Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Elizabeth Spencer Petite Sirah for WBW #40

Like Zinfandel, Petite Sirah is a big juicy grape that thrives in a hot climate. But whereas Zin is well-known in its own right, Petite Sirah — which is synonymous with the Durif grape and is not a "small" version of Syrah — is a bit more obscure. In fact, PS is typically a blending grape that frequently augments Cabernet and Zinfandel-labeled bottles, thanks to its dark color and serious dark fruit. But it shouldn't be overlooked as a varietal wine; not when 100 year old vines are found in Mendocino County.

So all y'all who do a bit of California dreaming should probably check out Petite Sirah. Myself, I do little California dreaming, since I'm no fan of the inky fruit bombs that state too frequently produces. But since Sonandora of Wannabe Wino is hosting the Petite Sirah tasting for Wine Blogging Wednesday #40, I have to spread my wings. Which is, of course, a good thing.

I sought out a more balanced, lower-alcohol PS to suit my preferences. I found one! The wine I drank for your reading pleasure is the Elizabeth Spencer Special Cuvée North Coast Petite Sirah 2005 (at a slightly frightening $32 — although I could have bought more expensive examples). Spencer sources the grapes from the Suisun Valley just east of Napa, which is reputedly cooled by nearby San Pablo Bay; and indeed, this only has 14.2% abv. It's fermented with 20% whole clusters — a good sign for me, since I like a spicy red wine — and aged for 20 months in French oak.

Here are my notes, spanning three days.

Day 1: Inky, concentrated purple. Smells strongly of blackberries and spices, tastes strongly of blackberries and spices. Rich yet balanced, with good supporting acidity and modest tannins. It's not too sweet and the length is decent, and it's fine paired with vegetable soup and a buttery onion tart. But it has no complexity.

Day 2: Everything's fading — the fruit, the spice, the inky concentration — and nothing subtle has emerged. It's simply a shrunken version of its previous self.

Day 3: It's recovered its concentration somewhat, and it strikes me as more tannic today. The spice is elevated slightly compared to the fruit, which is now more like blackberry and blueberry compote. But it's no more interesting for it.

Honestly, I approached this wine with an open mind, but even this well-made, balanced example of Petite Sirah did not touch me in my special places — unlike a couple of $12 European reds I've recently put in my mouth (more about these in my next post). Objectively speaking, though, this is a good selection for people who like inky but reasonably food-friendly wines. My advice for those who like this style is to buy the Elizabeth Spencer with confidence and to drink it young.