Petite sirah

Fired up the grill yet? Maybe it’s a tad early, but we’re having pretty perfect outdoor cooking weather in these parts (though the prediction is for cooler temps and rain at the end of the week). Still, you can’t plan too far ahead, so here’s a recommendation for a wine that will go head to head and toe to toe with the heartiest fare you can rustle up over charcoal; I’m talking steaks, pork chops, leg of lamb, ribs, especially, yes, ribs. The wine is the Petite Petit 2009, from those madcaps at Michael David Winery, founded in 1984 by brothers Michael J. and David J. Phillips, fifth-generation grape-growers in Lodi. These guys have a sort of genius for producing big red wines and marketing them with clever names and designs. Petite Petit, with its exuberant cartoon label featuring two circus elephants, is the cleverest, though not far behind is the line of blockbuster reds named for the Seven Deadly Sins. Winemaker and general manager for Michael David Winery is Adam Mettler.

Petite Petit 2009, Lodi, is a blend of 85 percent petite sirah and 15 percent petit verdot. The color is really truly deep inky purple; in fact every aspect of the wine embodies the notion of “inkiness.” Aromas of deliriously ripe black currants, blackberries and blueberries are woven with licorice and smoky lavender, with hints of graphite and jammy boysenberry; give the wine a few minutes in the glass and it brings up intriguing notes of Bazooka bubble gum, sour cherry and melon ball. In the mouth, yeah, well, this is sturdy, robust, dense and chewy, a powerhouse of finely-milled, velvety tannins and vibrant acidity that still manages to be sleek and appealing. Dark and intensely ripe black and blue fruit flavors seethe with graphite-like minerality and exotic spices, while the finish careens through reserves of underbrush, briers and brambles. No, friends, Petite Petit 2009 is not for effete Europalates, but we’re not in Europe are we, and when was the last time you heard of Europeans chowing down on barbecue ribs or a bowl of chili or a platter of enchiladas in mole sauce? 14.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2013 or ’14. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

Mixed reds and whites today, with some great wines, some good wines and some clunkers. Geography and prices are all over the map; this is how it gets done. Arrangement is by ascending outlay of shekels. Unless otherwise indicated, these were samples for review. As is the case with this “Friday Wine Sips” series, inaugurated last week, these brief reviews do not go into the more technical aspects of winemaking, history or geography.
Un4seen Red Wine 2009, California (though Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.9% alc. A blend of zinfandel, malbec, petit verdot and merlot. Nothing offensive but even inexpensive wine needs more personality than this example of the bland leading the bland. Good. About $11.
Much better is the un4seen White Wine 2010, California (again, Lodi & Clarksburg). 13.5% alc. A blend of chardonnay, semillon, moscato & viognier. Pale straw color with faint green tinge; fresh apple and peach, slightly leafy and floral, touch of fig; very dry and crisp, very nice texture, almost lush, vibrant, spicy; hint of grapefruit on the finish. Charming; drink up. Very Good. About $11, A Bargain.
Villa Antinori 2010, Toscana I.G.T., Bianco. 12% alc. 50% trebbiano & malvasia, 35% pinot bianco & pinot grigio, 15% riesling. Dry, crisp, lively; apples and pears, hint of thyme and tarragon, touch of almond and almond blossom; scintillating limestone gradually insinuates itself (say that three times fast); quite pleasant and engaging, nice balance between bright acidity, clean and spicy citrus flavors and a modestly lush texture. Drink through Summer 2012. Very Good+. About $12, Great Value.
Tormaresca Torcicoda Primitivo 2009, Salento I.G.T. 14% alc. Heaps of black pepper and cloves, forest, graphite, smoky black currants and plums; robust, plummy, juicy, chewy, dense with soft, grainy tannins and mineral elements; unusually well-balanced and integrated for primitivo; great with pizza, burgers, braised meats. Drink through 2013. Very Good+. About $17.
Concannon Conservancy “Crimson & Clover” Red Wine 2009, Livermore Valley. 13.7% alc. Blend of 50% petite sirah, 25% cabernet sauvignon, 15% syrah, 10% zinfandel. Lacks oomph, stuffing, character; we speak of chemistry to describe the energy and magnetism of movie couples, but the grapes in this blend don’t provide that “chemistry.” Pleasant enough, but we deserve more for the price. Good. About $18.
Ponzi Tavola Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Ponzi’s “entry-level” pinot. Entrancing medium ruby color with blue-black depths; smoky, spicy, earthy, wild; black cherry and mulberry edged by cranberry and rhubarb; super-satiny, dense, verges on chewy; graphite-like minerality, leather, brambles. Pure pinot with an untamed heart. Now through 2013. Excellent. About $25.
Chateau Gombaude-Guillot 1996, Pomerol, Bordeaux. 13% alc. This is typically about 65% merlot and 30% cabernet franc with a dollop of malbec. Lovely balance and maturity, sweet spices, dried black and red fruit and flowers, undertones of cedar, tobacco and potpourri, mild earthiness and hints of leather. A real treat. I bought this to accompany our traditional Christmas Eve dinner of standing rib roast, Brussels sprouts in brown butter, roasted potatoes and Yorkshire pudding. Excellent. About $99.

