With roughly 2,800 wineries in the state of California—nearly half of the 6,000 total in the U.S.—that, by any measure, is some pretty steep competition. Though not all of the big, prestigious and luscious Cab, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay producers from Napa and Sonoma compete in the State Fair competition, enough do to make it interesting.
The wine poured out with promise, the characteristic deep purple of Petite Sirah. It had the scent of very young wine, reminding me of being in a winery and tasting barrel samples early in the winemaking process. Unfortunately, this was a prediction of the wine's flavors, too. It was light in taste, very mild, with tannins so soft and structure so insubstantial, it disappeared when tasted with salty foods. I saved it, chilled, to sample again the next day, and by then it sort of deconstructed and became a non-wine. Not recommended.
The bottle says 14.5% alcohol. My nose and eyeballs suspect if might be well north of 15%. This is a big wine, with brawny red fruits, a bowl of mixed cherries ranging from barely ripe to nearly black and strawberries to match, fighting it out with blackberries in a ring made of American Oak, refereed by a box of raisins. Sweet dusty tannins abound, but there is enough acid to match. This might settle down and blend together with a few years in the cellar. It is more a stand-alone snack than a food wine, but if you must, match it with a very sloppy cheese steak sandwich. Recommended.
A mouthful of wine, this Zin is a moderate (by today's standards) 14.8% alcohol, but has loads of black fruit, cocoa, and coffee. The nose is slightly vegetal, suggesting perhaps some whole cluster fermentation. Blackberries on attack are followed by raspberries on the mid-palate and finish. Black pepper runs under everything from attack to finish. On the mid-palate, first mocha, then dark chocolate, come through. The long finish tastes of dark chocolate and dusty tannins. Drink with well smoked pork ribs. Recommended.
Côte-Rôtie, one of the most remarkable appellations in the Northern Rhône region, is famous for its wines made from syrah, grown on a steep and sunny hill, very often with a splash of viognier. Or are they?
2005 Domenico Aglianico, Sutter Creek Vineyard, Amador County contains 8.3% Petite Sirah from Lodi. Like the 2006, it was whole berry fermented, underwent extended maceration and spent 11 months in French and American oak. This wine offered a mature bouquet of cinnamon/nutmeg notes, floral, oaky hints and a vague hint of VA. In the mouth, it was faintly sweet, with very forward and mature flavors of very light briar and tobacco pouch. The body was remarkably light for the alcohol level. Structurally, it was supple, not too grippy and with high acids. A shorter, drying, finish of mature flavors and subdued fruit followed. On the second day, jammy, almost brambly fruit aromas were laced with a vague floral hint. Vague brambly fruit over light, hints of sweetness and light tannins, bright acids and light heat followed in the mouth. The finish, again, was lightly drying with light brambly fruit, oak notes and warmth. This wine was unobtrusive with brisket and the BBQ ribs but heat came through a bit. (15% ABV, 2 bottles tasted, 266 cases made)
This Central Valley Montepulciano with a small amount of Petite Sirah or Merlot—depending on the year—is whole cluster fermented in open top fermenters with frequent punchdowns and extended maceration. It offers aromas of macerated ripe strawberry with piney, dill notes and maple leaf hints. In the mouth, it is lighter bodied, sleek, with slight tannins, a silky texture and jolly rancher-like strawberry candy flavors. The finish is creamy, but a bit hollow. Overnight, it takes on dried rose petal and vague cherry aromas and floral hints in the mouth. This forward, mature-styled wine is an unobtrusive food companion with good acids and does not compete with food flavors. (14% ABV, 1 bottle tasted, 256 cases made)
This Zinfandel-based blend is upper medium depth garnet in color with a medium opacity, becoming ruby at the rim. Rich plum and berry aromas up front. Pleasantly piney notes soon emerge, backed by hints of sweet oak. More time in the glass brings out subtle char and espresso aromas. It quickly becomes very tangy and ends very, very racy with a steely, scalpel-sharp note. Very fine tannins are slight, velvety textured, smooth and have a tea-like astringency. The 15.7% alcohol is well-carried and perhaps tamed by the racy, high acidity, which lifts the tone of the plum and berry flavors but also tends to overshadow them. The lingering finish is a dynamic kaleidoscope of acidity, plum and berry flavors, heat and mild, velvety astringency. For the time being, it can be paired with high-acid foods. Paired with Greek salad (grilled chicken, feta, Persian cucumbers and balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing).