Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Petite Sirah: A Star of California's Vineyards

You've heard the trademark Hollywood rags to riches stories about the girl next door leaving home and moving to California to try their hand at acting, getting their first major role in a movie after some bit parts and becoming a blockbuster star. A similar story can be found in the wine world. Petite Sirah has made a name for itself in Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin Valley; currently starring in it's own bottles, which is a big change from the tiny roles it used to play in blends. Here is the rags to riches story of Petite Sirah, one of California's boldest grapes with an almost cult-like following.

Originally named Durif, the grape was born by experimentally crossing Peloursin in an eastern French lab around 1868. For a long while, Durif had no idea who it's father was, but many years later found out it was likely Syrah. The grape did quite well in France in it's early years, proving to be strong enough to resist the the downy mildew epidemic running rampant through the vineyards at that time. However, Durif did not do well in frost and was also sensitive to the scorching summer sun. The grape needed a change of terroir to really flourish and show it's true potential.

In a typical Hollywood story the star is "discovered" by an influential person who can see their "star power". For Amy Adams it was Stacy O'Neil. For Durif it was Charles McIver of California's Linda Vista Winery, who imported the grape as Petite Sirah, possibly misspelled from Petite Syrah. Fortunately the name caught on, and Petite Sirah adapted well to the more temperate climate. It didn't take long for other wineries to notice the grape, and by the turn of the century Petite Sirah was one of the most widely planted varietals in the state. However, the grape was so powerful and tannic only small amounts were used in blends to add structure and colour. This would continue for decades until 1961, when Concannon vineyards made the first bottle of 100% Petite Sirah. This turned out to be the grape's "big break" as other wineries followed suit, and Petite Sirah gained many devoted fans thanks to this trend. Although other varietals have found their way into the limelight from the 1970s to today, many wineries continue to produce bottles made exclusively of Petite Sirah, and websites like advocate the awareness and support of these wines. Petite Sirah has found a true home in California, and plantings have also been recorded in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Cellar owners would love P.S. as the wines tend to age very well, upwards of 10 years. Patience is rewarded when aging this varietal.

Stag's Leap Winery's 2010 Petite Sirah shows the powerful tannins, inky dark colouring and juicy palate that are trademark to the varietal. Full-bodied and complex, the bouquet contains notes of black fruit, tobacco and cedar. This wine was best after decanting for 4 hours. Pairs well with grilled lamb or roast beef, and will age beautifully in the next 7-10 years.

Stargroves 2008 Petite Sirah is approachable now, with an elegance and refined structure consistent with the Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. Supple tannins are harmoniously balanced with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherries, tobacco and rubber linger on the palate through to the long and lively finish. Surprisingly drinkable on it's own, and also pairs well with red meats and hard cheeses. Decant for 1-2 hours.

Petite Sirah has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in Eastern France to thriving in the California limelight. If you enjoy dark, bold, tannic reds, this varietal will not disappoint! So treat yourself like the star you are and try a bottle today!


Saturday, January 4, 2014

My Favourite Wines Tasted in 2013

Happy New Years!

This past year was a busy one on my wine journey. From Gruner Veltliner to Gaja, I was able to taste wines from many different regions. There were some surprises on the way; the biggest one being my new-found appreciation of Chilean wines. Traditions were also continued, like The Pinot Noir Project and a return visit to the Okanagan in the summer. My experience with WSET Advanced classes gave me a ton to learn and taste. Here are some of my favourites from 2013 , with the country and region of origin for each wine also listed. Anything with a (v) means the wine is a great value at under $20 CDN:

Top Whites
It seems like 2011 was a good year for white wine producers all around. The Pfaffenheim is priced at just over $20 CDN, making all four of these wines an excellent value.
1. Santa Rita 120 Sauvignon Blanc 2011-Chile (v)
2. Rabl Gruner Veltliner 2011-Austria (v)
3. Pfaffenheim Pinot Gris 2011-Alsace, France
Honourable Mention: St Urbans-Hof Old Vines Riesling 2011-Mosel, Germany (v)

Top Reds
There wasn't any consistent red wine trend for me this year; however, I did develop a fondness for Italy's southern reds like Nero d'Avola and blends using the grape. With the exception of the Tedeschi Amarone (a beautiful splurge at $50), these wines are priced between $22-$33 CDN.
1. Chateau Beaumont 2008-Bordeaux, France
2. Tedeschi Amarone della Valpolicella 2005-Italy
3. Donnafugata Sedara 2010-Sicily, Italy
Honourable Mention: Concha y Toro Terrunyo Cabernet Sauvignon DO Pirque 2008-Chile

Top Sparkling Wines
Those who know me know that I will always splurge on Champagne when I can. This year I was fortunate enough to taste some premium Champagne thanks to the WSET Advanced classes. There are plenty of excellent value sparkling wine options in the world, and Martini & Rossi's Asti fits the bill at $15 CDN.
1. Dom Ruinart 1998
2. Pol Roger 2000
Honourable Mention: Martini & Rossi Asti (v)

Top Sweet Wines
Once again, I was fortunate enough to try a premium Tokaji thanks to the WSET classes. Chateau Guiraud's Petit Guiraud retails at $30 CDN for a 375ml bottle and the Rutherglen Muscat is an excellent value at just under $30 as well.
1. Hetszolo Tokaji 6 Puttonyos 2001-Hungary
2. Chateau Guiraud Petit Guiraud 2010-Sauternes, France 
3. Rutherglen Muscat-Australia

Top Rose Wines
There are plenty of good quality sparkling rose wines that are good values because they do not come from the Champagne region. The Louis Bouillot is made using the same grapes and method as Rose Champagne, and priced just over $20 CDN! 
Still: Quail's Gate 2012 Rose-Okanagan, Canada (v)
Sparkling: Veuve Clicquot Brut Rose N/V-France
Honourable Mention, Sparkling: Louis Bouillot Cremant de Bourgogne Brut Rose N/V-Burgundy, France

Top Value Wines (under $20 CDN)
This year's value hot-spots are California and Chile. Both regions are producing some powerful, yet smooth and silky wines that rival their Old World counterparts, and are available at a fraction of the price!
1. Ravenswood Old Vines Zinfandel 2011-California, USA
2. The Dreaming Tree Chardonnay 2010-California, USA
3. Vina Casa Silva Carmenere Reserva 2009-Chile

My Top Food & Wine Pairings
Interesting note: Kendall Jackson shared the photo of their Pinot and burger pairing on both their twitter and Facebook pages!
1. Tarte Tatin with Le Petit Guiraud 2010
2. Pork, Mushroom & Blue Cheese Burgers with Kendall Jackson's 2010 Vintner's Reserve Pinot Noir (v)
3. Grilled Lamb Chops with M. Chapoutier 2010 Crozes-Hermitage

Hopefully you'll find this list useful-maybe there's a wine here that you've been wanting to try, or one that piques your interest. I would drink any of these again, and likely will in 2014. Enjoy!