Last Friday evening, I attended Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing tasting at Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda, across the bay from San Francisco.

Fuzzy label, delicious wine, at the 2010 Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting.

Late Friday, after returning to Cotati in Sonoma County from the wine tasting, I began to experience an alternately runny/stuffy nose. It has been warm, following rains in northern California, the hills are green, mustard and other ground cover is blooming between the vine rows, and I had to wonder if I might have developed an allergy to something.

Saturday, I found myself in the grips of the mother of all head colds, and the affliction saw me spend most of yesterday in bed. I am not 100% today, but I had to get up and write this overdue recap of Dark & Delicious.

There were 30 restaurants offering up tasty Petite Sirah bites; I did not taste from all of the restaurants but of those I tasted food from, my favorites were:

  • Harvest Catering – White Corn Polenta Cake with Braised Kobe Beef Short Ribs and California Orange Gremolata.
  • Andalu Restaurant – Rosemary, Thyme and Juniper Wild Boar and Bacon Meatballs

  • 9 Catering – Lamb Tenderloin with Minty Labneh, Hummus, Arugula and Pomegranate.

  • Fume Bistro & Bar – Petite Sirah Braised Short Ribs on Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Angela’s Bistro – Chocolate Drizzled Bacon Slices.

My favorite was Fume Bistro’s Short Ribs and Garlic Mashed Potatoes, although Harvest Catering’s Orange Gremolata is something I will be stealing for my own – it was deliciously brilliant and flavor intensive.

There were so many other yummy things, sliders, pate, cheese, and even a paella prepared on premise (that I sadly didn’t taste).

Giant Paella pans

For those unfamiliar with Petite Sirah, it is a smaller grape with a higher skin to juice ration. The skin is very dark, and where most red grapes yield clear juice, even the juice of Petite Sirah is colored when pressed from the skins. Skin contact during fermentation yields a very dark, sometimes midnight blue black, with black plum and blueberry notes, mixed with chocolate and woody spice.

Everyone was enjoying themselves at the event.

I had contacted the 45 wineries scheduled to pour Petite Sirah in advance of the event, and 43/45 furnished me with the information needed to prepare a tasting order by alcohol content percentage, from low to high. When I arrived at the event, I found the wineries were not arranged in alphabetical order. Between the random winery placement and the quickly developing crowds, my efforts and planned tasting order were quickly out the window. Thanks to all of the wineries who helped me, I apologize for not being able to taste all of the wines poured, or even a wine from each of the pouring wineries. My tastings were random and haphazard, but I did maintain rudimentary notes.

Where I tasted a few Zinfandels at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events that I would never want again, I found that the Petite Sirah poured at Dark & Delicious were more uniformly, well, delicious. An easier grape to work with, it allows a winemaker an easier path to good wine. Toward the end of the event, the tell tale blue staining of teeth marked this event as a rousing success.

The following are wines that I tasted and would recommend. Most would have earned Gold medals from me, some Silver, and a couple Bronze, but all were noteworthy.

  • 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah Yolo County $18
  • 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah $45
  • 2005 Concannon Reserve Estate Petite Estate
  • 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St Helena Napa Valley $45
  • 2006 Field Stone Winery Staten Family Estate Bottled Reserve Petite Sirah Alexander Valley $35

Field Stone’s yummy AV Petite

  • 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah Red Hills Lake County $25
  • 2007 Grizzly Republic Roadrunner Farm Petite Sirah Paso Robles $42

A Grizzly pair

  • 2007 Guenoc Petite Sirah Lake County $20
  • 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Clarksburg $26
  • 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Serpentine Meadow $40
  • 2006 Lava Cap Petite Sirah Granite Hill $30
  • 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah North Coast $15
  • 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $23
  • 2007 Mounts Family Winery Estate Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $32

Mounts and Stanton; or Stanton and Mounts

  • 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Like Father Like Son (Syrah/Petite Sirah blend) Napa Valley $46
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aging) Napa Valley $75
  • 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah Party Line Napa Valley
  • 2006 Robert Biale Petite Vineyards Sirah Royal Punishers Napa Valley $46
  • 2007 Rock Wall Petite Sirah Dry Creek Valley $28
  • 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah Bingham Ranch

An R&B Cellars barrel

  • 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, The Terraces, Southern Oregon $35
  • 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah St Helena Napa Valley $45
  • 2007 Tres Sabores Petite Sirah Napa Valley $45

Julie Johnson, owner and winemaker, Tres Sabores

  • 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah Calaveras County $24

Twisted Oak’s El Jefe

  • 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah Penman Springs Paso Robles
  • 2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah Lodi $12

In addition to tasting many delicious wines and yummy food treats, the event allowed me to meet Jo Diaz, Thea Dwelle, and Eric Hwang. Jo organized this entire Petite Sirah tasting event, Thea is a bay area Twitter wine superstar, and Eric is demonstrating that Marketing can be effectively incorporated into a winery’s Social Media Marketing plan.