Well, first, it wasn’t really a contest. I volunteered to take some appropriate red wines to a birthday lunch for my former father-in-law, Ed Harrison, who just turned 94, and while he may not be as spry as he once was, he’s a gracious, good-humored person and all-around gentleman. The fare was pulled pork shoulder with beans and slaw and sauce, brought in from a local purveyor, and (second) just to remind My Readers who live outside this vicinity, the word “barbecue” in Memphis is a noun, not a verb, and it refers to pork shoulder or ribs slow-cooked over hickory coals with a basting sauce. (Don’t believe the outside propaganda that “Memphis-style” barbecue is “dry”; traditionally it has been “wet,” that is, cooked with a basting sauce and served at table with a different sauce.) We don’t say “let’s barbecue tonight” or “let’s have a barbecue” as people apparently do in the North and West regions of this great, vast country. “Barbecue” is the stuff itself in these parts. Got that? And, yes, in these parts the slaw goes in the sandwich.

I pulled six hearty red wines from the rack to take to lunch, and here’s what they were:

*Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles.
*Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007, South Australia.
*Nickel & Nickel Darien Vineyard Syrah 2008, Russian River Valley.
*Villa Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2007, Tuscany.
*Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, Lodi.
*Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

These wines were samples for review. BBQ sandwich image from; this is a great site for recipes for simple, authentic everyday food, with excellent art and thoughtful commentary.

Let’s eliminate three of these wines immediately. The Mettler Epicenter Old Vines Zinfandel 2008, at 15.8 percent alcohol, epitomized everything that is shamelessly sweet and over-ripe and cloying and awful about high alcohol zinfandel, and I found it undrinkable. About $20. The Cecchi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. made from 90 percent sangiovese grapes with 10 percent mammolo and canaiolo nero, was lean and very dry and austere and not nearly ready to consume; frankly something about the angularity of the wine just didn’t feel right with the rich, smoky, slightly spicy barbecue. Try it in a couple of years, however, with porcini risotto or roasted game birds. About $30. Finally, the Kilikanoon Killerman’s Run Shiraz Grenache 2007 seemed unbalanced between its own smoky, fleshy spicy character and dry, almost rigorous austerity. Not a success. About $19 to $24.

Nickel & Nickel’s Darien Vineyard Syrah is consistently one of the best syrah wines made in California; I rated the 2007 version Exceptional and made it one of My Best 50 Wines of 2010. I think I would rate the 08 rendition Excellent, rather than Exceptional, but boy this is a deep, dense, darkling plain of a wine, headily fragrant, intense and concentrated in its spicy and macerated blackberry, black currant and plums scents and flavors and developing over 20 to 40 minutes added levels of detail and dimension. The wine aged 16 months in French oak, 44 percent new barrels. 1,108 cases. About $50. Actually, this wine was too complex, too multi-dimensioned for the barbecue, which required a wine a little less magnificent, a little more down-to-earth and immediately appealing. Those qualities we found in the Clayhouse “Show Pony” Petite Sirah 2007, Paso Robles, and the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, Mendoza.

The fresh clean vibrant Clayhouse “Show Pony” Red Cedar Vineyard Petite Sirah 07 is all smoky plums, spicy blueberries and graphite-laced blackberries, ensconced in a smooth, supple structure supported by authoritative, slightly grainy but non-threatening tannins. This went down very nicely with the pork shoulder barbecue, beans and sauce. An expressive version of the petite sirah grape that doesn’t try to knock you down with high alcohol and baroque over-ripeness. This aged 20 months in a combination of French, Eastern European and American oak. Very limited production, unfortunately. Excellent. About $40.

