Petite sirah


So, today I offer 10 red wines worthy of your attention and use with the hearty fare we prepare during cooler weather, if this country ever gets cooler weather. We’re running 10 to 15 degrees above normal in this neck o’ the woods. Anyway, these wines represent California; Italy’s Piedmont region; Australia’s McLaren Vale; and three sections of Spain, all featuring the tempranillo grape. The grapes and blends of grapes involved are equally diverse. As usual in these Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew the technical, geographical and historical I tend to dote upon for the sake of quick and incisive reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy, in moderation, of course. These wines were samples for review.
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Angeline Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir 2015, Mendocino County 80%, Sonoma County 20%.13.9% alc. Transparent angelinemedium ruby shading to an ethereal rim; rose petals and sandalwood, pomegranate and cranberry, a hint of loam that expands to form a foundation for the whole enterprise; satiny and supple but nicely sanded and burnished by mild graphite-tinged tannins; a few minutes in the glass being in notes of wood smoke, red cherry and raspberry; grows quite dense and chewy, almost succulent but riven by straight-arrow acidity that cuts a swath on the palate; builds in power and structure. Now through 2018 or ’19. You could sell the hell out of this pinot noir in restaurant and bar wine-by-the-glass programs. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.
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Bonny Doon A Proper Claret 2014, California. 13.2% alc. 36% cabernet sauvignon, 22% petit verdot, 22% tannat, 9% syrah, 7% merlot, 3% cabernet franc, 1% petite sirah. The point of Bonny Doon’s A Proper Claret is that it is not a proper claret at all, not with the inclusion of tannat, syrah and petite sirah. Ho-ho. Medium ruby with a transparent magenta rim; untamed and exotic, with notes of dried berries, baking spices and flowers; opens to black fruit scents and flavors with a tinge of red fruit; firm, moderately dense, supported by plenty of dusty graphite-laden tannins and bright acidity; needs a steak or leg of lamb. Very Good+. About $16.
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Chronic Cellars Purple Paradise 2014, Paso Robles. 14.5% alc. 77% zinfandel, 14% syrah, 8% petite sirah, 1% grenache. Medium ruby hue; a feral and flinty flurry of black currants, mulberries and plums; a hint of blueberry, with cedar and mint; warm and spicy with notes of cloves and sandalwood; a high, wild baked berry tone; very dry, quite dense and chewy, firm sinewy structure packed with dusty tannins and lively acidity. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $15.
As you can see, the label is appropriate for Halloween parties.
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Viña Eguía Tempranillo 2013, Rioja, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Medium ruby hue shading to a delicate mulberry rim; violets and rose petals, blueberries and red currants, leather and smoke; an exotic dusting of cloves, sandalwood and allspice, with a hint of the latter’s woody, slightly astringent quality; though moderate in tannins, this gains weight and heft as the minutes pass, picking up a fleshy, meaty character to the macerated and baked dark fruit flavors; animated by brisk acidity. Terrific character for the price. Now through 2018. Very Good+. About $14, marking Excellent Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Bodegas Fariña Dama de Toro Tempranillo 2014, Toro, Spain. 13.5% alc. With 5% garnacha. Medium ruby-mulberry color; loam, dust, graphite, mint, iodine; hints of red and black currants and blueberries, permeated by dried spices and flowers; very dense, dry, smoky, chewy; smacky tannins coat the palate. What it lacks in charm it makes by for in inchoate power and dynamism. Try 2018 to ’20 with pork shoulder roast slathered in salsa verde or grilled pork chops with a cumin-chili powder rub. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Marchesi di Gresy Barbera d’Asti 2014, Piedmont, Italy. 13% alc. 100% barbera grapes. Medium ruby-violet hue; an attractive bouquet of potpourri, dried baking spices and dried currants; hints of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil; clean and spare with plenty of acid cut for liveliness and lip-smacking tannins; pulls up elements of black cherries, mulberries and plums, all slightly spiced and macerated, and touches of cherry pit and skin; the finish is packed with earthy tannins and graphite minerality. Now through 2019 to ’22 with salumi, red meat pizzas and pasta dishes — especially pappardelle with rabbit — or aged hard cheeses. Excellent. About $18.
