Petite Sirah

Petite Sirah Celebrates 50 Years As A Varietal

by Tim Elliott on February 18, 2011

Petite Sirah bottlesI have been on this planet for a shade longer than a half century since my birthday this past November. But there is a wine variety that I think is underrated that has also just turned the big 5-0 as a varietal, Petite Sirah. I even included this grape in a rough draft of my recent post about underdog wine varieties but edited it out as it has a cult following (not to mention a booster group).

You might also remember I interviewed Jim Concannon from Concannon Vineyard back in Winecast 55. He recounted how he and his brother decided to bottle Petite Sirah as a varietal back in 1961 at the request of an L.A. wine retailer. I’m glad the Concannon brothers responded to this request as the grape has been one of my favorites for the past 29 years.

Happy birthday, Petite Sirah. I love you for what you are…

via PR Newswire

Glen Ellen, Petite Sirah 2007

by Tim Elliott on February 15, 2011

Glen Ellen Petite Sirah 2007Wines in the “fighting varietal” section of the wine store don’t get a lot of wine blog love. Nor do they get reviewed very much in the mainstream wine press leaving the inquiring consumer to consult Google for information. And I get a lot of incoming search traffic every time I review such a wine.

But I’m not reviewing this wine for the traffic but because it surprised me at how drinkable an industrial California $5 wine can be. Glen Ellen as a fighting varietal brand has been with us since the mid-1980′s producing a number of different wines available mostly in 1.5 Liter bottles. But it has been only recently that they have been relaunched as a sort of second label of Concannon Vineyards, the first producer of varietal labeled Petite Sirah. And judging by this effort, some of the winemaking practices for the variety have rubbed off.

Tasting notes:

Glen Ellen, Petite Sirah, “Proprietor’s Reserve” 2007 – ($10/1.5 Liter/sample) – Ruby-purple in color with aromas of blueberry and strawberry. Bright blueberry and plum flavors with a nice red fruit finish and no tannins. A fruit bomb a lot of people will like and a terrific value.

13.5% ABV
Synthetic cork closure
Rating: ★★★½☆
Score: 85

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adegga listing
CellarTracker note
Snooth listing

My Top 20 Wines of ZAP 2011

by Tim Elliott on February 6, 2011

The floor of ZAP 2011Another ZAP has come and gone and now is the time to sit back and take a look at the notes made during both the Grand Tasting held Saturday, January 29 and the Flights seminar on Friday, January 28.

These are the best wines I had the opportunity to taste but is just a snapshot of 85 wines I happened to select. Many of these are wineries I had never tasted but some are old standbys. And I didn’t make it to the main Ridge or Turley stands so who knows what great wines they were pouring. To keep things diverse, I have selected the best wine of the producer but when I encountered more I will mention them in my commentary. Some wines don’t yet have pricing information but I will call and see if I can fill this in next week.

The following 20 wines capture the best of California Zinfandel or Mixed Black blends that I rated 4 out of 5 stars:

Tasting Notes:

Steele Zinfandel, DuPratt Vineyard 2006 ($24) – This was my first taste of the well regarded DuPratt Vineyard, a small 80 year old patch of Zinfandel in Anderson Valleys’ Mendocino Ridge AVA. Plush blackberry and black raspberry finishing with nice acidity and supple tannins. An outstanding value in a more elegant style of Zin.

Four Vines, Zinfandel, Dusi Vineyard 2008 ($34) – The folks at Four Vines certainly have some attitude but they make some of the best Zinfandels from the bottom to the top of their line. Near the top sits the distinctive Dusi Vineyard from Paso Robles. Bright black raspberry fruit with a nice earthiness on the long finish. I also thought their 2008 Biker and Martinelli bottlings were delicious.

Ridge Zinfandel, Lytton Springs 2001 ($35-ish) – This is the vineyard that single-handedly got me deep into wine and it still speaks to me today. Tasted during the ‘Flights’ seminar along with their 2008 bottling, this wine exhibited the Claret character of an older Zin while still maintaining the blackberry, dark cherry and mineral notes the vineyard is known for. The 2008 Lytton Springs is also a delicious wine that I hope will taste as well as the 2001 is now showing in 2018.