I kept going back and pouring a little more of the Cruz Andina Malbec 2008, a blend of 85 percent malbec, 8 percent syrah and 7 percent cabernet sauvignon derived from Mendoza’s Lujan de Cuyo and Uco Valley areas. The wine was made in a partnership of Chile’s Veramonte winery and Carlos Pulenta, a third-generation vintner in Mendoza. Cruz Andina 08 aged 14 months in French oak barrels, 30 percent new. The whole package is smooth and mellow and tasty, with intense blueberry and red currant flavors supported by elements of smoke and cedar, black olive and potpourri and hints of pepper and spice. This was perfect with the barbecue and fun to drink. Very Good+. About $20.

No, I’m not writing about baked goods; rather, I’m writing about three red wines I tasted recently from Villa San-Juliette, located in Paso Robles. The name sounds Italian, the label is decorous and attractive, but the wines are New World to the hilt: opulent, flamboyant, super-ripe, thoroughly oaked, and with alcohol as high as an elephant’s eye. Who drinks these wines? Turns out that the owners of the 168-acre vineyard in Pleasant Valley north of Paso Robles are Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick, producers of American Idol. Well, o.k., that fits, over-the-top wines from the producers of the country’s number one over-the-top television program. The prices, however, are not extreme at all, though to make them worth the money you have to love an exaggerated, if not parodistic style. Winemaker is Adam LaZarre, a well-known figure in California for two decades and former head winemaker for Hahn Estate Winery.

These wines were samples from a local wholesale distributor.
The Villa San-Juliette Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Paso Robles, ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French barrels, a process that resulted in a wine dense with creamy, spicy oak and sumptuous with rich cassis, plum and black cherry scents and flavors. This is a blend of 90 percent cabernet grapes, 4 percent each “shiraz” and tempranillo, 2 percent merlot. Give it a few moments and the wine dredges up notes of blueberry tart and boysenberry, the whole effect pretty damned luscious and jammy, and at this point I’m thinking that the VS-J Cab 08 is channeling a big-hearted, two-fisted Paso Robles zinfandel; touches of mint and cedar, lavender and licorice reinforce the notion. Layers of dense, thick, chewy, dusty tannins and graphite-like minerality provide structure. 14.5 percent alcohol. 3,900 cases. To my palate, this wine is a travesty of cabernet sauvignon. Rating is Good+, for those who don’t really want their cabernets to be anything at all like cabernet. About $17.
The Villa San-Juliette Petite Sirah 2008, Paso Robles, includes 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 7 percent syrah and 3 percent mourvèdre; it ages 14 months in new and neutral French barrels. The wine is sweet with oak, sweet with its 15 percent alcohol content, sweet with super-ripe, viscous black and blue fruit flavors permeated by blueberry tart and blackberry jam, smoke and ash, potpourri and dusty velvet and (paradoxically) almost iron-like minerality. Opulent and overwhelming. 3,900 cases. Good+. About $17.
LaZarre describes this wine, on the back label, as “blueberry motor oil,” and at first I thought he was apologizing, as in, “Gosh, I’m so sorry that the Petitie Sirah 2008 turned out like blueberry motor oil. I promise to do better next time,” but, no, the term was meant as high praise appropriate to the wine. I guess I’m just so fucking naive.
O.K., on to the Villa San-Juliette Chorum 2007, Paso Robles, a wine intended as the flagship for the estate. This is blend of 68 percent “shiraz” — fer gawd’s sake, just say syrah! — and 32 percent cabernet sauvignon, and perhaps using the Australian term “shiraz” indicates the wine’s affinity with Australian wines of the same ilk. It ages 16 months in new and one-year-old French oak, and it’s a huge, formidable, flamboyant, ripe and fleshy and meaty performance, a close to Baroque rendition of the companion grapes. Fie, it out-Australians the Australians! 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 510 cases. Good only. About $23.
I tasted those three red wines together day before yesterday, but I have a glass of the Villa San-Juliette Sauvignon Blanc 2008, Paso Robles, next to me as I type these words. While I find this bright straw-yellow colored wine the most reasonably proportioned of the VS-J wines I tried, it’s still far from the spare, reticent manner I prefer. Notes of roasted lemon, lemon balm and lemon curd distinguish a bouquet that also yields hints of tangerine, pear and melon, with after-thoughts of dusty, dried herbs and the waxiness of little white flowers that take it into Rhone Valley-marsanne/roussanne territory. Not that the wine is not extremely attractive, but it is a bit extreme. It ages 4 months in neutral French barrels, and one feels that oaken subtlety in the wine’s suppleness and smoothness; flavors lean toward stone fruit and mango and baked pear, with a burst of lime and grapefruit (in nose and mouth) that delivers crispness and liveliness to the finish. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,060 cases. Of this quartet, the VS-J Sauvignon Blanc 2008 is the one I recommend, for drinking through the end of 2012. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.

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