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.

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