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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Petite Sirah

A Petite Sirah kind of meal

Why doesn't anybody drink Petite Sirah?

OK, I have some ideas why.

1. How do you know when is an optimal drinking time for a Petite Sirah? You don't because it's never ready until all of a sudden it's over-the-hill. (Just kidding ... kinda).

2. Nobody knows what it is. It's not Syrah. (Who wants a "petite" one when you can get a regular Syrah?)

3. Confusing styles:
"Old style" meaning really drying when young--much more than Cabernet even.
"New" fruity style that's approachable when young -- same idea as the "fruit bomb" Zinfandels.

Characteristics of CA Petite Sirah

PS can be inky, dark, dense, and tannic when young. It's been used more as a blending grape with Zinfandel in California. Petite Sirah is "old California" in that they just don't make it like that any more.

You want your dentist to really hate you when you go in for a cleaning? Drink Petite Sirah.

If you're serving a young PS decant or use your wine aerator.

CA Producers

Some California producers that have been in the Petite Sirah business for a long time are Concannon, Field Stone, Foppiano, Lava Cap, Parducci, and Pedroncelli. There are others in the modern "fruit-forward" style that produce small quantities of expensive PS. But Petite Sirah should never be more than a $30 wine.

Concannon Petite Sirah, the '78 I think, was my first "wow" wine in that, "Wow, wine can taste like this!" Field Stone Alexander Valley Petite Sirah has been my favorite over the years.

Food matches

What sorts of foods go with PS? In the summer any red meat BBQ is great. Pretty much anywhere you'd serve a Cabernet. I usually think of heavy, beefy dishes when I think of Petite Sirah as it's a heavy, beefy wine.

Petite Sirah is also a good wintertime wine. Just like beer folks tend to switch to heavier, darker beers in the cold weather Petite Sirah is a darker, heavier wine. Think of PS as the Stout of wines.

I admit I don't have many in my own cellar. I've got some Field Stone, Meeker, Teldeschi, and Valley of the Moon Petites. Still, that's more than I have of Carignane (Carignane??).

Zichichi Petite

I recently discovered a new (to me) Petite Sirah producer. A tiny Dry Creek Valley operation called Zichichi. They had a couple estate Zins, a Cab, and an estate Petite Sirah. She had just opened a bottle of the 2006 so it was tight and tannic as young PS usually is, but will be a very nice wine. "Inky, blackberries" is the way I'd describe it. Only downside I could see was the $48 price tag.

More info

If you want to find out more about Petite Sirah check out PS I Love You.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wine Judging

First, I have never been a wine judge. I have taken a wine judging class at the local college, talked to judges, attended or worked at wine events that are judged. So I'm not an insider, but then I don't have anything to defend either.

Looking at a wine's medals is one way to decide to buy, but what does a medal actually mean?

First, a winery has to enter their wine in a judging. Sometimes the wine is actually picked by the event rather than the winery volunteering the wines. But most likely it's the winery deciding what wines to enter in what events. So a wine may get entered into lots of events, a few, or none. A wine that's available only at the winery and not sold retail or a wine that easily sells out every year is unlikely to be entered as the purpose of the judgings is to win medals and sell wine!

If you have the time and desire there are some things to investigate about individual medals giving at a competition.

1. How many wines were entered and how many received medals. If 80% of the wines got something then what's the point? Actually, the point is marketing. A winery is more likely to enter if they are likely to get a medal.

2. How many gold vs. silver vs. bronze medals were given out? If there were 20 wines in a particular category, 18 got medals, and 12 of those were gold then what's the point? However, if there were 200 wines in a category and two got gold then that should mean something.

How do judges do it? They taste a lot of wine over a couple days or a week. Palate fatigue is an issue. Sometime a wine may just stand out (not necessarily completely in a good way). Even the order the wines are tasted makes a difference. The first and the last wines get noticed. If there's a particularly "strong" or nasty wine whatever unfortunate wine to follow it is in trouble.

One interesting thing coming out of the wine judging class I took was you got "attaboys" for agreeing with the majority of the other folks and your judgement was suspect if you picked wines others didn't.

So should you care about medal-winning wines? Sure, it's a place to start. I would look for wineries winning in different competitions over multiple years. Of course, that's if you want to do the research on this. Why do this? Because a wine can easily get a gold in one competition and fail to get a medal in the next.

Like you I sometimes pick a wine on a retailer's shelf because there's a little card under it saying "Orange County Gold Medal Winner!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


We don't understand sparkling wine well because if we did we'd all be drinking a lot more bubbly.

Is sparkling wine just for:
-- New Years
-- Weddings
-- Major celebrations like job promotions, anniversaries?


What is a sparkling wine?

Sparkling wine and Champagne are the same. Champagne is sparkling wine from that district in France. Sparkling wine is more acidic than still wine and so has a bit of sugar added back in at the end of it's creation for a touch of sweetness to balance out the acids. The acid is what makes sparklers go so well with most foods.

