Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Petite Sirah's Extra Large Wallop

By all rights petite sirah, which can be traced back in California to the 1880's, should by now have disappeared into the dusty archives of wine history, a relic of the years when California was searching for its winemaking identity. Instead, it has hung on despite seemingly overwhelming obstacles.

What we found was a collection of wines that fit nobody's marketing profile of what American consumers are seeking. In an era in which red wines have become progressively softer and easier to drink, the classic petite sirah packs intense blueberry and eucalyptus flavors along with a powerful wallop of tannin, which can make it almost impenetrable without a few years of tenderizing. The wines are highly aromatic yet with all the subtlety of a chain saw.

Surprisingly, though, while the spicy fruit flavors were somewhat reminiscent of zinfandels, these wines — and especially our favorites — contained less alcohol, 13 percent to 14.5 percent, than most zinfandels, which typically hover around 15 percent. Nonetheless, nothing is petite about petite sirah.

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