RECOMMENDED: Guenoc 2008 Petite Sirah, Lake County, CA. 14.1% ABV. $14.99, available for as little as $10.98.

APPEARANCE: Deep violet color. Lovely tears.
NOSE: A gorgeous aroma of blackberry and plum sauce opens up to reveal violets, oak, a little molasses, and just a whiff of big fat dark-fruit pies.
TASTE: This wine is full-flavored, but despite the sweet and fruity nose, there’s nothing jammy or raisiny about it at all.
MOUTHFEEL and FINISH: At the risk of sounding contradictory, I would describe this wine as smooth with a bit of a bite. It is smooth in the sense that it is medium-bodied and clear, but it has a spicy, tannic, drying finish. (This effect becomes more gentle as the wine opens up.) Because it IS so smooth/clear, it’s easy to swallow, but be sure to “chew and swish” to get all the rich flavors out of it.

Hopefully this won’t confuse the “smooth” thing further, but I’ve gotta mention that the wine has a few “white diamonds” (see http://www.thefrugalwinesnob.com/?p=322), also known as tartaric crystals, a very good sign of proper and careful wine production.

Overall, our favorite aspect of this wine was the aroma! The taste never quite lived up to the aroma (sad face) but the aroma amused us for the evening.

Aged 12 months in French and American oak. Released in July 2010. 5,381 cases produced.

HISTORY OF THE PETITE SIRAH GRAPE:

There is nothing “petite” at all about Petite Sirah (spelled with an “i,” not a “y”), as it is indeed one of the Big Reds. The “petite” refers in part to the compact size of the grapes, and in part to its position as an offspring of Syrah.

The Petite Sirah grape originated in the 1870s in France’s Rhône region, the result of a cross between Syrah and a less well-known Rhône variety, Peloursin. Named after the French nurseryman Dr. François Durif, who created the cross, the “Durif” grape (also known as “Petite Sirah”) was created in hopes of giving Syrah a better ability to resist mildew. However, the resulting grape’s tight clusters replaced one problem, the susceptibility to mildew, with another—the susceptibility to grey rot in the humid Rhône region.

California’s climate is drier, and the tight little grape does relatively well there as long as the rains aren’t abnormally heavy and frequent. According to http://www.winepros.org/wine101/grape_profiles/petite.htm, “Linda Vista Winery owner Charles Melver introduced Durif to California in 1884, planting cuttings of it and other French varieties at his Mission San Jose vineyard. He was most likely the first to call the variety ‘Petite Sirah.’”

The Petite Sirah grape was planted here and there in California for more than a century and was/is often used in blends, thanks to its deep color, intense tannins, and un-jammy flavors. It tones down, yet adds complexity, to wines that otherwise are heavily jammy, raisiny, and brown sugary.

The WinePros.org Petite Sirah page continues, “Most plantings of Petite Sirah were made before the 1960s, when vintners were mainly concerned with producing copious amounts of flavorful blends of generic ‘Burgundy.’ Field-blending was the norm during this time, with many varieties often interplanted. As a result, few vineyards identified as Petite Sirah are ‘pure.’ Vineyard blocks are often peppered with vines of Alicante Bouschet, Carignan, Grenache, Mourvedre, the aforementioned Peloursin, or Zinfandel. The reality therefore is that wines from these vineyards labeled ‘Petite Sirah’ to at least some degree are [field] blends, accidentally if not purposefully.

“Just over 3,200 acres of grapes identified as Petite Sirah were planted in California as of year 2000. Although only a portion of these vineyards have been surveyed, recent DNA evidence from research led by Dr. Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis has confirmed most plantings to be the same grape as Durif. About 10% however, is Peloursin, which, observed in the field, is practically indistinguishable from Durif .… In April, 2002, the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) announced they will forthwith consider Petite Sirah and Durif synonymous for use on wine labels.”

Petite Sirah produces dark, inky wines that can stain your wine-glasses blue. (My kind of tie-dye!) Because the grapes are small, the skin-to-juice ratio is high, which means the wines can be quite tannic, and that is the case here. We can fully understand their usefulness in blends.

LABEL NOTES: The 300-year-old Guenoc Valley bent Blue Oak on the label symbolizes our determination to produce wines of distinction and character. In 1888, famed Victorian actress and vintner, Lillie Langtry, purchased the California estate with a vision to craft the finest wines in America. Our Guenoc wines are created with fruit from the finest Lake County vineyards and express the warm days, cool nights and excellent soils of the area. This Lake County Petite Sirah was aged in a combination of French and American oak barrels. This wine has aromas of blackberry and plum present along with notes of violets and roses. It is rich and full-bodied with a velvety smoothness in the mouth and a long peppery finish.

WEB NOTES: Victorian actress Lillie Langtry owned this ranch from 1888 to 1906, producing wine that she declared was “the greatest claret in the country.” In 1981, Guenoc Valley became an American Viticultural Area (“AVA”), and the first single-proprietor AVA as well.

WEB: www.LangtryEstate.com

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One Response to RECOMMENDED: Guenoc 2008 Petite Sirah, Lake County, CA. 14.1% ABV. $14.99, available for as little as $10.98.

  1. FOOTNOTE: Guenoc 2009 Petite Sirah, California. 13.5% ABV. $10.99.

    Aroma almost identical, taste just slightly less refined. A happy party wine, where the previous, slightly higher-end version would be suitable for a casual dinner party.

    The two higher tiers of Petite Sirah made here sport the Langtry name rather than Guenoc.

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