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Peachy Canyon Incredible Red Zinfandel 2014, California. 14.5% alc. With 2% petite sirah. Dark ruby shading lighter to an invisible rim; notes of spicy and slightly roasted black currants, cherries and plums, a strain of wild berry and white pepper and hints of wood smoke, ground cardamom and cumin; rich on the palate but tempered by loamy and velvety tannins and clean acidity; an element of dusty graphite minerality dominates the finish. A well-made zinfandel for everyday drinking. Very Good+. About $14.
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Real Compañía de Vinos Tempranillo 2012, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, Spain. 13.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Vibrant inky purple; a very deep, dark, warm, spicy loamy tempranillo with staggering, mineral and graphite-laced tannins that don’t prevent a hint of floral-inflected black currant and plum fruit and touches of heather, cedar and black olive from emerging from the ebon depths; there is, in fact, surprising elegance and finesse at play in the balance between structure, acid, fruit and oak elements. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Very Good+. About — I’m not kidding — $12, a Remarkable Value.
Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Calif.
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Robert Oatley GSM 2014, McLaren Vale, Australia. 13.5% alc. 48% grenache, 47% syrah, 5% oatleymourvèdre. Dark ruby with a lighter magenta rim; ripe and spicy notes of roasted plums and currants, with traces of red licorice and leather, briers and brambles; a few moments in the glass bring in alluring touches of allspice and sandalwood, dried sage and rosemary; dry, dusty and slightly austere tannins serve as foundation for lithe, supple black and red fruit flavors boosted by fleet acidity and graphite minerality. For all its structure, the wine is juicy, seductive and tasty. Drink now through 2018 or ’19. Excellent. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wines & Spirits, Greensboro, N.C.
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Vina Robles Vineyards & Winery Red4 2013, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County. 14.9% alc. 41% petite sirah, 40% syrah, 10% mourvèdre, 9% grenache. Dark ruby-magenta color; redolent of macerated and slightly baked mixed berries, cloves and iodine, espresso, wood smoke and roasted fennel — heady stuff indeed; a lightly resistant dusty, velvety texture bolstered by persistent tannins packed with graphite and loam; a long expressive finish. A lot going on here for the price. Drink now through 2018. Excellent. About $17.
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I’m about to do that thing, you know, the thing where I recommend a wine you probably can’t find because it’s a limited release from a tiny winery that produces only a few hundred cases merisiannually. Sorry, but I want to bring attention to Merisi Wines, the kind of place that I love to write about. It’s a husband and wife operation of Mandy Heldt Donovan — she’s the winemaker — and Nick Donovan, whose purpose is to take grapes from excellent vineyards and craft well-made wines. Today’s selection is the Merisi Wines Denner Vineyard Petite Sirah 2013, carrying a Lake County designation, the AVA just north of Napa County. The wine is fermented with natural yeast and aged 21 months in oak, 50 percent new barrels. The color is dark ruby with a vivid magenta rim; aromas of deeply spicy and woodsy black raspberries, currants and plums are highlighted by notes of black pepper, lavender and leather, with pervasive graphite in the background. The wine drives across the palate, propelled by bright acidity and chiseled granitic minerality; tannins are shaggy, dusty and velvety, saved from opulence by the wine’s innate spareness and reticence. A few moments in the glass bring in hints of violets, bittersweet chocolate and dry, slightly astringent (and exotic) spices like cloves and allspice. The finish is generous, shapely and rather elegant, considering the grape. 14.6 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2019 or ’20 with full-flavored, big-hearted fare: pork tenderloin, braised short ribs, pork chops. Production was 100 cases. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.

