Sunday, February 15, 2009

5 Days Left...

In preparation for Dark & Delicious, I'm trying to focus on articles that will help us prepare to wrap our minds and palates around the scope of PS, to develop an appreciation of its differences and similiarities (roundness in the mouth, and hopefully some face-smashing tannins!).

With 5 days left, there's more from Clark Smith. In yesterday's PoSt, I link to his discussion of the ways in which PS varies according to its terroir and the chemical and PhySiological bases for those differences.

Now that we have that in hand, today's PoSt features Clark's listing of PS characteristics from many different appellations -- from Masset Vineyards way up in Washington State's Columbia Valley all the way down to Paso Robles and the rest of the Central Coast Appelation. Regrettably, Clark does not go further south and taste any of the interesting Baja California PS (including the widely-available L.A. Cetto from the Valle de Guadalupe appelation, one of my favorite bargains for a "drink soon" PS), but it's understandable. After all, the site is neither "Appellation North America" nor "Apelacion Mexico".

Unfortunately, Clark's sampling was far from complete. In some cases, like the Columbia Valley, the other ProducerS (PortteuS, Thurston Wolfe, Animale being the others who have produced more than one vintage since 2003) may not have had enough available for dataset of the region to be more than one wine.

However, in others, the small data sets are very puzzling. For the Russian River Valley, Clark only ProfileS Foppiano. To be sure, a sampling of RRVPS would be incomplete without them, but they are not the alpha and omega of that active of an appellation -- glaring omissions include Mayo, Elyse, Trinitas, and Christopher Creek. Clark's Concannon-only profile of the Central Coast appellation, which though slightly less active a hotspot than RRV, spans the San Francisco Bay area all the way down to Santa Barbara County may be even more deficient, as that area is much larger than the Sonoma-only RRV.

But compared to the imPreSsive scope of the project, these shortcomings are relatively minor. Kudos to Clark for risking his palate and mouth with the fearsome tannins of that much PS!

Clark concludes with a few ParagraphS on one of my favorite toPicS, aging/cellaring PS:
This variety seems endowed with all the elements to achieve gracefulness naturally – intense coloration, extractive power, and aromatic charm. But we also found a few clunkers, which were, in the main, victims of excessive hang time. It takes effort to dry out these wines, but it can be done. Particularly in regions of moderate color density, one should not count on big tannin as a warranty of ageability. Chief among the warning signs to drink now is a voluptuous forward fruit, but in this variety, one needs to distinguish between the fragility of pruney/raisiny fruit and the generosity of the dense plum and boysenberry which may age well.

Not immune from the downside of modern trends towards extended hang time, Petite’s dense coloration nevertheless usually saves all but the most extreme examples from dryness in youth, but poorly formed tannins spell doom in the cellar. Even for experts, the sheer mass of tannin makes it plenty tricky to distinguish youthful hardness from the grainy dryness which signals decline. In lighter reds, these are easily distinguished by the position and character of the tannins - the sheet-like grippy structure, all atop the tongue, which one finds in young wines being quite different from the dirty, gritty tannins under the tongue and in the cheeks as older wine falls apart.

To be sure, these tannin differences will prove useful guides once the wines have gotten through their first decade or so, and it is plain that the ’93 Foppiano remains vigorous and age worthy. But in the young wines, I doubt many could have seen this possibility. Likewise, I do not find that the standards of acidity, alcohol balance, pH or even minerality offer reliable clues to ageing of young Petites.

What to do? My simple advice is to watch the color. Healthy color is the key to structural finesse and graceful longevity. Probably the best indicator is hue. As with kings, the royal purple is the stamp of nobility, and a premature bricky hue says “if you like me, drink me now.”

Beyond that, I’d simply add that this varietal offers one of the best playgrounds for an enthusiast to experiment. The best reason to cellar this variety is that it’s an adventure, because none of us really know how it works. Hey, anybody up for a little fun?

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