Sparkling wine is different

OK, part of the problem is that sparkling wine is a bit confusing. Blame it on the French. :) After all, what's a cuvee or a dosage? (Pronounced doh-SAHJ just to add to the confusion). And when you're shopping an Extra Dry is actually kind of sweet; a Brut is much drier.

Also, opening a bottle of bubbly is a bit different. I've seen someone purposely try to shoot the cork out of a magnum of sparkling wine for distance -- it went a long way! Also, a few years ago, a winery to remain nameless was sued by a guy who damaged an eye opening a bottle. Apparently it wasn't the first bottle of the night. It can be a dangerous weapon--point it down range!

What food to serve with a sparkling wine

Question: What kind of wine goes with the salad course?
Answer: Either a sparkler or just have water.

The slightly sweet sparkling wines go well with desserts, plus fruits and nuts. With any rich food the acids in a sparkler will help cut through that richness.

Traditional pairings are sparkling wines with strawberries, with strong cheeses (such as Brie), and with chocolates, but there's so much more. Seafood, pastas, many spicy dishes, and salty foods are often better with a bubbly than with the usual still wines paired with them.

Chinese food and Gewürztraminer or beer? Try a bottle of bubbly!

Crab cakes and sparkling wine? A favorite! A very romantic pairing. To be ended with chocolate and sparkling wine, of course,

A nice bottle of bubbly makes any meal special.

California sparkling wine suggestions

Prices, for California wines anyway, are low for good quality sparklers. In Sonoma, Gloria Ferrer is one of the best for quality and price. Iron Horse and "J" Wineries are also outstanding. The best California sparklers come from Schramsberg in Napa Valley. They put on a great tour and tasting if you're ever in the neighborhood.

For a good $20 Brut try one of these from Sonoma, Napa or Mendocino County: Gloria Ferrer, as mentioned, plus Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon, Mumm, Piper Sonoma, and Roederer.

BTW, I just picked up a Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs for $17 at the local market.

Celebrate Every Day!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Holiday food/wine pairings

An often-asked question: What goes with my holiday dinner?

The basics of food & wine pairing are:

-- Don't let the wine flavors overwhelm the food, and vice versa. A young Cabernet with turkey? Probably not. But with just the cranberry sauce, probably yes. Of course, the focus of the meal is the turkey and stuffing.

-- It's not just the meat, it's the entire dinner, including any sauces. Halibut in butter with Zinfandel? Yuck. But fish with a flavorful salsa on top with Zin, probably.

The following suggestions would be for dry wines and nothing "special" added to the meats.

Ham -- Sparkling wine is my first choice (goes well with salty foods). Pinot Noir, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, or a dry Rosé can work, too.

Turkey -- Chardonnay, Rosé, or Pinot Noir.

Crab -- Chardonnay or Riesling.

Goose, Duck, Quail -- Pinot Noir or Merlot.

Lamb -- Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet blend, and many Italian wines.

Beef Roast -- Cabernet Sauvignon, a Cabernet blend, or Syrah.

Anywhere Pinot Noir is mentioned other softer, lighter reds would work well such as Beaujolais, many Rhones and Rhone blends. Also, sparkling wines go with almost any meal (especially ham, crab or turkey) and adds to the festivities.

While we're talking about "softer, lighter" wines it's important to realize that for most of these dishes listed a wine that's lower in tannin, alcohol and acid than some is generally a better match.

Some Pinots and Zinfandels especially can be hot--too high in alcohol. Some younger Cabernets are too tannic. And for some dishes a very dry sparkler, Sauvignon Blanc or Sangiovese can be too acidic. This doesn't mean you don't want tannin, acid or alcohol, but it can't be overwhelming.

Chardonnay usually shouldn't be over-oaked or too buttery.

Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Siduri / Novy Open House

Siduri is a well thought of Pinot Noir producer in Santa Rosa with a second label, Novy, for Syrahs. Each label makes a couple other things, but this is what they're known for.

A couple times a year they open up their warehouse for public tasting and some good sales.

My favorite was the 2008 Siduri Pisoni Vyds Pinot at $55. Pisoni is in Central CA. I bought the 2007 version of this wine last time.

But because only certain wines were on sale--and everybody is looking for good prices right now-- I bought the following:

2007 Siduri Amber Ridge Pinot Noir. Rich fruit, spice, and enough backbone to balance out.

2007 Siduri Keefer Pinot Noir. Not quite the strength of the Amber Ridge. A bit jammy, but should go for a year or two.

2006 Novy Napa Vly Syrah. Very good wine at a great sale price ($15).

2007 Novy Christensen Syrah. Nice fruit, spice, and depth.

Siduri makes reasonably priced Pinot labeled with a Sonoma County, Sonoma Coast, or Russian River appellation. These are usually around $25 and are good wines for the price.