Jo Diaz, Petite Sirah’s best friend

Eric and Thea,  my tweeps @bricksofwine and @winebratsf

A band played live music in one corner of the facility, while a DJ played music in the opposite corner of the huge building. There was dancing, tasting, auction prize bidding, and art raffle. Thanks to PSILoveYou.org and all of the wineries, restaurants and volunteers who helped make this a first class wine event.

The band

Art for raffle.

Melanie, PSILoveYou superstar volunteer

I tasted some Petites that screamed Terroir, you noticed where they came from long before you appreciated the varietal. I tasted wines with almost no place identity, but had perfectly captured the varietal’s typicity. Some wines that I scored highly made the list because of where they came from, others because of their “correctness”.

My #1 favorite wine of the tasting wasn’t even a Petite Sirah, strictly speaking, but a blend of Syrah and Petite Sirah, the 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Like Father Like Son Napa Valley $46.

My favorite wine tasted, the not yet released Robert Biale Syrah/Petite Sirah Blend.

I was thrilled to find both the 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah North Coast  $15 and 2007 Guenoc Petite Sirah Lake County $20 (You can often find this Guenoc in markets for $12-$16) drinking well. Both are approachable, varietally correct, and affordable.

Last week, I wrote about this Friday’s Petite Sirah tasting and food pairing, Dark & Delicious, in Alameda, CA

I wrote that, inspired by a conversation with Ravenswood’s Joel Peterson, I wanted to taste the wines being poured by the 45 participating Petite Sirah producing wineries in order by alcohol percentage, from low to high.

Many wineries wrote and thanked me for ordering my tastes this way, they appreciated having a chance to have their wines tasted and not overshadowed by a wine of overly high alcohol percentage.

I am thrilled to report that 95.56% of the participating wineries have responded with the requested information. Here is my tasting list, updates continued through Thursday at noon; feel free to copy or print it for your own use if you are attending Dark & Delicious too:

13.0% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyards Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

13.3% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Vineyard Blend, California $16

13.5% alc. 2007 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California (Clarksburg & Lodi) $12

13.5% alc. 2005 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 200 cases, $45

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

13.5% alc. 2007 (Langtry) Guenoc Petite Sirah, Lake County $20

13.5% alc.  2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery), Perite Sirah, Lodi  (Petite Sirah blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $12

13.8% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Mendocino County (87% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, 6% Charbono) $20

13.8% alc. 1998 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

13.8% alc. 2000 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

13.8% alc. 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, Southern oregon, The Terraces $35

13.9% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Garzini Ranch, Mendocino County (100% Petite Sirah) $36

13.9% alc. 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 320 cases, $45

13.9% alc. 2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $15

14.0% alc. 2006 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 250 cases, $45

14.2% alc. 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah, Roadrunner Farm, Paso Robles, $42

14.2% alc. 2005 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Lodi $22

14.3% alc. 1999 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

14.3% alc. 2007 Silkwood Wines Petite Sirah (494 cases) $39

14.3% alc. 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah, Calaveras County (any others in a vertical fall in a 14.1-14.3 range) $24

14.4% alc. 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah, Bingham Ranch

14.5% alc 2007 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

14.5% alc. 2006 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $25

14.5% alc. 2004 Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyard Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc.  2006 Field Stone Winery staten Family reserve Petite sirah, alexander Valley Estate Bottled (112 year old head pruned rocky clay soil vineyard) $35

14.5% alc. 2005 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $20

14.5% alc. 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah., Red Hills, Lake County $25

14.5% 2006 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah (370 cases, 100% Petite Sirah) $28

14.5% alc. 2005 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $21

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

14.5% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, Serpentine Meadow $40

14.5% alc. 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah, North Coast $15

14.5% alc. 2007 Michael~David Winery Petite Petit, Lodi (85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot) $18

14.5% alc. 2007 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (100% Petite Sirah, 369 cases) $23

14.5% alc. 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30

14.5% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Picket road Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $35

14.5% alc. 2006 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah, Napa County $38

14.5% alc 2005 Stinehedge Terror Select Petite Syrah, (Pallini Ranch) Mendocino County $26

14.5% alc. (estimated) 2007 Tres Sabores Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $45

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Paso Robles (250 cases) $22

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite sirah, Old Vines, Paso Robles $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Wilson Vineyards Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $12

14.6% alc. 2007 Clayhouse Estate “Show Pony” Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $40

14.6% alc. 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard

14.7% alc. 2006 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah, Fig tree Vineyard $35

14.7% alc. 2008 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir, Barrel Sample (Rhone blend anchored with Petite Sirah, polished with Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault & Grenache), Paso Robles

14.7% alc. 2006 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County (75 cases) $38

