Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Purple Teeth In A Smiling Mouth - Petite Sirah Roundup

Not for the faint of heart, I recently described Petite as a large brick wall hurdling down a highway; massive and unstoppable.  More often than not, it is all that - and then some.  Characterized by a stain-your-skin inkiness, fierce blackstrap tannins, and an almost viscous nature, it is as hearty a variety as they come.  It even has its own fan club.  It might be diametrically opposed to Pinot Noir on the red scale, but its followers are no less ardent.  Trouble is, there are a lot fewer of them. 

Undeterred, winemakers love Petite Sirah.  Ask any winemaker with access to it, and they'll tell you it's their favorite wine to make, even if only made in smaller quantities.

Last year we had a hell of a hootenanny reviewing a handful of Petites.  This year, we follow it up with another batch of diverse teeth-staining wines, but at a much more reasonable price level.  This batch also seemed to be tamer than the last, showing that extracting restraint is possible in the vinification of this grape.  If you haven't jumped into this variety yet, there's no time like the present.


Full disclosure: Most of these wine were received as press samples. In loose order of preference:

2007 Bogle Petite Sirah $12
Generous floral notes with vanilla. Medium bodied, interesting and very pleasant. Acidic component provides good balance. Refined. I like this wine. Can't wait to try it again after it breathes more. Guessed to be much more expensive.  Sensational bargain. 4.5/5

2008 Smoking Loon Petite Sirah $8
From lower reaches of the grocery store shelves comes this unbelievable value. Extracted, oaked, dense, chunky, with a dash of subtle funk, and without the monster tannic bite make this a winner. Good structure.  Not elegant at all, but that's fine.  Easy drinking and crowd pleasing. You can tell it's been manipulated, but to great effect. Solid. 4.5/5

2008 Ballentine Petite Sirah Fig Tree $25
A meal in a glass.  Honest to goodness Petite Sirah transported from vine to bottle.  Lovely texture and all the textbook Petite Sirah characteristics in ample quantities: broad shouldered tannins, spicy bite, lean structure, and teeth-staining color.  Fine dust, medium-long, pleasing finish.  Body density is not as meaty and is a fair bit gentler than many Petites.  Not a hit-you-over-the-head PS, rather a quieter (and welcome) rendition. 4.5/5

2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $15
Brooding and wily, but not thick and viscous the some super concentrated Petite Sirahs are.  Meaty, rich nose with fruit, spice, and all things nice. Heady and exciting nose. Refined. Perfumed layers of dried herbs and flowers hit your palate with a faint light smoke on the long finish. Hard tannins hint at returning to this later, but it's a sophisticated wine with great, unique character. Tastes more expensive than its $15 price tag 4/5.

2008 The Crusher Petite Sirah Clarksburg $13
Lighter side of medium bodied. Clean texture, soft tannins, and too thin to stand up to food of any substance. Pleasant enough, but not terribly distinctive. On day 2 it hasn't lost a thing, but has gained a warm roundness to it that's endearing. 3.5/5

2008 Ravenswood Petite Sirah $15
Deep dark wine with translucent rims and medium viscocity in the glass. A concentrated nose consistent with its looks. Strong black fruit focus. Petite Sirah incarnate. Mouthpuckering tannins, soft texture, and medium bodied. More structure than the nose belies, but so tightly wound that this youngster's going to need a few decades in the cellar or a couple of days open.  Softens with air and deepens its sense of fruit. Acquires a bit of balance. Tannins shout "Black strap".  Solid but lacking real distinguishing characteristics, but somehow this bottle continues to endear itself in different ways as it changes. 3.5/5

2007 Norman Petite Sirah Paso Robles $20
It's infanticide to drink this wine so young. Dark as a moonless night and as opaque as a burqa, this is a stain-your-teeth-instantly wine. Promising nose of massive fruit and oak spices, the palate hits a wall early. Flavors are simple, though intense and finish with chalky, puckering tannins. Way too young to attempt to enjoy now and too hard to tell if the fruit will emerge. Three days open and little has changed, but finally managed to tame it with a rich, fatty steak on day 4. 3/5

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