One sniff of the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 tells you that it could only have been made in California. Well, O.K., perhaps in South Australia. Anyway, it’s a wine that brims with the sort PetitePetitFrontof full-bore, pedal to the metal, motorcycle boots in hot tar, dark, feral plummy-jamminess that you could even narrow the scope down from generally California to specifically Lodi. Right now, My Readers are thinking, “Whoa, F.K., this is exactly the sort of wine that you deplore!” It’s true, mes amis, that I prefer wines that balance elegance and power, that reveal themselves through hints, nods and nuances, but when you’re sitting down to a trencher of chili or a platter of barbecue ribs, you can toss subtlety out the window. It’s a clever concept, though I don’t know if the name or the concept came first. A unique blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot, the Michael David Petite Petit 2014 offers an opaque yet radiant ebony hue shading to thermonuclear purple at the rim; aromas of supernaturally-ripe blackberries and blueberries unfurl an intense core of lavender and violets, leather and loam, all bolstered by a tremendous dusty graphite element, and all factors replicated on the palate, where the wine is, not surprisingly, defined by dense, dusty, chewy tannins, incisive acidity and slash ‘n’ burn granitic minerality. For all that, the wine is lively, engaging and — paradoxically — rather light-hearted. It is certainly drenched in juicy, spicy black and blue fruit flavors. Also unexpectedly, the alcohol content is only 14.5 percent, I say “only” as compared to the 15 percent and higher commonly seen in red wines from Lodi. Drink now through 2018, maybe ’19, though freshness and immediacy are essential to this wine’s enjoyment. Excellent. About $18.

A sample for review.

Named for — let’s not toss this word around too loosely — legendary winemaker Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, long-time director of Grgich mikeHills Estate, in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district, the Miljenko’s Selection labels indicate a level of quality and limited quantity fully worthy of the man and his heritage. While the 92-year-old veteran of 50 or more harvests turned over winemaking duties to his nephew Ivo Jeramaz years ago, the wines from the estate, all organically produced, bear Mike Grgich’s influential and benign thumbprint, and he personally selected the vineyards from which they derive. These wines ferment by indigenous yeast; the oak regimen is carefully tempered to the grapes in question and to the outcome at the end of aging. The goal is a fine balance between elegance and power, and rarely is that goal not accomplished. These are, admittedly, wines for collectors and enthusiasts, and they are available to the winery’s club patrons and at the tasting room. If any happen to come your way, don’t hesitate, if you can manage, to acquire a bottle or two or even twist someone’s arm to give you a taste. Such wines raise beacons of purity and intensity for others to follow.

Samples for review.
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The color of the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection “Essence” Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Napa Valley, is very pale straw-gold; FINAL 2013 ESS LABELbbeguiling aromas of lemongrass and lime peel, quince and ginger are animated by an undertow of graphite and limestone. These elements segue seamlessly to the palate, where the wine’s dense, talc-like texture is riven by keen acidity and that shimmering stony minerality, lending a sense of both delicacy and durability. A few moments in the glass bring in notes of heather, fig and jasmine. 14.1 percent alcohol. A sauvignon blanc of piercing purity and intensity, beautiful in every aspect. The wine spent nine months in large French oak casts. Production was 1,204 cases. Now through 2019 to 2022. Exceptional. About $55.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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Hailing from Carneros, Napa Valley, the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Chardonnay 2013 delivers loads of bright, bold 2012 CHCN, MSrichness handled with infinitely deft balance and nuance. The color is pale straw-gold; the bouquet blossoms in layers of classic pineapple-grapefruit scents infused with quince jam, hints of peach and spiced pear and notes of crushed gravel and damp flint. In the mouth, the wine is characterized by lovely expressiveness and vibrancy, a true marriage of power and elegance; citrus and stone-fruit flavors are lightly touched by cloves and allspice and bear a light cloak of slightly burnished oak, all encompassed by resonant limestone minerality. 14.1 percent alcohol. The wine spent 11 months in 900-gallon French oak casks. Production was 1,265 cases. Drink now through 2019 to 2023. Excellent. About $60.
The label image is one vintage behind.
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I haven’t seen a petite sirah wine that measured under 14 percent alcohol in years, and not many under 15 percent, but the Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petite Sirah 2011, Napa Valley, performs very nicely at 13.9 percent, thank you very much. It’s a rollicking ripe and spicy wine, whose dark ruby-purple color presages aromas of deeply scented, dusty and macerated black cherries and blue plums opening to notes of lavender, black pepper and graphite; a few minutes in the glass bring out hints of blueberry, mulberry and violets. The impression on the palate is of wonderful freshness, brightness and appeal of red and black fruit, but give the wine an hour or so and bulwarks of stalwart chiseled tannins begin to assert themselves. The wine spent a whopping 32 months in wood, half large oak casks, half small neutral barriques. Production was 503 cases. We drank this with a medium-rare strip steak, crusted with my secret multi-pepper mixture. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $65.