14.8% alc. 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah, Yolo County $18

14.8% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (a little over 50% Petite Sirah, then old vine Zinfandel, then old vine Mouvedre) Blend, California $16

14.8% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay Contra Costa County (98% Petite Sirah, 2% Zinfandel) $18

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

14.9% alc 2006 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

14.9% alc. 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St. Helena Napa Valley (314 cases) $45

14.9% alc. (labeled at 15.1%) Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Hill

14.9% alc. Rock Wall Wine Co Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (any ’09 barrel samples are in the 14% arena) $28

14.9% alc. 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, St. Helena, Napa Valley (300 cases) $45

14.9% alc. Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills $22

15.0% alc. 2006 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

15.0% alc. 2007 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

15.0% alc. 2007 Charter Oak Old Vine Napa Valley Petite Sirah (150 cases) $42

15.0% alc. 2006 Earthquake (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah, Lodi (Petite Sirah with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $28

15.0% alc. 2006 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah, royal Punishers, Napa Valley $46

15.1% alc. 2003 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $45

15.1% alc. 2006 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2007 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

15.1% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Penman Springs, Paso Robles

15.2% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Reserve Petite Sirah, Rockpile $45

15.4% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Jardine, Paso Robles $26

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

15.5% alc. 2007 Mounts Family Winery estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aged), Napa Valley (225 cases) $70

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father Like Son” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, Napa Valley (350 cases)

18.0% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $25/500 ml

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

20.0% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $18

20.6% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Port, Serpentine Vineyard, Guenoc Valley $25/375 ml

I will be limiting my tasting, and review notes, to the wineries that were able to provide helpful responses. Thank you to the awesome 93% who got back to me, with great professionalism and nearly uniform good cheer.

Every once in a while, I do an entry that covers more than one subject. These “potpourri” entries serve a couple of purposes; they allow me to tell you about things that don’t merit an entry of their own, they allow me to let you get a glimpse of what you might expect to see in the future, and they provide an entry where I can drop the mantle of wine blogger and just be John for a minute – perhaps getting off topic. In case you haven’t guessed yet, this is one of those entries.

__________

If you look up at the name of the blog in the vineyards scene header, you may notice the name of the blog has changed. So has the web address, or url, although the old one will continue to bring you here.

“John on wine, food, and living in the wine country” and http://johncesano.wordpress.com have become the much simpler “John On Wine” and JohnOnWine.com so let me welcome you to the newly christened wine, food, and wine country blog John On Wine.

When I attended ZAP on a press credential, I was asked for my business card many times over the three days I attended the ZAP Zinfandel tasting events. Knowing that business cards for the upcoming Dark & Delicious Petite Sirah tasting, and future events and visits, would be a good idea, I had to decide what information to put on the cards.

In the end my old site name was too long and cumbersome; I had to decide between JohnCesano.com  and JohnOnWine.com, and as no one has spelled my name correctly when hearing it for the first time, or pronounced it correctly when reading it for the first time, I decided to let go of ego and go with the simple site name.

Needless to say, I have new business cards.

The advantages to the new name are huge, if someone asks me about my blog, I can give them an address they can remember until they get home and log on. Readers can direct their friends to my site with much greater ease, I can hear it now, “It is John on wine dot com, John with an h, and John on wine all run together.”

I had to go to twitter and change from @JohnCesano to @JohnOnWine, and then update other social networks in a similar fashion, changing the name of my facebook group page and networked blogs account.

As on of my winery friends from twitter @PushbackWines said, “Nice, as they say, K.I.S.S.”

A downside is that I may have lost my Google PageRank, and several ranking lists will have the old url, or worse may lose track of my site altogether.

In the past, I used to point to the ranking pages when justifying requests for wines to sample, however my site is well established, the articles are solid, and I don’t feel the need to justify anymore. The site speaks for itself now.

__________

Speaking of wine samples, the mailman and UPS guy were at my house yesterday. I have four books to review, and about a dozen more wines to taste and review.

Thanks to the wineries and wine book publishers who see value in what I do.

__________

I can actually give a review of one of the books that arrived yesterday, because I didn’t have to read every word:

:WineSpeak:, A vinous thesaurus of (gasp) 36,975 bizarre, erotic, funny, outrageous, poetic, silly and ugly wine tasting descriptors. Who knew? by Bernard Klem

In :WineSpeak:, Klem has lifted and collated every descriptor for wine from hundreds of wine writers, from the well known and respected to the more niche and lesser known. Books, periodicals, web and blog sites from the pompously staid to the excitingly edgy were scoured by Klem to produce “WineSpeak:, a master wine tasting descriptor thesaurus.

