Rehabilitating Petite Sirah
Because of its similar name, Petite Sirah is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a form of the Syrah grape of France (which the Australians call "Shiraz").
In fact, it is a different grape entirely. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Petite Sirah is actually the French Durif, a variety that most critics airly dismiss as a "lesser" grape. The chances are that the name was chosen consciously, perhaps to encourage the comparison, when California growers began planting it some 120 years ago.
Recent studies using DNA analysis, however, suggest a more confusing scenario in which a number of different and not necessarily related vines have been identified as Petite Sirah: A few prime patches are now actually thought to be genuine Syrah; some are Durif, some Peloursin (another obscure southern French grape that may be one parent in a cross that produced the original Petite Sirah), and still others may be "field blends" of anonymous old vines growing intermingled in the vineyard.
In other words, when you buy a Petite Sirah, you may not be quite sure just what's in the bottle.
But whatever it is, its image seems to be improving. Even those who dismiss Petite Sirah as rather one-dimensional and simple will usually acknowledge that it makes a gutsy, robust, full-bodied and tannic red, a fine accompaniment with red meat, games and strong cheeses, capable of cellaring for many years and eventually evolving into something more complex. When you think about it, that description offers a lot to like. Moreover, wine makers are learning to tame some of Petite Sirah's wildness to make a big but enjoyable wine with abundant fruit that can carry a good component of oak to add flavor interest and spice.
If you haven't tried a Petite Sirah lately, you might give it another chance. Do you have a favorite? Post a comment about it on our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=1, or tell me about it in an E-mail to email@example.com. I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note. But I'll respond to as many as I can and do my best to address specific questions. Please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.
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A fine Petite Sirah
Inky blackish-purple in the glass, typical of this variety; it breathes plummy, grapey aromas and sweet oak, with a hint of brown sugar in a forward, appealing scent. Big and full, mouth-filling black fruit and caramel flavors; a lemon-squirt of acidity and distinct but palatable tannins give it structure. Very interesting wine, more complex than many young Petite Sirahs; it would be well worth putting a few aside to see how they age. (Dec. 1, 2001)
FOOD MATCH: I turn again to Fred Plotkin's "La Terra Fortunata," full of recipes and lore of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, for a hearty lamb stew with onions that makes a fine match for this robust red.
WEB LINK: You'll find the Pedroncelli Website at http://www.pedroncelli.com/.
Come and visit these exclusive collections at www.2000yearsvintage.com by clicking to http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/porto.html.
Best values from France?
We think so, and we suspect that you do, too. That's what this week's Wine Lovers' Voting Booth is all about, as we ask you to survey the wine-making map of France and tell us, "What French wine region provides the best value?" Please click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/votebooth to cast your "vote" and compare your opinion to those of wine lovers from around the world.
I thought you would be interested in a report from Michael Skurnik Wines, which was instrumental in setting up this effort:
* Windows of Hope raised just over $2 million, and was fortunate to have The Community Service Society of New York (CSS) volunteer its expertise and services to assist with needs assessment and fund disbursement. CSS has been in operation for 150 years, helping residents of New York City in need.
* Last week, each of the 120 families identified as beneficiaries of the Windows of Hope Family Relief Fund received their first disbursement of $10,000 each.
* Now, two specially appointed case workers will meet with each family to assess their further needs. The remainder of the funds will be disbursed accordingly. Many other services are being offered to the families free of charge, including grief counseling and financial counseling. A Holiday party is also planned for the families this month.
Michael Skurnik said: "I would like to thank all of you who have supported The Windows of Hope Fund for your kindness, thoughtfulness, generosity and solidarity in the face of difficult times. Wishing all of us a Happy Holiday and a better, safer New Year!"
This week's Champagne
Champagne Drappier non-vintage "Carte Blanche" Brut ($31.99)
FOOD MATCH: Fashioning a light meal to complement Champagne, I came up with a simplified version of lamb quenelles (light "meatballs" of ground lamb, bread crumbs and egg) on a thick soup of celeriac, leeks and potato with a distinct dash of white pepper.
WEB LINK: You'll find the winery Website at http://www.champagne-drappier.com/; follow the national flag icons to pages in French, English, German or Spanish.
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Vol. 3, No. 46, Monday, Dec. 3, 2001