $14, is available nationally (the winery made 75,000 cases) and that the winery now is owned by the Wine Group, a giant company. We felt we were tasting ultra-ripe grapes that were bursting in our mouths, which gave us some serious joy. Adam Richardson, the winemaker, told us, "Petite Sirah is a big, full-bodied wine, which is what you want, but you want it to be soft and approachable as well. If you get both, you're doing well." When we told him that, when we tasted it, we wrote in our notes that it was like the whole berry was in there, he said: "We try to interfere with those grapes as little as possible. If it tastes like the whole grape is in there, that's because it is. We really respect the grapes."


Petite Sirah is a great cold-weather wine and pairs well with hearty foods. Craig Jaffurs of Jaffurs Wine Cellars prefers "big stuff -- barbecue, things with a certain thickness and richness, beef with some fat content. You don't really want lean meat." Short ribs are a great choice, he says. Mr. Richardson of Concannon suggests game or duck breast, "something that's been grilled or roasted rather than stewed -- not a heavy version of the food. As far as vegetables, the richer, darker green vegetables like spinach. Spanakopita goes really well." We swooned at just the thought of that spinach-and-feta-cheese pie with these wines. Yum. And one more idea, for you risk-takers: Try it with a bite of chocolate.

They're huge fans of the Concannon '05 Limited Release, which they call the best value of the tasting. Their favorite, the Jaffurs '05, is another favorite of mine, which is a great deal at $33 (especially because I got my 3 bottles, somehow, on ebay, shipped at $25/ea).

Jaffurs Wine Cellars 'Thompson Vineyard' 2005 (Santa Barbara County). $32.99.
Very Good/Delicious
3 Best of tasting. Yowee! Powerful wine, with lush, ripe-berry fruit, some chocolate and a surprisingly dry, mineral finish.
Concannon Vineyard 'Limited Release' 2005 (Central Coast). $13.99.
Very Good/Delicious
3 Best value. Clean and crisp, with great fruit tastes, like the whole berry is in there. A hint of chocolate, especially on the finish. Totally satisfying. Consistent favorite.

They also enjoyed the Sean Thackrey Sirius '05, from the Eaglepoint Ranch, which I had at the PSychos' Tasting.

Excerpted permalink (PSILoveYou members only, so no Jaffurs) available here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ursa Minor

In addition to the ones from Wine.woot, I had a nice sampling of 2 '04 URSA Vineyards PS last night. I will be transcribing my tasting notes into this post at some point over the next few days...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Spivak on Israeli Wines

Mark Spivak has a nice summary of some Israeli wineries, including Vitkin (with their excellent PS from 30-year old vines) and our good friend Ze'ev Dunie of Sea Horse.

Coming this week: Reviews of Twisted Oak PS and River of Skulls.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Join the Dark Side

Nice mention of PS in a SF gate article on non-cab grapes in Napa

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


This week on Wine.woot -- a horizontal of PS from Ursa Vineyards in PaSo Robles. It's about time they offered another PS, though I'm not sure on the short-week/half-week sales numbers as compared to previous full-week offerings. Mad props once again to WineDavid for making me purchase even though I have neither the space nor the money:

2005 Petite Sirah Sierra Foothills

  • Pick date: 9/28/05, 10/21/05
  • pH: 3.52
  • Average brix at time of harvest: 25.1
  • Oak: European, 35% new, 20 months
  • ML: 100%
  • Alcohol: 14.7%
  • Cases Produced: 200

Petite Sirah Vineyard Blend

  • Blend: 33% Central Coast 33% Sierra Foothills 33% Paso Robles
  • pH: 3.58
  • Average brix at time of harvest: 24.8
  • Oak: Blend of Euro and American, 15% new, 20 months
  • ML: 100%
  • Alcohol: 13.5
  • Cases produced: 425

2005 Petite Sirah Paso Robles

  • Pick date: 10/3/05
  • pH: 3.85
  • Brix at time of harvest: 24.3
  • Oak: French oak, 25% new, 20 months
  • ML: 100%
  • Alcohol: 14.5%
  • Cases Produced: 250
According to the winemakers,
flavor profiles: we choose pets from different appellations in calif for different fruit characteristics. generally, our vineyard blend offers classic dark fruits & spice; the paso has its blueberry fruit from shell creek vineyards; our sierra foothills gives wild blackberry fruits.

tannins: the vineyard blend is our most accessible with the softest tannin; paso is firm & present; and the sierra foothills may be the biggest in the bunch, its tannins somewhat angular.

aging/cellaring: we think they're all drinking well now. the vineyard blrnd is intended to be consumed sooner rather than later; the paso will do well for the next 5 yrs; the sierra foothills, however, has the structure for aging. admittedly, we don't have the history with this vineyard to suggest more than 5 years, but we feel that this wine could go 10. thanks for the query! i also wanted to suggest that the wine will really open up from 10 - 20 min in the glass.

SamPleS on the Way!

Coming in the mail soon from Jeff "El Jefe" Stai of Twisted Oak Winery are samPleS of their 2006 River of Skulls (90% Mourvedre, 10% Gros Syrah) and 2005 Calaveras County Petite Sirah.

I've wanted to try the TOPS for a while now, but haven't managed to get my hands on it. This should arrive just in time for me to introduce one of the other wine.wooters to the glory that is PS.

This is a historic moment, as it is my first actual sample from a winery (as opposed to being labratted for wine.woot, which is truly a special experience in and of itself). I will gladly accept any and all PS or PS-blend samples, but I cannot promise a result, only a review and an appropriate food pairing.

Other things to still write about: (1) my Napa/Sonoma trip, (2) my new PS project, (3) more Israeli PS on the way!, (4) the Wine.Woot PSychos Prelude and Big-Ass Red Wines tastings, both with many PSadawans who came to learn at the PieS (that's not food, it's Spanish for feet) of the PSith Master.