Klem’s :WineSpeak:  has separated the wine descriptors into 3 major categories Appearance, Smell & Taste, and Distinctiveness, and then further broken down into 27 sub-categories, from Clarity (“so dense you need x-ray vision to see through it”) and Color (“dark red with purple-blue tinge”) through Acid (“enamel ripping”) and Tannin (“undrinkable tough”) , from Fruit (“piercing scents of black currants and raspberries”) and Wood (“overburdened by oak”) to Balance (” like a Michelangelo…everything in perfect proportion”) and Finish (“long, pure and drawn out”) – plus 19 more.

Aditionally, Klem has 20 special categories of wine descriptors, such as Terroir or Terror (“when you drink this wine you drink the place”) and An Ecstasy of Erotica (“like performing a sexual act that involves silk sheets, melted dark chocolate and black cherries while the mingles scents of cinnamon, coffee and cola waft through the air”).

Randomly opening the book, I found 138 descriptors for tannin on one page – and there seven pages of descriptors for just for tannin.

:WineSpeak: is an entertaining resource work for the general drinker of wine, and has earned a permanent place of importance on my wine reference shelf.

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0980064805/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

__________

For next Friday’s big Petite Sirah and food tasting, Dark & Delicious, I contacted all of the participating wineries by email and asked that they provide me a little information: I asked which wines they would be pouring, and I asked the alcohol percentage of those wines. I wanted to create a list of the wines to be tasted, ordered by alcohol percentage, so I could fairly taste and report on the wines tasted. Any other order of tasting puts lower alcohol wines at risk of not showing well as their flavors might be overwhelmed by previously tasted high alcohol wines.

In addition to contacting each winery by email, I tagged each winery in my blog entry about the ordered tasting list I was creating for myself and any of my readers who wanted to use it as well.

The event organizer also contacted participating wineries to let them know I was compiling a list of wines to taste and review.

In some cases, I sent second and third emails, and finally I made a phone call to each winery that didn’t respond to electronic communication. I have been able to collect the requested information from fully 95.56% of the participating wineries.

I love wine, wineries, vineyards, and the wine country in general, and  I would like to see them look as capable at business as they are at winemaking. I do my best. I wholly appreciate that the handful of non responding wineries are likely small wineries, running on skeleton crews, short on staff, and lacking in communication infrastructure.

To that end, when I taste the Petite Sirah wines poured at Dark & Delicious, any that are flawed or not to my taste will not be written about by me. That’s how I recapped my recent experiences at the ZAP Zinfandel tasting. I prefer to write about the positive things I experience.

In that vein, I want to express my appreciation to the 95.56%, the wineries who helped me when asked, who provided a little information upon request. Thank you for your near uniform professionalism and good cheer.

__________

I have been around wine forever, when Jeopardy has “wine” as a category I always sweep the category at home, but this week I found out something I never knew – but should have.

The US Government allows a 1.5% leeway in the accuracy of the alcohol percentage indicated on a wine’s label. In other words, a wine label with “12% by volume” might actually be as low as 10.5% or as high as 13.5% alcohol – this 1.5% leeway is allowed on wines as long as the wine does not exceed 13.9% (the Federal government collects more tax on wines 14% alcohol by volume and above). The permissible leeway is reduced to 1.0 % on wines over 14% in alcohol (however, the wine may not be less than 14%).

To me, this is just weird. Why bother to state an alcohol percentage to a tenth of a percentage point if it can be off by 1-1.5%?

How about honesty on the label, either “12 percent, give or take” or “ACTUAL 12.0 percent”?

I am sure that there is a reason that a winemaker can give me, probably owing to wine’s ever changing, living, nature, for the allowed leeway for stated alcohol percentage by volume on a wine label.

__________

I just found out that Susan Johnson, who was going to accompany me to Dark and Delicious next Friday, has had a surprise family affair pop up in conflict for the same day.

I will be looking for someone else to join me next Friday evening for a terrific tasting of Petite Sirah and food.

__________

Recently, I traveled from Cotati to Lucas Wharf in Bodega Bay on the Pacific ocean in Sonoma County to buy a quart of the most amazingly versatile and delicious passionfruit and chili sauce from the Island Deli..

The day was one of the sunny, blue sky days, sandwiched in between our rainy days. I had my son Charlie with me.

Sadly, the fish stall at the Wharf was not open (it was a weekend), but the smell of the ocean, fishy, briny, rich with sea life and the lingering smell of past catches was intoxicatingly wonderful.

Driving back to Ukiah from Bodega Bay, Charlie and I traveled the gorgeous west county of Sonoma County, Coleman Valley Road, Joy Road, Graton Road, 116, Occidental. Green, green, green. Cows, Llamas, Horses. Oak trees, Redwood trees, grape vines. It was so lush and beautiful. We had a really nice time driving home.

__________

DISCLOSURE: I received :WineSpeak: by Bernard Klem as a sample book from the Wine Appreciation Guild.

I am attending Dark & Delicious, a Petite Sirah and food pairing event on February 19, 2010 from 6pm – 9pm at the Rock Wall Wine Company in Alameda California. Susan Johnson, one of my favorite wine and food gals, will be accompanying me to the tasting.

