The 2012 CA Petite Sirah Taste-Off!

Vinted on April 10, 2012 binned in best of, wine review

This is a tourney several years in the making.

I first had the idea of having a “Taste-Off” – a March Madness tournament-style tasting of sixteen wines, randomly matched against one another, and proceeding in a single-elimination tasting against one another over the same day until one is crowned “champion”– back in 2008.

It’s taken me this long to get around to it, inspired in part by the facts that a) we’ve had an exciting NCAA tourney this year, b) simply having a free day in which to do it, and c) having the personal realization that I had sixteen different California Petite Sirah samples (none of the poor things knowing what was in store for them) sitting in the bowels of my cellar and therefore could actually pull it off. Also, I had a pretty sh*tty week and just needed a fun escape.

Why Petite Sirah? It just felt right. It’s a divisive wine, usually eliciting either intense devotion or complete hatred hatred – and as a result, it’s a variety that tends to get less press coverage than a Xylophonist convention.

How it went down: Sixteen different CA Petite Sirah wines were randomly assigned numbers, which were then randomly matched into a field of sixteen, single-elimination tourney bracket-style. The winner of each bracket went on to face the winner of the next, with the losers being eliminated. This means that a) it’s possible for mismatches, just like in a real tournament – and there certainly were some of those! – and b) some really good wines didn’t get to compete against one another. A wine advanced if, at the moments I tasted it, it seemed a better, more complete, well-crafted, more complex wine; and yes, that means that a wine not tasting well on the given day was at a disadvantage – no different than any other wine competition (or competition of any kind, for that matter!).

That’s the nature of single-elimination tourneys, people: it’s not entirely fair; too friggin’ bad; deal with it and let’s have some fun!

Over the course of this week, I’m going to feature the results of the tourney, revealing the “champion” on Thursday and highlighting the two finalists. Mini-reviews will post this coming Monday and will include any wine in the lineup not already reviewed in the minis. So if you’re not into PS, this is not  the week for you to be checking out 1WD. If you’re curious or already a PS lover, then read on!…

Here’s the bracket with the results of the first round (from sweet sixteen to elite eight), and following are short recaps of each “battle” with my notes and explanations of who won (and why).

A caveat: The wines were not tasted blind because it became too much of a pain in the ass to execute that alone, and as far as I know nobody’s job is on the line based on the results… so blind-tasting purists, please remain calm.

On to the battles!…

“By The Numbers”: 2007 Line 39 Petite Sirah (North Coast, $10) vs. 2007 Seven Artisans Clayton Road Ranches Vineyard Petite Sirah (Suisun Valley, $18)

This was an entertaining fight that I wouldn’t have predicted based on the price-points. Probably the coolest, most exciting battle in the first round, actually. Line 39 came to the court with funky, leathery, spicy dark berry and plum swagger. It gave the grippy, complex, and fruit-pure Seven Artisans a run for its money. But in the end, complexity won out over the swagger, though Line 39’s crazy-good QPR earned a round of applause from me; and from my dog, if you count snoring as applause.

Winner: 2007 Seven Artisans – but not by much!

The Battle For Lodi: 2009 Vinedos Aurora Petite Sirah (Lodi, $21) vs. 2007 Windmill Petite Sirah (Lodi, $12)

It wasn’t that much of a battle, actually. The Windmill is a pleasant, meaty, spicy wine, lots of fruit and a touch of minerality, and certainly worth its price. But Vinedos brought a lot more texture, poise and earthy, meaty game to this – too much for our Windmilling friend.

Winner: 2009 Vinedos Aurora (by a relatively comfortable margin).



The Up-and-Comers?: 2007 Clayhouse Petite Sirah (Paso Robles, $23) vs. 2006 Marr “Cuvee Patrick” Petite Sirah (Tehama County, $18)

A potentially intriguing matchup between two of CA’s relatively lesser-known winemaking areas. Marr was marred with a lack of texture in the mouthfeel, and just felt off of its game, relying too much on grip. That didn’t match Clayhouse’s more multi-faceted game, which had pretty florals and bright acidic lift, though it should be fearing the future rounds based on some mouthfeel shortcomings of its own.

Winner: Clayhouse pulls it through, though slightly battered.