Bucklin Zinfandel, Old Hill Ranch 2007 ($34) – At 159 years old, Old Hill Ranch is the oldest vineyard in Sonoma and probably in California. A classic field blend of Zinfandel, Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah and more than 30 other varieties, the vineyard produces just 1.5 tons per acre. As a result, the wine is rich and complex with blackberries and cassis finishing with cracked black pepper and  firm tannins. The Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch 2007 tasted with this wine was nearly as good with perhaps a bit more boldness.

Benessere Zinfandel, Black Glass Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Bright black cherry and raspberry fruit finishing with plush tannins. A delicious Napa Zin. Also tasted the 2007 vintage with similar notes.

Robert Biale Zinfandel, Founding Farmers 2009 ($-) – The Biale table had barrel samples, and this wine from bottle, all from the 2009 vintage. From the wines tasted, this producers’ reputation for fine Zin is assured. Rich blackberry and white pepper finish long with silky tannins. No, I have not heard of this designation before and didn’t ask the price.

Carlisle Zinfandel, Marinelli Road Vineyard 2009 ($-) – This winery is known for their single vineyard Zins but I haven’t seen one from the 125 year old Marinelli Road Vineyard before ZAP. Very aromatic and striking with blackberry, white pepper and cocoa.

Adelaida Cellars Zinfandel, Michael’s Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Classic California Zin with brambles and black cherry finishing with silky tannins.

Bedrock Zinfandel, Dolinsek Ranch 2009 ($-) – Super rich and concentrated brambles, blueberry and spices. The 2010 Monte Rosso barrel sample was similarly off the charts. Made by Morgan Twain-Peterson, son of Joel Peterson but he’s got his own thing going on with the field blends.

Mazzocco Zinfandel, Pony Vineyard, Reserve 2008 ($50) – Holy crap; how could I have missed this producer until now? Perhaps it’s the small lots of single vineyard Zins that are not available to many outside of California for good reason. I tasted several vineyards and Pony was my favorite both in the regular (and sold out) release and this new-barrel lavished version. Black raspberry and blueberry fruit with cocoa and vanilla. I was also partial to 2008 Maple Vineyard. Good thing they have a boatload of other Zins on their website.

Hendry Zinfandel, Block 28 2007 ($30) – This producer makes three bottlings from different parts of their property. But each time I’ve tasted them, the Block 28 Zin shines through with rich blackberry, blackcurrant and spice. This only slightly overshadowed the fine Blocks 7 & 22 2007 which is also delicious.

Seghesio San Lorenzo 2008 ($60) – Made in very small quantities from a heritage vineyard, this wine was the highlight of the Mixed Blacks stand for me. Rich boysenberry and black raspberry fruit layered with spices finishing long with good acidity. Sadly this wine is already sold out to their wine club members.

Ravenswood Icon 2008 ($70) – Another standout from the Mixed Blacks stand, this wine is only a quarter Zinfandel with Carignon and Petite Sirah comprising most of the blend along with about 20 other unnamed black grapes. The result is a bold and spicy mix of blackberry, black raspberry, blueberry and cracked black pepper.

Proulx Dimples 2008 ($38) – The final Zinfandel blend in the roundup, this wine is made from Paso Robles fruit. The nearly 40% Zin is joined by equal parts Petite Sirah and Syrah making for an interesting mix. Jammy red and blue fruit with vanilla and black pepper finishing with plush tannins.

Storrs Zinfandel, Rusty Ridge 2006 ($30) – Complex aromatics of black raspberry, smoke and tar announce this wine as something special. And the blackberry, black raspberry and plum flavors complete the delicious package with spice and pepper.

Acorn Zinfandel, Alegria Vineyard 2008 ($35) – Big, rich and concentrated blackberry, raspberry and mineral flavors just balances the alcohol. Not sure if this will age well but it’s drinking very nicely at the moment.