Tickets are available at just $60 each, and include free parking, wines from 45 top Petite Sirah producers and 31 great restaurants. This is a GREAT event, tickets can be purchased online at Dark & Delicious Event

In the wake of getting my palate assaulted by some frighteningly high alcohol Zinfandels at the recent ZAP tasting, I want to approach the upcoming Petite Sirah tasting a little differently. It is unfair to the producers of lower alcohol wines to taste their wines directly after tasting a wine of high alcohol.

Among the many pearls of wisdom Joel Peterson of Ravenswood shared after his son Morgan’s presentation at ZAP was the belief that wines to be tasted should be ordered by alcohol percentage, from low to high, and where two or more wines are being poured with the same alcohol percentage, by residual sugar from low to high.

Peterson said that the three sins of Zinfandel winemaking are too much alcohol, too much sugar, and too much oak. I think that winemakers make less palatable wines, committing all three sins, to try to have their wines noticed by Parker and Spectator tasters who have to taste large numbers of wines at the same time.

I tasted fewer than 80 wines over 3 days for review consideration at ZAP this year, I can be honest with myself about palate fatigue and assault. I marvel at those who claim the ability to taste over 200 wines and fairly assign point scores to the wines they taste. I’ll be honest, I think most are full of hooey; I agree with Joel Peterson sentiment, the only way to taste over 200 wines fairly for assigning point scores is to order the wines by alcohol, not just alphabetically, and I am sure those who tasted such prodigious quantities of wine made no such effort.

At Dark & Delicious, a PS I Love You event, at least 45 top producers of Petite Sirah will pour their wines. I estimate there will be 75 or so different wines to taste. In an effort to fairly taste the wines at the event, yesterday I sent the following email message to each of the 45 participating wineries:

“I will be attending Dark & Delicious.

Sadly, I will be spitting as I will be trying to taste all of the Petite Sirah being poured. I will be posting my notes on my wine blog, much as I did for the recent Zap tasting 19TH Annual Zinfandel Festival

One thing I wished at ZAP was that all of the wines werre arranged in order of alcohol percentage low to high. I found that after tasting a monster alcohol zin, the notes of the next zin tasted seemed muted. I would like to know what Petite Sirah(s) you will be pouring at Dark & Delicious, please include alc %, so I can order my tastings in advance.

Thank you very much.

John Cesano”

It may have taken mutiple emails, and phone calls in some cases, but I am thrilled to report that responses are coming in big. Here is what I have (95.56% of the participating wineries have already responded with the information requested):

13.0% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyards Reserve Nina’s Cuvee Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

13.3% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Vineyard Blend, California $16

13.5% alc 2007 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah, California (Clarksburg & Lodi) $12

13.5% alc. 2005 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 200 cases, $45

13.5% alc. Concannon Vineyard Conservancy Petite Sirah $15

 

13.5% alc. 2007 (Langtry) Guenoc Petite Sirah, Lake County $20

 

13.5% alc.  2007 Windmill (Michael~David Winery), Perite Sirah, Lodi  (Petite Sirah blended with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $12

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Mendocino County (87% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, 6% Charbono) $20

 

13.8% alc. 1998 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

13.8% alc. 2000 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

 

13.8% alc. 2007 Spangler Vineyards Petite Sirah, Southern oregon, The Terraces $35

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah, Garzini Ranch, Mendocino County (100% Petite Sirah) $36

 

13.9% alc. 2007 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 320 cases, $45

13.9% alc. 2006 Pedroncelli Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $15

14.0% alc. 2006 Cleavage Creek Napa Valley Reserve Petite Sirah, 250 cases, $45

14.2% alc. 2007 Grizzly Republic Petite Sirah, Roadrunner Farm, Paso Robles, $42

14.2% alc. 2005 Mettler Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Lodi $22

 

14.3% alc. 1999 F. Teldeschi Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $36

14.3% alc. 2006 Marr Cellars Cuvee Patrick Petite Sirah

14.3% alc. 2007 Silkwood Wines Petite Sirah (494 cases) $39

 

14.3% alc. 2006 Twisted Oak Petite Sirah, Calaveras County (any others in a vertical fall in a 14.1-14.3 range) $24

14.4% alc. 2008 R&B Cellars Pizzicato Petite Sirah, Bingham Ranch

14.5% alc. 2007 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Clayhouse Estate Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $25

14.5% alc. 2004 Concannon Vineyard Heritage Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Concannon Vineyard Captain Joe’s Reserve Petite Sirah, Livermore Valley $30

14.5% alc.  2006 Field Stone Winery staten Family reserve Petite sirah, alexander Valley Estate Bottled (112 year old head pruned rocky clay soil vineyard) $35

14.5% alc. 2005 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $20

 

