Featured in this issue

What’s in a name? For Petite Sirah lovers, it’s more than just a rhetorical question

Wine labeling in the New World is based on varietal designations, which means when we go to buy a bottle of Merlot or Chardonnay we don’t have to think about where it’s from to know what grape is used in the wine. Want a Napa Cab? Look on the label for “Napa Valley” and “Cabernet Sauvignon.” American wine labeling laws state that when a wine has a varietal designation, at least 75 percent of the grapes used to make that wine are of that variety. Not exactly exacting, but simple, right? But what if the grape variety on the label isn’t that grape at all? Whaa? Well, in fact, the jury is out as to just what exactly Petite Sirah is. One thing we know is that it’s neither petite, nor definitively Syrah. According to Jancis Robinson, “Some authorities say it is a name applied to several different little-known varieties often planted together.” Petite Sirah in California actually dates back to the 1800’s and plantings are generally older than the state average for all grapes, making its origins difficult to pin down and its widely used moniker impossible to define. It has been linked to such grapes as Durif, Peloursin, Pel-Dur X, and even Syrah itself. Certainly, individual grape growers could use DNA testing to expose the truth in their vineyards, but who’s going to do that? Perhaps it’s enough to know that it has come to mean wines of deep color that are generally robust and peppery, with good tannins and aging ability. If the winemaker can achieve that, why quibble with a name?

The Blend’s Monthly Featured Producer: ELYSE WINERY

Ray Coursen is the winemaker and owner of this Napa Valley property. He cut his teeth in the 1980s as a winemaker at Whitehall Lane, eventually starting his own label and then buying his own small winery after sourcing grapes exclusively for a decade. His philosophy is to make wines that “I want to sit down and enjoy – juicy, rich, voluptuous wines. I like a little oak, but I don’t want it to be overpowering – I want to taste the fruit. I love wines that pair well with food. A meal without wine is eating; a meal with wine is dining – it’s a conversation, an event. It’s what wine is about.” He’s quite a success at it, too. Whether it’s Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah, Petite Sirah, he manages to find excellent fruit year after year and turn it into some special wines.

Recommended Wine:

Textbook Petite Sirah. Deep, blackish purple in color with complex aromas of violets, lavender, smoky bacon fat, black cherry and cola, with hints of game, cedar and sage. Flavors of blueberry, kirsch, mocha and hints of pepper and spice lead to a long pleasing finish of dusty cocoa tannins that tease the palate with texture. It is a rich, lush, full-bodied wine whose sweet fruit carries the firm tannins and leads to a long lingering finish. Pure California. Should drink well for many years and will most likely improve in the bottle for a while. About $35 USD.

Catalog this wine in The Personal Wine Curator cellar software like this:
  • Producer: Elyse
  • Wine Name/Appellation: Petite Sirah
  • Vintage: 2005
  • Varietal: Petite Sirah
  • Type: Red
  • Vineyard/Sub-sub:
  • Sub-region: Rutherford
  • Region: Napa Valley
  • Country: California
  • Body: Full
  • Drink after: 2010
  • Drink by: 2025

PWC Tips and Tricks

This month we look at the Location field. How you enter your locations can make a big difference when you want to find a wine. Take a look. CLICK HERE.

Did you know: every state in the U.S. has at least one bonded winery?

From sea to shining sea and beyond, operating wineries in the United States have increased over 50% since 1990, populating every state in the union. Oregon, Washington, and New York have been producing world class wines for some time now, but other states are coming on strong with quality production, including Texas and Virginia. However, it is still California that reigns supreme, producing over 90% of wines made in America. In fact, if California were a country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wine in the world. Hawaii and Alaska will just have to get in line …

Learning to let go … When to throw away that opened bottle of wine

Wine drinkers are usually pretty interested in how long a wine will last in their cellar (though perhaps they choose to ignore the difference between “lasting” and “improving”), and certainly the information is available to the mortal man (to quote Paul Simon), with critics often making predictions of aging potential in their reviews, winery websites posting their winemaker’s notes, experienced retailers offering their insights, and of course, the Personal Wine Curator’s automatic “Drink By” date calculator. But what about the shelf life of your wine after you’ve opened the bottle?

Most people will probably leave a bottle of red wine on their table for the next night’s consumption. Some will even use a special cork to vacuum seal the remainders. Still a few more will go to the lengths of pumping nitro into the bottle (we recommend putting the bottle in your fridge overnight and bringing the wine out in time to warm up before you drink it again). Good wine won’t have the chance to last past the second night unless you’re not home to drink it, but if it does, it won’t keep under any circumstances for more than a few days. This holds true for whites and reds, though you may eke out a day or two more from your white simply because you’ve kept it refrigerated. Even good sparklers will hold onto their bubbles in the fridge for a day or so.

This is pretty common knowledge, to be sure, but what about fortified and dessert wines? From our experience, even wine adepts hold onto this stuff too long. And restaurants often disregard any notion of shelf life at all when it comes to sherries and ports. Finos and Manzanillas are quite delicate and have virtually no opened shelf life at all. And that bottle of Ruby Port your grandmother has had in her cupboard for two years? It was gone after the first or second week it was brought forth upon her table, assuming it was refrigerated – though it can always be used for cooking! In tough love terms – use it or lose it. And learn to be OK with the loss.


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