Heated Rivalry, Revisited: 2007 Stanton Vineyards Petite Sirah (St. Helena, $40) vs. 2009 Foppiano “Lot 96” Petite Sirah (Sonoma County, $12)

Napa. Sonoma. They respect one another, but still carry great enmity towards each other, and they’re not afraid to let everyone know it (okay, not really, but run with it, people). A battle for the ages? Hardly, in this case. Lot 96 is pretty, earthy, and bright, even a touch floral. But too much fanciness without enough fundamentals hurts them on the court against the complexity, power and balanced heft of its larger opponent, Stanton.

Winner: Stanton easily hands Lot 96 the defeat and moves on to the next round.

The Battle For Northern (CA) Supremacy: 2007 Draconis “Classic” Petite Sirah (Lodi, $30) vs. 2007 Artezin Petite Sirah (Mendocino County, $25)

This contest would have the fans (ok, fan) on the edge of his seat, with the lead changing hands minute-by-minute as each opponent developed in the glass over the course of the bout. Artezin: funky, with sweet plums, smoked meats, vanilla and a refined, silky mouthfeel. Draconis: complex, brooding, bright with grip and violets and internal tension. Eventually, the grit and tension won the day.

Winner: Draconis in a memorable fight that offered plenty for the highlight reels.

Showdown At The Highly-Glossed Bottle Corral: 2009 Frank Family Vineyards SJ Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah (Napa Valley, $65) vs. 2007 August Briggs Petite Sirah (Napa Valley, $38)

The Land Of Lofty Price Points produces two contenders with their eyes set on the final prize. Both have pedigree and the goods to potentially go all the way, but only one of these powerhouses can move on. The August Briggs is superb: rocky, earthy, plummy, with notes of leather and intense chocolate and structure. But Frank brings that and more; its intense, but with a lilting violet character floating above all that heftiness.

Winner: Frank Family Vineyards and it’s NOT fooling around, people.

“QPR TKO?”: 2007 Huntington CA Series Petite Sirah (CA, $14) vs. 2007 Redtree Petite Sirah (CA, $8)

The welterweights take on each other and the results are not pretty. There’s something cloying about the vanilla and plummy fruit of the Redtree, and Huntington goes meaty, with good grip, but not a whole lot else.

Winner: Huntington – but not looking like a champion contender.


“David Meets Goliath,” Or “Cakewalk 2012?”: 2006 Cupcake Petite Sirah (Central Coast, $14) vs. 2006 Robert Biale “Royal Punishers” Petite Sirah (Napa Valley, $40)

More like “Cakewalk,” I’m afraid: Cupcake lived up to its namesake, but not in a good way, and was out-matched right from the get-go with its chocolaty – but ultimately kind of tiring – effort. Biale cruised past this round with its meaty profile, depth and silkiness.

Winner: Robert Biale “Royal Punishers” lays down the punishment, and makes the Cupcake look like… well… a cupcake.

Tomorrow: the results of the Elite Eight and Final Four match-ups!






  • Joel Ohmart

    I enjoyed these throw down showdowns much more than I thought I would. Great idea, looking forward to the exciting conclusion of the pantheon PS competition!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Joel! It's all in good fun so glad you're taking some enjoyment out of it, because it's really meant for that; I'm not trying to start up a wine competition here. :)

  • @drewmatich

    Wow…Frank Family had to be great to beat August Briggs (which I loved when I tried a few months back). Need to add that one to my list.

    • 1WineDude

      @drewmatich – both are really, really good wines. Big boys, but good!

  • gabe

    That was a really cool set of reviews. can't wait for the next round.

    On a side note, it's nice to hear a wine critic (hope that's not an offensive term) explain that a good wine might not be tasting good on a certain day, and that will effect it's score. Seems obvious, but I think a lot of people overlook that fact when reading wine reviews.

    • 1WineDude

      Gabe – thanks for that, on all counts!

  • jodiaz

    Hurrah, Petite Sirah!

    • 1WineDude

      Jo – about time you showed up on this one! ;-) Hopefully you enjoy my fun little spirited game with PS – if it weren’t for you, this grape would not get the love it deserves!

      • jodiaz

        Sorry, Joe, I've been wrapped up in comments about Paul Mabray's list of the top most influential bloggers (like yourself!) with my own thoughts on algorithms and artistic licenses. :)

        Yeah… I grew up with Rodney Dangerfield on Ed Sullivan… I'm all about getting the "respect" PS deserves.