14.5% alc. 2007 Fortress Vineyards Petite Sirah., Red Hills, Lake County $25

14.5% alc. 2006 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.5% alc. 2005 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $21

14.5% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah, Clarksburg

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah, Serpentine Meadow $40

14.5% alc. 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah, North Coast $15

14.5% alc. 2007 Michael~David Winery Petite Petit, Lodi (85% Petite Sirah, 15% Petit Verdot) $18

14.5% alc. 2006 Miro Cellars Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (100% Petite Sirah, 369 cases) $23

 

14.5% alc. 2006 Parducci True Grit Petite Sirah, Mendocino County $30

14.5% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Picket Road Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $35

14.5% alc. 2006 Stags’ Leap Petite Sirah, Napa County $38

14.5% alc. 2005 Stonehedge Terroir Select Petite syrah, (Pallini Ranch) Mendocino County $26

14.5% alc. (estimated) 2007 Tres sabores Petite Sirah, Napa Valley $45

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Paso Robles (250 cases) $22

14.5% alc. 2006 Ursa Vineyards Petite sirah, Old Vines, Paso Robles $30

14.5% alc. 2006 Wilson Vineyards Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $12

14.6% alc. 2007 Gustafson Family Vineyards Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Mountain Vineyard $28

14.6% alc. 2007 Clayhouse Estate “Show Pony” Petite Sirah, Paso Robles $40

14.7% alc. 2006 Ballentine Vineyards Petite Sirah, Fig tree Vineyard $35

14.7% alc. 2008 Grizzly Republic Gypsy Noir, Barrel Sample (Rhone blend anchored with Petite Sirah, polished with Syrah, Mouvedre, Cinsault & Grenache), Paso Robles

 

14.7% 2006 Jazz Cellars Petite Sirah, Eaglepoint Ranch, Mendocino County (75 cases) $38

14.8% alc. 2006 Berryessa Gap Estate Grown Reserve Petite Sirah, Yolo County $18

14.8% alc 2006 Bogle Vineyards Phantom (a little over 50% Petite Sirah, then old vine Zinfandel, then old vine Mouvedre) Blend, California $16

14.8% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Heritage Clones Petite Sirah, San Francisco Bay $18

14.8% alc. 2007 Trentadue Petite Sirah, North Coast

14.9% alc. 2006 Bogle Vineyards Reserve Petite Sirah, Clarksburg $20

 

14.9% alc. 2006 David Fulton Winery Estate Bottled Petite Sirah St. Helena Napa Valley (314 cases) $45

14.9% alc. (labeled at 15.1%) Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Hill

14.9% alc. Rock Wall Wine Co Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley (any ’09 barrel samples are in the 14% arena) $28

14.9% alc. 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah, St. Helena, Napa Valley (300 cases) $45

14.9% alc. Ursa Vineyards Petite Sirah, Sierra Foothills $22

15.0% alc. 2006 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Aver Family Vineyards Blessings, Petite Sirah, Central Coast $55

 

15.0% alc. 2007 Charter Oak Old Vine Napa Valley Petite Sirah (150 cases) $42

 

15.0% alc. 2006 Earthquake (Michael~David Winery) Petite Sirah, Lodi (Petite Sirah with a bit of Cabernet Sauvignon) $28

15.0% alc. 2006 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah, royal Punishers, Napa Valley $46

15.1% alc. 2003 Foppiano Vineyards Estate Reserve Petite Sirah, Russian River Valley $45

15.1% alc. 2006 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2007 Lava Cap Estate Petite Sirah, Granite Springs

15.1% alc. 2005 Trentadue La Storia Petite Sirah

15.1% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Penman Springs, Paso Robles

15.2% alc. 2007 Rosenblum Cellars Rockpile Road Reserve Petite Sirah, Rockpile $45

 

15.4% alc. 2007 Vina Robles Petite Sirah, Jardine, Paso Robles $26

15.5% alc. 2007 Berryessa Gap Durif, Yolo County

15.5% alc. 2007 Mounts Family Winery estate Petite Sirah, Dry Creek Valley $32

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards Petite Sirah EBA (Extended Barrel Aged), Napa Valley (225 cases) $70

15.5% alc. 2007 Robert Biale Vineyards “Like Father Like Son” Syrah/Petite Sirah blend, Napa Valley (350 cases)

18.0% alc. 2006 Heringer Estates Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $25/500 ml

18.0% alc. 2006 Trentadue Petite Sirah Port

20.0% 2006 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah Port, Clarksburg $18

 

20.6% alc. 2006 Langtry Estate Petite Sirah Port, Serpentine Vineyard, Guenoc Valley $25/375 ml

Thanks again to the wineries that responded to my request(s) for information. I will be limiting my tasting, and review notes, to your wines.

I know that I have quite a few readers in the bay area, and a number who will also be attending the Dark & Delicious tasting. Feel free to use this list when planning your tasting order.

