I don’t normally review wines on this blog (at least, not so far), but I recently became intrigued by the excellent Wine Blogging Wednesday Community, who post themed monthly reviews of wines.
This month’s theme is being hosted at the Wannabe Wino Blog, and features an ‘underdog’ of a wine – Petite Sirah, also known as Durif.
I live and operate near Philadelphia, which is the ultimate underdog / bum rap city. It was once described as “the city for people too scared to live in New York, and too dumb to live in Boston.”
So I (understandably) have a soft spot for underdogs who get a bum rap. And Petite Sirah often gets a bum rap. As an example, Jancis Robinson described it in her reference book Vines Grapes & Wines as “Rigorous though unsubtle.” Not exactly high praise…
Often blended with Zinfandel to provide structure to its more blowsy tendencies, PS has arguably achieved its apex in California, where it has been planted since the late 1800s. You’d imagine that some of the PS vines in CA are pretty old – and you’d be right. These older vines offer lower yields of more concentrated grapes – and therefore more concentrated wines.
So for WBW #40, it’s to CA we go – I opted for Stags Leap Winery’s 2003 Napa Valley Petite Sirah. Technically this one is a blend, 85% PS with 10% Syrah (of the non-petite variety), and even a little bit of Viognier thrown in for good measure.
So… is this wine unsubtle? At 14.2% alcohol, it’s certainly not subtle. And it could stand a bit of decanting – preferably 6 years’ worth performed in a dark basement in the original unopened bottle. There’s no lack of inky darkness to this wine either (it’s a good pick if you ever find yourself on a haute cuisine dinner date with the Creature from the Black Lagoon), and if you don’t like your blackberry and cherry fruit done ‘in-yo-face’ style, then this is probably NOT the wine for you.
Having said all of that, the power of this wine is balanced with quite a bit of elegance – there is a nice surprise of orange and exotic spice (mostly cinnamon) on the nose. In your mouth, the tannins are abundant but not too astringent (think ‘pleasantly chewy’), and the sting of all that alcohol is kept mostly in check by a mix of vanilla and chocolate flavors. I enjoyed mine with roast beef, but matching this sucker with grilled bison would really be the bomb.
My verdict: take the Leap.
PS – I love you… Sort of…
Found a great article on Newsday.com today detailing how the current archaic U.S. state wine shipping laws are negatively impacting the budding wine production business in New Jersey.
And if you think NJ is not state with fine wine potential, then you’ve probably not yet tasted the premium reds from Tomasello Winery, which was one of the top favorite picks of Andrea Immer on her TV show Simply Wine. For the record, Tomasello has stopped shipping wine to consumers within their own state.
This same scenario is playing out with similar negative effects all over the continental U.S. You can do something about it – starting with writing to your state legislators to let them know how you feel.
This post is the first in a three-part series where Dude will give you a ‘wine insider’s’ take on how to seriously up your ‘wine geek’ knowledge (and hone your overall wine-tasting skills along with your “impress your party goers” wine profile).
When this Dude gives in-home wine tastings, probably the most frequently asked question is “How can I learn more about wine?” As Lao-tzu once said, “The Great Way is Easy” and he may have well been talking about obtaining wine knowledge, because Dude has been there and he can tell you that all it takes is three things:
- An open mind
- More Patience
I usually recommend a three-step program, which I will cover individually in three posts (counting this as #1, with the others to follow relatively shortly):
- Read (see below)
- Be Bold
Today’s post will tackle the reading bit, which I offer to you in Top 10 format. So without further ado, Dude presents:
The Top 10 Wine Books You Really Need
1. Oldman’s Guide to Outsmarting Wine by Mark Oldman
The book I wish I’d had as budding a wine novice. Mark Oldman provides what might be the best and most well-paced (not to mention most practical) wine introduction book on the market. As a beginner, you will not be disappointed.
2. Wine for Dummies by Ed McCarthy & Mary Ewing-Mulligan
THE starting point for your induction into the world of wine. I know the brother of one of the authors, both of whom really, really, really know their stuff.
3. How To Taste by Jancis Robinson
Great reading for the beginner who wants to learn more about how to enjoy wine, all done in an open and not-so-stuffy style. The important thing about this book is the emphasis on how to taste wine, which (as we will explore in Dude’s next post), is the single most important skill you can build to up your wine IQ.
4. The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
A mighty tome of accessible wine knowledge, with excellent primers on the wine regions of the world for the beginner wine enthusiast, but also with tons of detail for the advancing wine geek as well. A fantastic achievement and a book that will prove to be a valuable resource for years to come (I still refer back to my tattered copy).
5. Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book
Updated every year, this book packs a ridiculous amount of handy wine information into an impossibly small amount of space. The abbreviations take some getting used to, but once you have them down you will wonder how you even wandered into a wine store without the handy reviews. It’s also a great reference to have in the kitchen when trying to match up wine styles with dinner.
6. The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson
A reference that is so handy, I destroyed the binding on my copy within weeks from overuse! I know both wine fans and wine industry pros that use this book, and it’s handy – and accessible enough – for both. Plus, Tom does not hold back his opinions on developments in the world’s wine regions and in the progress towards top quality from each area’s most important wines – not watered-down, and therefore entertaining as well as informative.
7. The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson
A beautiful coffee-table sized book for the budding wine geek, it’s an essential reference for those interested in increasing their detailed knowledge of where their favorites wines come from and why that plays such an important part in why those wines taste they way that they do.
8. The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson
This weighty tome is *the* wine reference book for the wine geek and wine professional. Not exactly easy to read in bed, but when you find yourself absolutely needing to know what terms like Recioto mean, you need this book. Also handy for finding interesting wine blog topics (and by the time you’re ready for this book, you will probably have your own wine blog…).
9. Wine Report (Annual) by Tom Stevenson
Another reference updated annually, this one is for the wine professional (or only the most serious of wine geeks). A great read for finding out what’s new and noteworthy in the world’s major wine regions and the industry in general.
Essential at Every Level
10. Your Very Own Wine Journal
You need your own wine journal to capture your reactions to wines that you taste, build an understanding of what you like (and dislike), and sharpen up your wine tasting vocabulary. The importance of this will get explored in my next post – but for now, just trust the Dude and get yourself a wine journal! (dude recommends the Little Black Wine Book).
The bad news – The whole kit & kaboodle will set you back about $150 – $175. So buy ’em in stages (don’t worry, none of these are likely to go out of print anytime too soon).
The very good news is that the general state of wine writing – much like the general state of wine itself – has never been better, so you will get your moolah’s worth. Long-time, prolific, and talented writers like Jancis Robinson, as well as a multitude of fine bloggers, are contributing accessible and well-written wine knowledge. Come on in – the water is fine!
One of my frequent Blogosphere stops is Wine Life Today, which is a bit like Digg or StumbleUpon, but dedicated to wine blog submissions.
WLT has udergone a bit of a facelift and the site is looking great. If you’re interested in the cream of the crop of wine news, check it out (and if you’re so inclined, you can vote for my latest submitted article on WLT while you’re at it).