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The Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Petit Verdot 2012, Yountville, with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, is a deep, geological wine that seems to draw strength and power from the strata of the earth and recesses of glittering granite. The color is inky ruby-purple, and the chief quality of the wine is — not to be repetitious — a piercing minerality entangled with tannins that crowd the palate like dusty antique velvet. Fruit makes an appearance in the guise of black currents and cherries with notes of wild blueberries and cranberries, but this is primarily a wine that will center on structure for years to come. The wine aged 21 months in French oak casks. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2022 to ’25. 14.7 percent alcohol. Production was 493 cases. Excellent potential. About $65.
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Devotees of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon wines — particularly from the west-central area of the region — who possess the necessary fiduciary prowess will want to snap up a case of the 100 percent varietal Grgich Hills Estate Miljenko’s Selection Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Rutherford. This is the real stuff, from a great vintage. The color is opaque ruby-purple with a tinge of magenta at the rim; at first, the wine emits scents of mint and eucalyptus, cedar and thyme, gradually unveiling notes of spiced, macerated and slightly roasted black and red currants and cherries, backed by graphite, lavender and bitter chocolate, all melded with purposeful integration. It’s a dry, vigorous wine, ruled by laser-beam minerality, ferocious acidity and burnished and polished tannins; despite this profound nature, the wine is not ponderous or obvious, rather it carries its scintillating lithic character with grace and dignity. One feels, after a few minutes airing, the famous or elusive Rutherford dusty, loamy influence, adding touches of espresso and ancho chili. 14.5 percent alcohol. The wine spent 18 months in French oak barrels, 80 percent new. Production was 485 cases. Try from 2017 or ’18 through 2028 to ’30. Exceptional. About $90.
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I see by this morning’s weather map that most parts of the country, except for the desert Southwest, are experiencing radical (but expected) dips in temperature, and, in fact, the first frosts and snows of the season are occurring in the Upper Midwest and New VR_Label_12_Petite_Sirah_FrontEngland. Seems to me that what you’re looking for is a robust red wine to accompany the robust fare you’re doubtless cooking this week and for several months to come. I’m speaking of braised shanks of various animals, braised short ribs, hearty soups and stews and such, the sort of food that fills kitchens with redolent meaty, saucy, winy aromas. Here, then, is a prime example of this sort of wine. The Vina Robles Estate Petite Sirah 2012, Paso Robles, derives from three of the winery’s five estate vineyards. It ages a total of 20 months in oak barrels, mainly French but also American and Hungarian. I say “a total of 20 months” because the component parts age separately for eight months, and then the wine made from the blend of the vineyards ages for a year. The winery was founded in 1996 by Swiss entrepreneur Hans Nef; winemaker is Kevin Willenborg.

The Vina Robles Estate Petite Sirah 2012 offers an opaque purple-black hue that shades to a glowing magenta rim; notes of blackberries, blueberries and plums are steeped in leather and black pepper, graphite, lavender and bitter chocolate. Bold, shaggy, dusty tannins with elements of briers and brambles provide structure for very spicy flavors of roasted black and blue fruit, everything kept from being ponderous by bright acidity and a keen granitic edge. The finish is packed with spiced black tea, minerals and touches of tar and burnished oak. Alcohol content is a manageable 14.3 percent. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Nothing elegant, subtle or nuanced here, but that’s not what we want when we’re cozying up to a slow-cooked pork shank. Excellent. About $29.

A sample for review.

Here we go, nine red wines entirely fit for drinking with such fare as pizza, hamburgers, lasagna, spaghetti and meat balls, hearty sandwiches and so forth. These reviews are brisk, brief, incisive — forgoing technical, historical and geographical detail for the sake of immediacy. All these wines were samples for review or were tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event. Enjoy! ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Illuminate-2012RedBlend_NorthCoast-frontIlluminate Red Blend 2012, North Coast. 13.9% alc. 95% merlot, dollops of cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. (A second label of Kimmel Vineyards) Red and black berries with a touch of roasted plum; smoke, cedar and tobacco, hint of black olive; pleasing heft, lively and appealing; slightly slappy and sappy tannins, soft and dusty. For enjoyable, quaffable drinking. Very Good. About — ready for this? — $10, so Buy by the Case.