Look for me at the tasting, I’ll be the taster zig zagging through the event in an effort to give each winery’s Petite Sirah pourings a fair taste.

Cheers.

Wine. Just four little letters, wine; but thousands of books have been published on the subject, with hundreds more written every year, countless magazines, periodicals, and trade publications are printed monthly, and writers opine in columns appearing in the newspapers of nearly every city in the world each week.

Wine. What insightful and new bits of information and wisdom do I have to share, that hasn’t been imparted, shared, by numerous others before?

I will likely add nothing new, and yet my experiences, uniquely my own, may trigger memories of similar experiences you hold; and a particular bottle, and the place you tasted it, and the people you tasted it with, may come back to you as clearly as yesterday. Maybe it was yesterday.

I am wine geekier than most. Experienced, a professional’s palate, around wine all of my life, with developed preferences, I am a Frasier Crane without the pretentiousness, without the snobbiness.  Raised on Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, I love big rich red wines; ideally with a ton of structure supporting accessible forward fruit. If an old friend showed up with a box of chilled white Zinfandel, something I personally have never bought for myself, I would work up a menu to feature the crushed-strawberry-over-ice notes it might have, pour myself a glass, and enjoy time shared with a friend.

The blackberry currant of a Cabernet, or the brambly raspberry and black pepper spice of a Zinfandel, breathed in through my nose buried in a large glass; the wine swirled, aroma molecules breaking free, traveling up my nose, aromas, bouquet, analyzed, information passed on to the brain for comparison with similar previous smelled items. Judgement, memories triggered, new memories being formed.

I love smelling wines. I can happily swirl 4 ounces of wine in the bottom of a 16 or 20 ounce glass, and inhale the wine, breathe in the smells, experience the changes as a newly opened wine’s tannins and alcohol heat flush dissipate and the fruit comes forward. I love to let a wine breathe in my glass, “nosing” it over and over.

I often open a wine to be used at dinner, either in the food as a part of the recipe, or as an accompanying meal beverage – or more often as both. I love wine, I love food, and I love to pour myself a glass of wine to smell and inspire me as I prep a meal’s ingredients. I often spend an hour just breathing in a wine before tasting it.

I have a picture that hangs over my desk, and has hung on the wall of each of the wine industry related offices I worked in over the years; in the picture are an 11 year old me, and my then 7 year old brother, crushing grapes by foot. Any fan of Lucy Ricardo’s I Love Lucy trip to Italy can recognize instantly what my brother and I are doing. I love the picture, because it demonstrates how far back wine reaches into my life.

While I grew up with, and always loved, wine, one of the first wines that made me sit up and take notice was the 1976 Simi Cabernet Sauvignon. As I didn’t turn 21 until 1982, I found it too late and had to purchase the wine as a library release directly from the winery. I think I was spending $50 a bottle 25 years ago. I couldn’t afford much back then, but somehow I managed to always have a couple of bottles on hand for years until the winery ran out.

Fifteen years later, my dad asked me to watch his house when he went on vacation to Italy; and tucked away, I found a bottle of 1976 Charles Krug. I invited a wine loving friend up to the house for dinner, planning to showcase the Krug. Robert Mondavi is one of my wine industry heroes, he is a God, having changed California winemaking for all wineries, not just the winery he created in his own name. Mondavi left his family’s winery, the Charles Krug winery, to make his own wines his own way, and in doing so paved the way for everyone else, including Krug, to make better wines. I looked forward to tasting the ’76 Krug Cab, a winery from a historied family, from an area known for growing great Cabernet grapes, from an incredibly good vintage. Would it have held up? Would it be faded? Would it be vinegar?

Typically, I opened the wine while prepping dinner, and was not thrilled with the nose, it seemed muted, very closed, possibly dead. As time went on, the alcohol flush disappeared, but all that was left was a tannic edge without much fruit. The wine had gone, sadly faded. I sniffed and sipped at 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, three hours. Nothing.

My friend came for dinner, we ate and glanced wistfully at the bottle that never opened up. As I plated dessert, I tried the 76 Krug Cab one more time. Oh My God. a wine aged under dubious conditions for twenty five years, left open to breathe for over 4 hours, finally opened to show off the most amazing array of fruit and leather and herb and spice. Rich, deep and full, our dinner wine became the sweetest non-sweet dessert wine ever.

I remember during barrel tasting weekend in Sonoma County tasting a Zinfandel at Preston Vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. I was stunned by the flavors, still in the barrel, with lots of growing up yet to do, I was tasting what I thought of as the best Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was so excited to taste the Zinfandel that would be made from this barrel. When at last the finished wine was blended and bottled, I tasted the newly released Zinfandel and was shocked.