Brown Estate Zinfandel, Mickey’s Block 2009 ($55) – An old favorite delivers again with black raspberry, black cherry, white pepper and spices resolving with supple tannins. Yum.

Chiarello Family Zinfandel, Felicia 2009 ($50) – Celebrity chef Michael Chiarello also knows a thing or two about wine. And while I usually favor the rich and expressive Giana bottling, I only had the chance to taste the bottle of Felicia in the Zin Zone. And this might be the best I’ve tasted from this vineyard with jammy boysenberry and blackberry fruit finishing with a nice touch of earthiness.

D-Cubed Zinfandel, Howell Mt. 2007 ($37) – Another old Zin standby, the Howell Mt. from D-Cubed is one of my personal benchmarks for the variety and the AVA. Black cherry, raspberry and chaparral finish with moderate tannins and a satisfying mixture of spices.

J. Rickards Zinfandel, Old Vine, 1908 Brignoli Vineyard  2008 ($28) – My final selection here was a recommendation from Alder Yarrow of Vinography who I ran into at the “Zin Zone” media room. This was among his producers, “flying below the radar,” and might be the best value of my roundup. Bold and earthy with classic blackberry fruit flavors finishing with black pepper and smooth tannins.

Many of these wines are yet to be released while others may be available from the winery website. Since there are so many here, I have not included my customary WineZap links but you can search from the form below:

For expanded coverage of wines tasted at ZAP 2011, be sure to sign up for my newsletter on the right sidebar. The inaugural issue will be published next week. And watch the podcast feed, too.

Disclosure: I received a media pass to all the ZAP events.

Langtry Estate, “R.C.T.J.W.F.” Petite Sirah 2006

by Tim Elliott on January 2, 2009

At the end of last year I started a series called “Wines For Recessionary Times” but neglected to post many reviews. Tonight I’ll start to get back on track by featuring a wine I picked up recently at Trader Joe‘s market for $5.99. This is a throwback to wines from the past with TJ’s as they used to be quite active in tracking down good values on the California bulk market. But in recent years, they have mainly been known for their Two Buck Chuck, which to be fair is just box wine in a bottle sold for $2-3 depending upon how close you live to the factory.

Trader Joe's "R.C.T.J.W.F." Petite Sirah 2006Tonight’s selection is from Langtry Estate who are probably better known for their Guenoc label of value priced wines. Both of their brands feature a Petite Sirah that I have enjoyed in the past and this wine is probably made from declassified barrels. Nothing wrong with getting some cash for excess inventory and from my experience here I think they will sell this effort through pretty quickly. The name “R.C.T.J.W.F.” is an acronym for “Really Cool Trader Joe’s Wine Find” and I’m hoping to see some other varieties in this series show up this year.

Tasting Notes:

Langtry Estate, “R.C.T.J.W.F.” Petite Sirah 2006 ($6) – Very dark purple-black in color with aromas of slightly stewed plum and blueberry jam. Juicy blackberry and blueberry fruit finishing with polished tannins. A fruit bomb but still nicely done for the price.

13.9% ABV
Natural cork closure
Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Crane Lake, Petite Sirah 2005

by Tim Elliott on October 8, 2008

My first selection for these troubled times is the second most popular wine reviewed here by pageviews, the Petite Sirah by Crane Lake. This label is made by Bronco Wine Company who also produce the Charles Shaw brand for Trader Joe’s. Crane Lake is offered to independent retailers and typically sells for a couple dollars more than the more famous “2-buck Chuck.” Another difference is that more than just the typical varieties are offered, including this Petite Sirah and even a Sangiovese.

Petite Sirah is a good variety to look for in value wines these days as it flies a bit below the radar of most consumers. Many of the best examples can be found for less than $20 a bottle but I was interested in what you could get for $4. I picked up the 2004 vintage a while back but did not review it was a bad bottle, but I was able to track down the 2005 vintage for this tasting.