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Tormaresca Neprica 2011, Pulgia. 13.5% alc. 40% negroamaro, 30% primitivo, 30% cabernet sauvignon. (Tormaresca is Antinori’s outpost in Puglia.) Very deep ruby-purple; very dark and spicy red and black berry notes, permeated by dust and graphite, tar and oolong tea with hints of licorice, lavender and leather; robust and rustic in the best way, bristly, briery and juicy; lively acidity and chewy tannins in a dense but polished package. Tremendous personality for the price. Very Good+. About $11 (and often discounted around the country), marking Terrific Value.
Imported by Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, Woodinville, Washington
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Gnarly Head “1924” Double Black 2013, California. 15% alc. Zinfandel, merlot, syrah. A “limited edition” wine though number of cases is unspecified. (A label of Delicato Family Vineyards) Inky purple-black with a magenta rim; nothing subtle here but a strapping, muscular and juicy number, with ripe, spiced and macerated blackberry, blueberry and loganberry scents and flavors; briery and brambly, graphite and violets, bitter chocolate; pert and lively acidity, a core of mocha, lavender and velvety tannins; both concentrated and generous. Very Good+. About $12, Real Value.
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Castelmaure Col des Vents 2014, Corbières, France. 13.5% alc. 50% carignan, 35% grenache, 15% syrah. Always a favorite. Medium ruby color; thyme and sage, spiced and macerated blackberries and currants and a hint of blueberries; juicy, tasty, lively; a note of graphite minerality over moderately dusty, slightly rustic tannins. Very Good+. About $12, a Great Bargain.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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Charles Thomas Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge 2013, Côtes-du-Rhône, France. 13.5% alc. (From Maison Jean-Baptiste Bejot) 50% syrah, 40% grenache, 10% mourvedre. Vibrant dark ruby hue; lovely evocation of the southern Rhone: lavender, cloves, leather, sage; blackberries, currants and plums; a few minutes bring in hints of lavender and licorice; well-developed, ripe and spicy black fruit flavors bolstered by graphite, bright acidity and slightly chewy, medium-impact tannins. Very Good+. About $12, Amazing for the Price.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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La Valentina 2012, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy. 13% alc. 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Dark ruby-purple hue with a violet rim; red currants and raspberries with a nod toward black currants and blueberries; cloves, lavender and black pepper, sage and briers; brisk acidity and bright red and blue fruit flavors buoyed by moderately plush, dusty tannins; a robust finish, packed with spice, dried flowers and graphite. Very Good+. About $14, Excellent Value.
Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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Chateau de Ségriès Côtes-du-Rhône 2013, Côtes-du-Rhône, France. 14% alc. 50% grenache, 30% syrah, 10% each cinsault and carignan. Talk about an over-achiever! Dark ruby hue, tinge of violet at the rim; mint, smoke, leather and a touch of iodine; blackberries, black and red currants and plums; violets and lavender; lithe and supple texture, flows deliciously across the palate, but tannins feel burnished and slightly roughened, as though polished with fine sandpaper; a finish packed with spice and granitic minerality. Drink now through 2018 or 2020. Excellent. About $15, an Unbeatable Bargain.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va.
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Cepa 21 Hito 2014, Ribera del Duero, Spain. 14.5% alc. 100% tempranillo. Dark ruby with a violet-magenta rim; an inky, savory and saline tempranillo, with notes of lavender and graphite, leather and lilac, black cherries, currants and plums, all smoldering in the glass; a few minutes unfold hints of iodine and mint; cozy and cushiony tannins have a lithic-briery bite; clean acidity runs through it, lending energy and verve; the ripe, dusty black fruit flavors persist through a dense, slightly austere finish. Lots of presence for the price. Now through 2019 to 2021. Excellent. About $16.