Traditionally, Zinfandel may be blended with some Carignane, just as Cabernet Sauvignon is often blended with some Merlot. There are certain blendings, classic, that are accepted as appropriate and often result in a wine superior to the unblended wines otherwise made. Lou Preston chose to blend the best barrels of Zinfandel I had ever tasted with Cabernet, producing a wine that tasted like no other Zinfandel I had ever tasted. I was horrified, crushed, mourning the loss of what I had imagined.

Ignoring the label, putting aside expectations of what a Zinfandel should taste like, and what this Zinfandel could have tasted like, but tasting this wine as simply a red wine, and asking myself if I liked it or not, I found that I did indeed like it. I liked it quite a bit. I often took visiting friends by the Dry Creek Store for sandwiches, then to Preston Vineyards to buy a bottle of this Zinfandel, and over a few games of Bocce on the grounds of Preston Vineyards I would recount the tale of this wine from barrel to bottle, as I experienced it.

Another powerfully memorable wine is the 1995 Kistler Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, near where the Russian River empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Chardonnay seemed to hold every note in the nose and mouth that I had ever experienced in all other Chardonnays combined. It was all there: oak, toast, cream, vanilla, apple, pear, tropical and citrus, clove, caramel, butterscotch, and so much more. It was like tasting 1.5 Liters of flavor crammed into a 750 milliliter bottle. It was like magic, I have never experienced anything quite like it before or since.

I was in a restaurant in the foodie Buckhead section of Atlanta and saw the ’95 Kistler Chardonnay on the wine menu at $60 which is about the same as it cost on release in a store; remembering the magic, with great happiness, I ordered a bottle. The wine came to the table at perhaps a single degree above freezing, all of the amazing notes locked in by cold. This was a truly sad wine experience, to me it seemed criminal. I would much rather have enjoyed the wine at room temperature with the notes flying out of the glass than frozen and unable to escape.

From the 1973 vintage, Mike Grgich made Chateau Montelena a Chardonnay that won first place among the Chardonnays and white Burgundies at the famed 1976 Paris tasting using fruit that was purchased from the Bacigalupi vineyards in Sonoma County. I had a chance to taste wines made by California winemaker of the year Carol Shelton, using these same grapes, but from the superior 1995 vintage, for Windsor Vineyards. I had a stocked cellar of 360 bottles of wines at the time, I did not need more wine, but I found myself buying cases of this incredible Chardonnay.

Carol Shelton made wines that featured the flavors of the fruit, allowing the grapes and what they had experienced while on the vine to express itself in the bottle. One of the most consistent, approachable wines Shelton made year between the years of 1995 and 2000 was her Murphy Ranch Chardonnay for Windsor Vineyards. Legend, true or not I don’t know, is that Carol was able by contract to pick fruit from the Murphy Ranch in the Alexander Valley of Sonoma County before the vineyard owners could harvest the remaining grapes for use in their own Murphy Goode Chardonnay. All I know is that the Carol’s Murphy Ranch Chardonnay made up the largest portion of my collected Chardonnays during this time. I bought bottles from Murphy Goode each vintage as well to do a sort of horizontal tasting, same wine, same grapes, different winemaker.

I could write about the differences of the Chardonnays; the Kistler, the Montelena, the Windsor Bacigalupi Vineyard, the Windsor Murphy Ranch, The Murphy Goode; or about the different areas the grapes come from: Napa or the Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley and Coast appellations of Sonoma County; or about the different vintages the grapes were grown: the late frosts and early rains or the perfect long and warm growing seasons. It is all of this and more that makes wine endlessly fascinating to the wine geek in me; but suffice it to say that wine is alive, it changes, even twin bottles, cellared well, can taste different months apart.

I could write endlessly about wines, and the wineries and vineyards of my family home in Sonoma County, California. I could tell you about learning that wines change by vintage as my first wife and I had a favored wine become a least favored wine when the last bottle of one vintage was consumed and the first bottle of the new vintage was tasted. I could share that Sonoma County with half the wineries of Napa County wins twice as many Gold Medals in National and International wine competitions – and the wines cost less.

I could write about the lesser known wines of the county I now live in, Mendocino. The Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Anderson Valley; the similarities and differences of these grapes when compared with the grapes from the better known Russian River Valley of Sonoma County, the sparkling wine of Roederer Estate in the Anderson Valley compared to the California Champagne of the Russian River Valley’s Korbel. The lusciousness of Handley’s Anderson Valley Pinot, or the commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices of Mendocino County wineries – even wine giant Fetzer, located just off the 101 in Hopland. One of the most exciting one man wineries I know of is in Ukiah, where John Chiarito’s head pruned vines produce artisanal Italian varietals, Negroamaro and Nero D’Avloa, as well as gorgeously dense Petite Sirah and Zinfandel.

Mostly, when I write about wine, I want to share with you a memory; the taste of the wine, where I was, what I was doing, and who I was doing it with.

There are books dedicated to recommended pairings; red wine with meat, white wine with fish. I have found that any wine is best paired with friends.

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