Ξ February 21st, 2010 | → 4 Comments | ∇ A Day at a Time, Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |
Friday night’s Dark and Delicious, the annual celebration of Petite Sirah and food, brought a friend and me over seventy miles to attend. Through slow south bay traffic, we finally crossed the Bay Bridge and picked our way through the bleak, melancholic expanses of the Alameda Naval Station to the Rock Wall Wine Company, our destination. Darkness had fallen by the time we arrived, and we couldn’t help wondering after the choice of venue; that was until, turning a final corner, we gasped at an unobstructed view of San Francisco skyline just sparkling to life this temperate evening.
Perhaps 6:15 p.m., the building was already packed. Arousing, rich aromas and a slightly harsh white light spilled over a long line of souls waiting to enter. And excellent live music could be heard. I mean, very good music, a superb band, the name of which I will post shortly. Of the crowd, I could see the dress code was casual, but some were decked out in their finest, including my companion. Dior mingled with Levis. Thankfully, very few wore perfumes or colognes. (Nothing kills the ability to taste wine more efficiently than perfumes.)
All ages were present. I was pleased to see a great many young people in the mix, twenty-somethings mingling with mature professional men and women. I would estimate the average age of the crowd to have been around 40.
The room was divided into three sections, long rows lined with winery and restaurant offerings. These rows were capped by yet another row of servers at one end, and tables covered with Silent Auction opportunities at the other. Although each row was crowded with guests, they were well behaved and polite, quite unlike the slow motion brawl of a ZAP event, for example. Indeed, folks at Dark and Delicious had ample chance to chat with winemakers and chefs; and more so as the evening rolled on, when the live music ended and the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson and the Commodores hummed over the speakers. Then the rows furthered thinned, many folks preferring to dance. This was my opening to more leisurely taste the Petite Sirahs I had come for.
I tasted extensively, sampling (and spitting) nearly every wine. But I do not think it fair to write notes in such an environment. There is simply no way one can credibly claim to have properly thought a wine. For wine is not about tasting alone. Petite Sirah demands careful attention, so varied is its terroir expressions. It is simply too easy to get lost in its mystery, to ‘rate’ in a purely reactionary manner what one does not immediately understand. I have held my head in shame at many of my blogging colleagues who write in this manner. In fact, one of the most fascinating aspects of Petite Sirah is how dramatically it changes in the glass, how it responds to humidity, the ambient temperature, the salt air, and most importantly, food. In addition, the finished grape’s great aging potential, routinely under-estimated in the traditional literature (witness Jancis Robinson’s faint praise), makes patience a necessity whenever a new bottle is opened. The finest examples are rather thrilling contests between the all-too-human, childish demand for immediate gratification and the immense rewards granted adult patience. Who has not been disappointed when finishing a bottle only to find the final pour to be far more sublime than the first? Like a selfish lover, no one leaves the experience any happier.
Of course, the wine of any variety may be so designed as to be ready by the time it arrives from the market to the table. And a heavy dose of new oak on garish display Friday night may fool some drinkers, but not me. The Petites I like best are mysterious, mercurial yet balanced . Now, because of both the cautionary remarks above and out of an abundance of respect for winemakers, their labor, heartache and unique agricultural challenges, I shall mention only two wineries of very special merit, in my opinion.
First up is the Aver Family’s ‘06 Blessings. This wine made from 100% estate grown fruit, wowed me months ago and it continues to soar. Mr. Aver, learning of the Dark and Delicious event late last year, was wise enough to set aside the few bottles he brought last night. His ‘07 was not ready so he made the painful decision to bring the last of his very first Petite Sirah effort. It is especially pleasing to know the grapes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley. The august California winemaking history of the area is perhaps taking a huge step forward with this wine, retaking its place as an important growing region. Petite Sirah growers take note! And drinkers, get your name on their list. As a small producer, they will sell out easily each year, as the ‘06 Blessings already had months ago. Great juice.
Next is a producer I know absolutely nothing about, a new discovery: Marr Cellars Winery. I tasted were the ‘05 Cal. PS Alger Vineyards, Tehama County(!), the curious ‘06 Cuvée Patrick PS, also from Tehama County, and the ‘05 Shannon Ranch, Lake County PS. I met the winemaker, Bob Marr, and shall interview him later this month. The prices are very competitive for such quality, between $18 and $20. Very well-balanced and focussed, the fruit quite pure. The higher acidity and the restraint of oak flavors won me over.
Finally, it was a great a pleasure to meet for only the second the man whose historical family-owned Concannon Vineyard is the first to have released single bottlings of Petite Sirah way back in 1964, an eternity by California standards. Founded in 1883, Concannon has long carried the torch for this lovely grape. Tireless in his promotion of the grape, this picture of Jim Concannon, too, captures the spirit of Petite Sirah itself, at once youthful, spirited and wise. It was an honor to have again shaken the gentleman’s hand. Good work, sir!
Hats off for Jo Diaz!