Imported by Moro Brothers Inc., New York
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Hess Select Winemaker’s Blend 2012, California. 13.8% alc. 38% petite sirah, 29% syrah, 22% zinfandel, 11% merlot. Dark ruby hue, faintly purple; and then if “purple” had a smell and taste: inky but not brooding, spiced and macerated black and red currents, red raspberries and a hint of mulberry, all infused with cloves, graphite and lavender; robust but more sleek than rustic, vibrant acidity to keep your taste-buds wanting more; non-threatening tannins frame it nicely along granitic lines. Now through 2016 into 2017. Very Good+. About $17.
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Brewers that work in the craft or European tradition often issue seasonal or limited release beers, so why should wineries be any different? Here’s an example, and if you’re feeling bewitched, bothered and bewildered — or rather beset by the obligations and responsibilities of late December — turn to Besieged 2013, a limited release red wine from Ravenswood, the well-known zinfandel producer in Sonoma County. Made from an unspecified blend of petite sirah, carignane, zinfandel, syrah, barbera, alicante bouschet and mourvedre grapes, the wine sports a deep ruby color and enticing aromas of ripe blackberries, red and black currants and blueberries, these notes highlighted by elements of briers and brambles, graphite and lavender. This is robust and rustic in all the right ways, with rollicking acidity, lip-smacking tannins and a slightly shaggy texture to support its fleshy and dusty black fruit flavors flecked with hints of ancho chili and cloves. Lots of the power you need to power through big dinners of braised short ribs or lamb shanks, hearty beef stews or just a bacon-cheeseburger. Winemaker is Joel Peterson. 14.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $22.

This wine was a sample for review.

Here’s a terrific and reasonably-priced wine to open when you’re serving such redolent and deeply-flavored wintery fare as braised short ribs, veal or lamb shanks or hearty stews. The Vina Robles Red 4 2012, from Paso Robles, in San Luis Obispo County, is an interesting blend of 50 percent petite sirah grapes with 20 percent each syrah and grenache and 10 percent mourvèdre, drawn primarily from the winery’s estate Huerhuero vineyard. In other words, it’s a California rendition of a southern Rhône Valley red wine except that half of it consists of petite sirah, a grape grown almost exclusively in the Golden State. The wine aged 16 months in a combination of small and large American, French and European oak barrels, the latter term — I mean France is in Europe, n’est-ce pas? — usually implying an origin in what used to be called Eastern Europe, i.e., Slovenia or Hungary. In any case, the color here is dark ruby with a magenta-mulberry cast; the bouquet is spicy, feral, bursting with notes of ripe blackberries, blueberries and currants. The wine is lithe and supple on the palate, buoyed by vibrant acidity and mild but slightly dusty tannins and a line of graphite minerality, all at the service of tasty black and blue fruit flavors permeated by hints of lavender, leather and bitter chocolate and briery-brambly undertones. There’s a lot of personality here for the price. 13.9 percent alcohol. Vina Robles was founded in 1996 by Swiss entrepreneur Hans Nef; winemaker is Kevin Willenborg. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $17.

A sample for review.

No holds are barred in California, unlike in the Old World, where government agencies determine where grapes can be grown and what grapes go into certain wines. Many wines, of course, are famous for their combinations of grapes, like Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which may contain any ratio of up to 13 grapes, red and white, or Bordeaux, where winemakers fashion cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc (primarily) into some of the world’s most elegant, powerful and best-known red wines. No such customs or regulations abide in the Golden State, and today we look at five wines that offer some unusual blends of grapes, some more successfully than others. The trick is to create a blend that delivers distinctive, if not original, qualities rather than something than comes out smelling and tasting like a generic “red wine.” These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
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Bonny Doon Vineyards A Proper Claret 2013, California. 13.5% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 46%, merlot 17%, tannat 15%, petit verdot 13%, syrah 8%, petite sirah 1%, the point being that this is a very improper claret — Bordeaux red wine — indeed. Dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; solid, tannic, fills the mouth with briers, brambles and underbrush but builds layers of cloves and allspice, cedar, ancho chili, then undertones of dusty black currants, raspberries and plums; no molly-coddle here, intense and concentrated, lip-smacking acidity; dense, chewy; needs a medium rare strip steak or a great joint of venison. Now through 2018 to 2020. Loads of personality. Very Good+. About $16, a Real Bargain.
