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Wine Without Pretense: Petite sirah is a big favorite

POSTED: July 4, 2012 1:00 a.m.

Petite sirah is anything but petite. This resurgent dry red table wine, often referred to as “a winemaker’s wine,” is climbing the popularity charts in this country, chasing such competitors as merlot, malbec and cabernet sauvignon for favor among American winos.

And if you never have tried a petite sirah, track one down, chill it slightly and pop the cork (or unscrew the cap) with a meal of hearty red meat or spicy food.

I recently had the chance to sample about a dozen petite sirahs and found some excellent wines, some very good wines and one or two “oh-well” wines. Overall quality and drinkability of PS is quite good, but it really does cry out for food.

If you want to know more about this welcome addition to the red wine list, it has its own website,
Jo Diaz runs PS I Love You, the cheerleading group for this particular wine, and I spoke with her recently about the love of her (wine) life. What’s so special about petite sirah? I asked.

“It seems petite sirah is a best-kept secret, and it’s always proving to be a winemaker’s wine,” Diaz said. “For many wineries, this is the icing on their wine list. It doesn’t need any critical review, never leaves the winery, and is sold directly to consumers through wine clubs and their tasting rooms. It’s a real ‘win’ for them.”

Petite sirah has had its ups and downs. Back in the mid-1970s, 14,000 acres were planted to PS in California. A decade ago that number had shrunk to about 4,000 acres. But this tenacious grape is fighting back. And Diaz talks about its popularity growth.

“It just blows my socks off that in 2002, I could only find 60-plus growers and producers combined,” she noted, “and 10 years later, that number is now over 1,000. The growth speaks for itself.”

Let me tell you about some of the wines I got to sip and savor. Two emerged as stars of the show: Vina Robles Estate Petite Sirah 2009, and Hess Allomi Petite Sirah 2009. If I were awarding prizes, these two stellar wines would share first place.

Hess makes fine wines. Always has. This one, from a vineyard in the rolling hills of northeastern Napa Valley, will inform you fully what good PS should be, from the first sip to the last. It is aged in neutral French oak barrels so there is little if any oaky intrusion. It’s all deep, dark, plummy flavors. It’s priced about $36.

The Vina Robles PS comes from the wonderful growing region around Paso Robles on California’s Central Coast.

This one features hand-picked fruit and lots of intensive personal labor in the winery. Fruit from a number of vineyards was selected and carefully blended to produce another yummy, full-bodied food wine. Oak is a bit more discernible. Look for a price tag about $27.

My pick for the value wine of the bunch is Line39 North Coast Petite Sirah 2010. It, and the following selection, will give a curious wino the opportunity to explore the virtues of PS at a smaller cost. Line39 offers up the traditional flavors and soft tannins, without the full burst of fruit found in the first two. It’s a great hamburger or steak wine, well-made and thoroughly enjoyable. It’s about $12.

Another fine beginner’s PS is Redtree Petite Sirah 2010. Fruit is carefully sourced from throughout California. I really did pick up hints of blackberries and light spices in this one. It is softer than the others, but that could make it more attractive to folks who don’t like big, mouth-filling reds. It’s another fine food wine, about $10.

Barra, a Mendocino County winery, produces both a table PS and a dessert version. To be honest, we were not impressed with the 2007 Barra Estate Grown Petite Sirah. Perhaps it suffered in shipping, but it came across as a lightweight, shy on body and fruit.

The Barra Bella Dolce Petite Sirah Dessert Wine 2008, however, was succulent. In everything but name it is a Port. But Barra cannot call it that, federal laws and all that. But it is made in the Port style and reminded me of a really good Tawny Port. It’s sweet and luscious and boasts an alcohol level of 18.5 percent, quite Port-like.

You probably will not find either Barra wine in Northeast Georgia because of the very small production. If you find the Bella Dolce, expect to pay around $30. It’s worth it.

Hail That Tiger: If you noticed fireworks coming from the vicinity of Rabun County a couple of weeks ago, here’s why. Tiger Mountain Vineyards just collected yet another gold medal for one of its wines. TMV’s celebrated Petit Manseng took Best of Class at one of the nation’s most prestigious wine competitions, The Los Angeles International. Of the 3,300 wines submitted for judging, only 109 wines took a gold.

Tiger Mountain owners Dr. John and Martha Ezzard are celebrating this latest honor for a white wine that shines in Northeast Georgia. Congratulations to the Ezzards and everybody who toils in the Tiger Mountain Vineyards and winery.

Randall Murray is a Gainesville-area resident. Have a question about wine? He can be contacted at His column appears on the first Wednesday of the month and on

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