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08.05.2004

2002 Girard Petite Sirah, Napa

I'm not a huge fan of Petite Sirah. I haven't drunk a whole lot of it, and what I have had was generally so heavily tannic to the point that it was tough to swallow. There have been exceptions to that rule, most notably every Petite produced by Francis Arroyo cellars in Napa (so small that his wines are only ever sold on his mailing list), and now this wine from Girard.

It's interesting that so few winemakers in California are doing anything with Petite Sirah (except blending it into Zinfandel and other varietals) considering that before 1965 or so it was by far the most widely planted grape in California. Some winemaker friends and I were chatting a couple of weeks ago about how eventually someone will come along and slam-dunk this varietal in the same big commercial way that Ridge and Turley have.

For now, however, there are a few producers that are making excellent Petite, and Girard is one of them.

Girard as a brand has been around for 30 or so years, but in 1995 its estate was sold to Dean and Deluca, and it simply existed in name only. Then in 2000, Pat Roney, a sommelier and former president of Chateau St. Jean in Sonoma purchased the brand and started making wine under its label again with the help of winemaker Marco DiGiulio. While pre-1995 Girard had a reasonable history of solid but not incredible Napa red wines, DiGiulio (former winemaker at Robert Pepi and most recently Lokoya) took things up a notch and has been cranking out some fabulous wines in the last 4 years. To that end, they have been named "Artisan Winery of The Year" for 2004 by Wine & Spirits Magazine.

This wine is a blend of 90% Petite Sirah, 7% Zinfandel, and 3% Carignane. These blending components help round out the deep darkness of the Petite and keep it from being too syrupy black and tannic. In addition, exposure of the freshly pressed juice to the skins (also known as pumpover) was minimized to reduce tannic buildup. The wine was aged in French Oak for 18 months before bottling. 1,599 cases produced.

Tasting Notes:
This wine is deep, dark, opaque red, with hints of blue in the glass, and its nose is just as brooding, with aromas of coffee, tobacco blueberries and highlights of bitter chocolate. In the mouth it is velvety with tannins that envelop flavors of espresso, blueberries, and black cherries. The finish is medium to long, and incorporates hints of cedar and smoke.

Food Pairing:
This stuff is dark, and while it isn't as excessively tannic as most Petite Sirah, it still needs to be drunk with really stinky cheeses, spicy stuff, or red meats of the mongo variety. This wine would go particularly well with spicy lamb and chorizo chili.

Overall Score: 8.5/9

How Much?: $24

I got mine through Porthos. This wine is extremely hard to find, as it sells out within the first few weeks of release.

Comments (1)

08.05.04 at 9:53 PM

Ridge actually makes a great Petite Sirah, by the way. It's their Dynamite Hill, and is one of their more cult-y wines. I'm not sure how I got a bottle, but we opened it (a '99) the other night and it was all luscious blackberries with perfectly reasonable tannins. Of course, we decanted it for forty minutes beforehand, which might have helped.

But this tannin thing is an issue in general. I wonder if the discrepancy between tannic and less tannic versions is tied to the whole confusion about what petite sirah actually is. There seem to be a number of things called petite sirah which may in fact be field blends or actually petite sirah or a grape called Durif. (mostly, again, from The Wine Bible, but it's alluded to in Zinfandel, by Charles Sullivan).

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