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Casey Flat Ranch Estate Red Wine 2012, Capay Valley, Yolo County. 14.8% alc. Cabernet sauvignon 56%, syrah 30%, cabernet franc 13% viognier 1%. Dense ruby-purple; cassis, black cherries and raspberries; hints of menthol, violets, hedge and heather, then graphite and underbrush, leather and mocha; bushy and brushy but succulent, balanced, integrated; a touch of the iodine-and-iron complex (sounds like a vitamin) under delicious black fruit flavors with a note of blue; wild berry notes, licorice and lavender lend some elevation to a wine of true class, distinction and character. Now through 2020 to ’22 with steaks and braised meats. Excellent. About $45.
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Gnarly Head Limited Release Authentic Black 2012, Lodi. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 14.5% alc. Petite sirah-based blend. A limited edition wine for Fall. The problem with the Gnarly Head wines is that they’re not gnarly enough. One of the purplest and most opaque wines I have ever seen; very ripe, spicy, grapy, gamy; plummy and jammy with sweetish blackberry, blueberry and currant scents and flavors, plush and velvety, “soft in the middle,” as Paul Simon says; quite juicy, smoky, a little loamy; comes across as unfocused and inauthentic. Good+. About $12.
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Juxtapoz Red Wine Blend 2012, North Coast. (Delicato Family Vineyards) 15% alc. Syrah 55%, zinfandel 23%, petite sirah 9%, malbec 6%, cabernet sauvignon 4%, “other reds” 3%. Dark ruby with an opaque center; first impression is of woody spices and walnut shell, then ripe black currants, cherries and plums, hints of plum skin, cedar and black olive; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of slightly caramelized fennel; scrunchy tannins and bright acidity make a fairly robust wine; you feel the alcoholic heat a bit on the finish; takes an hour or so for this to come together, and it finally convinced me that it worked. Cheesy label, though. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Very Good+. About $25.
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Renwood Clarion Red Wine 2012, Amador County. 15% alc. 25% each zinfandel, petite sirah, syrah and marsanne; that’s right, one-quarter of this wine is from white grapes. Dark ruby purple color; a deep spicy wine, bursting with notes of blackberries, black currants and blueberries permeated by violets, lavender, potpourri and graphite; sleek, supple and integrated and manages not to be overwhelmed by the alcohol content; picks up hints of cloves, walnut shell, briers and brambles through a wildly fruity but earthy, mineral-packed finish. Tasty and intriguing. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Very Good+. About $20.
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So, tomorrow’s the Big Day, a Super Bowl with lots of spindly Roman numerals, and manly men and their womanly women with gather in front of giant television screens, as once our distant ancestors gathered around protective campfires, to watch the display of sportsmanship, athletic skill, mayhem and commercials. And, of course, chow down on all sorts of food that we understand is super-comforting but super-bad for us. I cast no aspersions; I merely offer a few red wines to match with the hearty, deeply sauced and cheesy, rib-sticking, finger-lickin’ fare. These wines display varying levels of power and bumptiousness but not overwhelmingly tannins; that’s not the idea. Rather, the idea is to stand up to some deeply flavorful snacks and entrees with which most people think they are obligated to drink beer, but it’s not so. I provide here brief reviews designed to capture the personality of each wine with a minimum of technical, historical and geographical folderol. With the exception of the Sean Thackrey Sirius 2010, which I purchased online, these wines were samples for review. By the way, I recommend opening most of these examples about the time that Renee Fleming launches into “The Star-Spangled Banner”; they’ll be ready to drink by half-time.
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XYZin Old Vine Zinfandel 2011, California. 14.5% alc. Medium ruby color; plums and fruitcake, black cherries, blueberries, note of lightly candied pomegranate around the circumference; a highly developed floral-fruity-spicy profile; very dry, dense and chewy, freighted with dusty, slightly woody and leathery tannins, but robust and lively in a well-balanced and tasty way; not a blockbuster and all the more authentic for it. Now through 2015. Chicken wings, pigs in blankets, baby-back ribs. Very Good+. About $16.
