It was unbelievable! Modern History in a glass! Indeed—Palm Springs history was being written and played out in the first Petite Sirah Throwdown in the Coachella Valley.
The event was being hosted over at our favorite wine storage facility, the Wine Vault of the Desert, in Palm Desert, owned by wine guys Ralph and Jack who keep our wine safe, sound and cool over the seasons. And the small crowd of participants—smiling about with purple-stained and indigo-sullied clothing—knew they were both in the moment and forever in history.
Petite Sirah, like Zinfandel, is one of the few wines that California has taken to itself and produced something special. Originally from France (it’s the French love child between its royal father, the Syrah grape, and the wayward Country-French gal of a vine, Peloursin) this grape with a feminine name really produces a wine quite on the brawny side with deep rich aromas and flavors of blueberry, blackberry, spice, chocolate, mixed with black pepper notes, licorice, smoked meats and tar.
It’s historically big and powerful but, a fine bottle of Petite Sirah can also show an elegance like we find in a Cabernet Sauvignon. It has those great mouth grabbing tannins and is somewhat high in acidity that all work to make it a wine with the ability to age. Mark Oldman, in his “Brave New World of Wine” calls Petite Sirah “dark and intense as a dominatrix’s boot.” Producer Villa San-Juliette in Paso Robles, calls it “blueberry motor oil”.
Feminine in stylishness, masculine in clout. “Voluptuous” definitely comes to mind—which could be translated as a sexy wine. It’s a winner of a red wine and the trend is to produce the best it can be.
Those inquisitive will want to compare the “Syrah” wines to the “Petite”. Like their spellings—they’re different. California Syrahs and Australian Shiraz’s have a different flavor profile. The “tar” notes that all of the wines share, are different as well. The Petite’s “tar” is much more subtle.
We ducked inside the safety of the Wine Vault to begin the competition as the sandstorm had already taken down most of Cathedral City—power-wise, and the blustery sandblasting conditions kept hammering in the wind corridor.
Draped and disguised as a wine snob, I took charge. Voila! Purple Theatre appeared as the unveiling of five premium Petite Sirah took stage and the introductions took place. Here listed in the order of their tasting:
- Southern Wine & Spirits bestowed the 2012 Summerland “Wolff Vineyard” Edna Valley. Winemaker Comments: This wine has a deep, intense color of violet. On the nose, there are hints of coffee and other aromatic spices. The approach is powerful with beautiful tannins. The structure is well built with plenty of body and weight. This Petite Sirah has a beautiful finish that is persistent and powerful.
- PMDL & Co. Wine Agency/Mosaic Wine Alliance offered the 2012 Jaffurs “Thompson Vineyard” Santa Barbara. Winemakers Comments: The 2012 Petite Sirah maintains incredible darkness, power, and purity of fruit. The cool vineyard site led to long hang time, giving us ripe tannins and good acidity. It has gobs of dark cherry and black fruit flavors, spice and licorice aromas, and a stick-to-your-lips quality. Approachable as a young wine, it will also reward additional cellaring.
- The Angeles Wine Agency presented the 2011 Miro Cellars Dry Creek Sonoma Valley. Wine Review: This is real deal Petite Sirah. Fruit bomb nose of crushed berries and baking spice with a hint of cedar. Semi-sweet palate with plum, blackberry and black cherry with a violet lining. The texture is lush and velvety with big tannins that come on strong and finish dry. This bottling has all the deep berry and dark spice we love, with a touch of elegant softness.
- Total Wine and More, Palm Desert, provided the 2010 Puccioni Dry Creek Sonoma Valley Wine Review: Intense, Blueberry, Chocolate, Medium-bodiedDry Creek Valley, Sonoma, CA- Dark blackberry, cherry and spice aromas lead into rich blueberry and dark chocolate flavors, finishing with a black pepper spice. You can age this wine, but don't be afraid to drink it now.
- 3rd Corner Wine Shop & Bistro, Palm Desert, supplied the 2010 La Coquerel Calistoga Napa Valley Winemaker Notes: La Petite Sirah 2010 has an inky color, a nose of blackberry fruit with spicy notes, a creamy mid pallet with big tannins, and a long red fruit and licorice finish.
Due to the nature of this exclusive wine tasting throwdown, all of participants were required to use pseudonyms in completing their tasting notes to protect them from the ire and jealousy of the valley’s wine lovers and cognoscenti who were not fortunate to be included in this competition. Even I was sworn to secrecy (but certainly I would be bribed by a great case of wine!)
Gasps were heard among this elite group as the young but massive deepest purplely wine was poured into their goblets. Wine this big definitely needs time to settle down. As we see here, the two 2012 vintages are just out of the gate and, the other three are still relatively pretty young. But these wines couldn't be held back—the least we could do was to aerate them for 2-3 hours before sampling.
With a 20 point scoring system, the Summerland with its blue fruit and hints of coffee and aromatic spices with a great finish did very well with an average score of 18--very, very good. Only “Minnie” and “JJ” “didn’t quite like it—just not my favorite.”
The Jaffurs had diverse scores, as with “Flippy” finding it “too tannic and too young”. This probably reflected the group's feel that this wine needed to be paired with food--"it will surely open up to be a wonderful wine", were their comments. To me, that’s exactly the point—I gave it a high score; and, this wine is available to enjoy at our local restaurants such as Pacifica, Cuistot, Mama Gina's and LG Steakhouse. And I understand that this wine has almost sold out in our local wine shops.
The Miro received two perfect scores with “Wendell Wino” and “Winn Day” commenting that they could drink this on its own. “Smooth, soft and a lingering finish” were terms used often describing this wine. Yes—the wine was “soft” with blue and black fruit on the nose followed by toasty oak, cinnamon and dark molasses flavor notes. I’d love to taste this wine with some age on it. Make certain you aerate this wine for at least a couple of hours to begin to grasp its flavor profile. By the way--this wine can be found at Miro's Restaurant, Palm Springs.
The Puccioni garnered lots of fun comments from “wet earth and old world” to “bright but different” to “I’m a Puccioni convert—18 points!” Puccioni has been making Petite Sirah for over a hundred years—they do have it down with that great Dry Creek vineyard. Interesting, “Stephanie Rogers” (a great pseudonym—by the way) gave it the lowest score of any wine—8 points! finding it “sweet, light and short.” But that wasn't the consensus, this wine was a top scorer.
Finally, the Coquerel with its inky color, a nose of blackberry fruit & spice, and a long red fruit and licorice finish, definitely had the crowd feeling its Napa Valley roots. “Tasty Lacy” gave it 18; “Lucious Lucy” gave it 15. The crowed really liked this wine. 3rd Corner's Wine Director, David McGee, is proud to present this wine as his main Petite Sirah.
As you can see, we had a fun time as all the wines were winners in one way or another. I wish to thank all of the wine companies and businesses who provided the wine. Please keep them in mind when you’re looking for some great vino. And to the privileged tasters, always remember: In vino, quod est amoris--in wine, there is love!
And thanks again to the Wine Vault of the Desert, 77556 El Duna Ct, Palm Desert, CA 92211 (760) 345-3000—who provided even more wine, cheese, and shelter from the sandstorm. Great job!
Rick Riozza wittily titles himself the "sommelier-about-town" in the desert publication CV Weekly wine and food column: the Vino Voice where his beat is to eat, drink, and cover the environs of Palm Springs. A freelance writer, a contributor to Tasting Panel Magazine, palmspringslife.com and the Brand Ambassador for the historic Galleano Winery, you can find him conducting wine tastings, food & wine pairing events and fun wine seminars. Contact email@example.com