        • 1WineDude

          Jo – sometimes I wonder if PS feels like ROdney did when he wrote this joke: “I could tell my parents hated me. My bath toys were a toaster and a radio.” :)

          • jodiaz

            Hey, those were MY parents. (Maybe that's where I got my passion for being Champion of the Underdog concepts.)

            • 1WineDude


  • jodiaz

    Biale versus Cupcake? I saw that one coming. LOL

    • 1WineDude

      Jo – yeah, the brackets were totally random to start so there was certainly mismatch potential!

      • jodiaz

        Sometimes that's a fun thing… Most probably with Cupcake being first… so feminine, and then bring on the big boys.

  • jodiaz

    Get ready. I'm going to get my PS guys to weigh in on this one. Power to the People!

    • 1WineDude

      Jo – please do, it's not like we don't have a history here of open dialog :).

  • Ed Thralls


    Love March Madness and PS… we did a MM with Bordeaux back in 2009 (incl. an '86 Clerc Milon and '85 Ch. Palmer)… pretty amazing night. Girard up in Yountville, for whom I do social media marketing for, has a pretty phenomenal PS. Keep in mind I was a club member before I ever worked there so was already fan, but full disclosure is covered. As a matter of fact the 2008 Girard PS just got a 93 from WE (oh snap, did I just quote a score from the 100 pt scale… sorry about that) — anyway, it's already sold out but the 2009 is available if you are interested and endorsed by Marco DiGiulio as one of his faves too.


    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Ed!

  • @foppianowine

    Joe – Thanks for including us, although the competition was super tough. Our little $12.50 Lot 96 PS vs. $40 PS from Napa. Would love to do a rematch with our Estate Petite Sirah that might have a better chance. – Taylor E from Foppiano V

    • 1WineDude

      @foppianowine – I know; luck of the draw, I'm afraid!

      • Kaitlin

        Foppiano makes great Petite at a phenomenal price, thanks for giving Sonoma County at least marginal representation. We took a page out of their book when we planted Petite in the northwest corner of Dry Creek Valley–we even have a few of their clones. Let us know next time you're looking to do another battle of the bigs, our 2007 Estate Petite Sirah is a knockout. Thanks for picking Petite! – Kaitlin from Gustafson

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Kaitlin!

  • Ron Rawlinson

    Being a wine judge, a PS fan and a Paso fan, I gotta think the Clayhouse will rule the house if good sense prevails. This winery is a consistent winner on the competition circuit as well as a local fave.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Ron – will have to invite you over for the next one! :) In all seriousness, my intention is to open these up and maybe do a “people's choice” style at some point…

    • Shelley

      2009 Clayhouse Petite Sirah, Estate Vineyards is featured on Wine Woot today!

      • 1WineDude

        Shelley – auspicious! :)

  • Tiffany

    love the idea… and the lineup! Can't wait to see the final pick!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Tiffany.

  • DenierHandalWines

    Joe and Jodiaz, thanks for helping wake up the nation to a wonderful grape and wine as a small producer of handcrafted PS wines we appreciate what you do and what Jodiaz always does. Help keep spreading the word.

    • 1WineDude

      DenierHandalWines – Thanks! I agree, the unsung grapes need more coverage in general. Maybe I need to slate a Bonarda tourney next…

  • Shelley

    Being a fan of wine as well as a college basketball fan (KU), I love this idea! I can't wait to see how this unfolds.

    Lava Cap Winery ( in Placerville, CA—for whom I do social media and marketing for—has an extraordinary Petite Sirah. With wines from the Sierra Foothills (El Dorado County) it’s all about place. Lava Cap’s Granite Hill vineyard has been part of their estate production since 1995 and consistently produces some of the most highly decorated Petite Sirahs in California.

    Lava Cap will be releasing its 2009 El Dorado Estate Bottled Petite Sirah soon.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Shelley – I appreciate the hustle there, just don't go too crazy, okay? ;-)

  • Stephanie Douglas

    Great call on the Biale which is one of my personal favorites when not sipping from my own cellar. I'm I fan of both August Briggs and Frank Family so admit I had to hold my breath for the outcome on that on that one. Tough call. Foppinano, you are a great sport but also a very consistant contender, hats off to you boys down south! Keep it coming Joe…

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Stephanie – glad you enjoyed the show. :)

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