Tasting Notes:

Crane Lake, Petite Sirah 2005 ($4) – Dark purple-black color with aromas of blueberry compote and white pepper. Simple and juicy blueberry and plum flavors with some black pepper finishing with plush tannins and good acidity. Clean and surprisingly varietally correct.

Composite cork closure
12.5% ABV
Rating: ★★★☆☆

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WBW 43 – Comfort Wine

by Tim Elliott on March 5, 2008

If there is a single wine that I could name that pointed me onto the path of becoming a wine lover, it’s the Zinfandel made from the Lytton Springs vineyard. I’m not exactly sure why this wine made me sit up and take notice, but it did, and remains today one of my sentimental favorites. So when Joel from Wine Life Today announced the theme of Comfort Wines for this month’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, I knew there was only one wine to fill the bill: Ridge Lytton Springs.

Lytton Springs WInery ZinfandelIt must have been late 1981 or early 1982 when I stumbled across a small winery named Lytton Springs in my search for the best Zinfandel. This variety had already become my favorite most likely due to the forward fruit in most bottlings that was noticeably different from the Bordeaux and Napa Cabs I was mostly drinking at the time. Since I didn’t yet read any wine publications, I must have chosen Lytton Springs Zinfandel from the recommendation of a wine merchant or, more likely, just at random. From my first experience with the aromas of dark fruit offset by spices and cedar, I was hooked. The layers of flavor and impeccable balance also didn’t hurt either and this became my “benchmark” Zinfandel that all others were judged against.

The Lytton Springs Winery was founded in 1970 after Richard Sherwin purchased the old vine vineyard near downtown Healdsburg, California. The vineyard had been planted around the turn of the 20th Century on lands owned by a Captain Litton who many years before built a hotel catering to Bay Area visitors to the local hot springs. By the time of the vineyard planting, the spelling of his family name had evolved to Lytton.

The vineyard is a classic “field blend” of inter-planted varieties with about 70% Zinfandel, 20% Petite Sirah and the remainder split between Grenache and Carignane. As early as 1972, Ridge Vineyards winemaker Paul Draper made wines from this vineyard but it wasn’t until Ridge purchased Lytton Springs Winery in 1991 that the entire 35-acre property was devoted to Ridge wines. There is a great interview with Richard Sherwin over at Gang of Pour if you are interested in more background on Lytton Springs Winery.

I can’t recall when I made the switch to Ridge Lytton Springs but it was most likely in the early 1990′s. The grace and even elegance of this wine made it stand out to me over another favorite Sonoma vineyard, the famous Ridge Geyserville most recently tasted on my birthday last year. So I was looking forward to getting back to Lytton Springs 2004, a wine I last tasted about 14 months ago but failed to blog here for some unknown reason.

Ridgeytton Springs 2004Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lytton Springs, Dry Creek Valley 2004 ($34) – This wine still displays a youthful purple-ruby color. The aroma profile is classic Lytton Springs: black raspberries & blackberry with fennel and cedar. The flavors are also a mixture of dark fruits with the addition of some blueberry, black pepper and minerality that finishes long with great balance and moderate tannins. Although this wine weighs in at 14.5% ABV, there is no hint of heat on the palate or in the aromas. This is clearly still one of the best Zinfandel’s produced today and is in wide distribution due to production of over 10,000 cases each vintage.

14.5% ABV
Natural cork closure
Score: 92
Rating: ★★★★☆

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When I taste this wine today, it takes me back to my earliest memories of noteable wines. In fact, Lytton Springs Winery Zinfandel was the best wine I had ever tasted until it was upstaged by a glass of 1974 Heitz Cellars “Martha’s Vineyard” Cab that I had in 1986. But I still have a warm place in my heart for Lytton Springs Zin that will never be changed.

Kudos go to Joel from Wine Life Today for a great theme and congratulations on the birth of his second child just a few days ago. I’m hoping he can find some time to recount all the stories this month in between his fatherly duties.

Next month some guy from New Jersey named Gary is hosting. Should be fun to see what he’s got in mind.