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Vina Robles “Red” 2011, Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo County, California. 14.5% alc. Blend of syrah, petite sirah, grenache, mourvedre; winery does not specify percentages. Dark ruby color, almost opaque at the center; intense and concentrated; black cherries and plums, oolong tea, a little tarry and infused with elements of briers and brambles, gravel and graphite; dry grainy tannins, vibrant acidity (I thought that my note said “anxiety,” but I knew that wasn’t right); long spice-packed finish. A dense yet boisterous red for pizza and chili. Very Good+. About $17.
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Bonny Doon Contra Old Vine Field Blend 2011, Contra Costa County, California. 13.5% alc. A blend of 56% carignane grapes, 28% mourvedre, 9% grenache, 6% syrah, 1% zinfandel. Dark ruby color, tinge of magenta; robust and rustic, heaping helpings of ripe blackberries, blueberries and plums with notes of pomegranate and mulberry and hints of lavender and pomander; graphite-brushed tannins make it moderately dense, while pert acidity keeps it lively. Cries out of cheeseburger sliders and barbecue ribs. Very Good+. About $18.
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Paolo Manzone Ardi 2012, Langhe Rosso, Piedmont, Italy. 13/5% alc. 60% dolcetto d’Alba, 40% barbera d’Alba. Production was 300 cases; ok, so you can’t actually buy this, but I would make it my house red if I could. Brilliant medium ruby color; black cherry and plum, dried spice and potpourri, rose petal and lilac, but, no, it’s not a sissy wine; taut acidity and deep black and red fruit flavors; dry underbrushy tannins, lithe, almost muscular texture, graphite minerality flexes its muscles; sleek, stylish, delicious. Now through 2016. Very Good+. About $18.
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Poliziano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010, Tuscany, Italy. 14% alc. 85% sangiovese grapes, 15% colorino, canaiolo, merlot. Dark ruby color, lighter magenta rim; dried black cherries and currants, smoke, cloves, tar and black tea; dried spice and flowers, foresty with dried moss, briers and brambles, really lovely complexity; plush with dusty tannins, lively with vivacious acidity; terrific presence and personality. Now through 2016 or ’17. Venison tacos, pork tenderloin. Excellent. About $26.
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Allegrini + Renacer Enamore 2011, Mendoza, Argentina. 15% alc. 45% malbec, 40% cabernet sauvignon, 10% bonarda, 5% cabernet franc. This wine is a collaboration between the important producer of Valpolicella, in Italy’s Veneto region, and the Argentine estate where the wine is made, but in the dried grape fashion of Amarone. It’s really something. Dark ruby color with a deep magenta rim; tons of grip, dense, chewy, earthy, but sleek, lithe and supple, surprisingly generous and expansive; black fruit, dried herbs, plums, hint of leather; earthy and minerally but clean and appealing; a large-framed, durable wine, dynamic and drinkable, now through 2019 to ’21. With any animal roasted in a pit you crazy guys dug in the backyard just for this occasion. Excellent. About $26.
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Sean Thackrey Sirius Eaglepoint Ranch Petite Sirah 2010, Mendocino County, California. 15.1% alc. Opaque as motor oil, with a violet sheen; blackberries and blueberry tart, hints of lavender, potpourri, bitter chocolate and pomegranate; a few minutes in the glass bring in notes of spiced plums and fruitcake; ripe, dense, chewy, dusty but not o’ermastered by tannin, actually rather velvety, exercises its own seductions; alert acidity, depths of graphite minerality. Now through 2018 to 2020. Chili with bison, venison, wild boar. Excellent. About $40.
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d’Arenberg The Ironstone Pressings GSM 2009, McLaren Vale, South Australia. 14.5% alc. Production was 300 cases (sorry). 67% grenache, 26% shiraz, 7% mourvedre. Radiant medium ruby color; “ironstone” is right, mates, yet this is a beautifully balanced and integrated wine with real panache and tone; plums and black currants, hint of red and black cherries; dust, graphite, leather, slightly gritty grainy tannins; earth and briers, granitic minerality but a core of bitter chocolate, violets and lavender. Carnitas, chorizo quesadillas, barbecue brisket. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $65.
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