Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Wine Blog Wednesday 40 - Petite Sirah

I had to do some real digging to be able to participate in this edition. Sonadora of Wannabe Wino has chosen a corker of a theme, and the wine Ive chosen to represent the theme today is a particularly special wine for me. Sonadora's theme is Petite Sirah (Syrah or however else it is usually spelt) and her post detailing the theme can be found at

The wine Ive chosen is one that I came across almost by accident many years ago. I was trawling through a broking list, as was my want at the time, in order to find little parcels of obscure wines to flesh out my wine-list. I came across a case of six bottles of Ridge Vineyards York Creek Petite Sirah. Now I had read a lot about Ridge in the American wine magazines that I had taken to buying in order to expand my knowledge of wines. I knew that they were famous for their Zinfandels - notably the Geyserville and Lytton Springs (ok I know technically they are vineyard blends comprised mostly of Zin with a few other grapes chucked in for good measure). So here was something completely new to me, and the likelyhood was that it was something relatively unknown. It was! From that first small parcel I fell in love with Ridge Vineyards wines, from the Dynamite Creek to the Santa Cruz, Lytton to the Independance School, Geyserville to the Bridgehead, the names and the grapes just entranced me - zinfandel, carignane, mataro, petite sirah, grenache, cabernet franc, petit verdot and of course cab sauv and chardonnay. From their utalitarian labels, brimming with information, harvest details, location of the vineyards, residual sugar levels, acidity levels etc etc. Not that they were easy to get, I had to content myself with buying from brokers selling small parcels, often grey market stock - european mainly. I also had my first humbling moment as a sommelier with a Ridge wine. I had only been a commis sommelier for about three weeks, and it was my first week flying solo after the departure of the head sommelier. We had a regular guest at the restaurant come in with a party of ten, celebrating a family birthday. He asked me several questions about the Lytton Springs we had on the list, and rather foolishly I tried to bluff the answers. Turned out he knew the answers to the questions and it was a form of initiation, a way of him "measuring" me. I failed miserably, and then spend the whole evening on the back foot, desperately trying to get back on top of the situation. But it taught me an important lesson, not to try and bullshit the customer. Now if I get a tough question I dont know the answer too, I 'fess up and usually avoid any aggro. Then the first opportunity I get I make sure that I find out the answer. The next time that I saw Mr R booked in, I made sure that I studied all about the Ridge Lytton Springs and the Geyserville and several other wines that I had heard him talking about during his last visit. It took me months of effort, but in the end I won him around, and once I figured out his weakness (he was an avid parker point chaser) then I gained control of the relationship and started steering his choices towards the latest 97 point + wines.

Anyways as usual I digress. The wine that Ive chosen is my last bottle of Ridge York Creek Petite Sirah 1995. I was kind of dubious about its durability, but reading the back label, it seems that Paul Draper felt it would benefit from 5-10 years of further development when it was bottled in 1997. So it is now 10 years since it was bottled and if PD's notes were correct then this ought to be at the peak of its life. Reading the notes further it seems that 95 was a challenging year. Unseasonal weather during spring delayed the onset of growth in the vines and when the vines were eventually in bloom rainstorms seriously reduced the yields by damaging the flowers. The end result was a significantly reduced yield (1-2 tons/acre compared to at least twice that), but as we all know that usually in that situation the vine seems to make up for the reduced yield by producing exceptionally concentrated fruit. Long periods of warm summer weather culminated in one of the latest harvests recorded at Ridge with the final blocks of fruit coming in on the 16th November. The wines are usually fermented by block with a portion of the fruit undergoing whole berry fermentation to add fruit character to the wines. The rest are fermented under the cap of grape skins with the juice being pumped over twice daily to extract tannins and flavour without the excessively bitter tannins often found in the seeds. Then it goes into american oak for about a year and a half aging, about 20% into new oak. Paul Drapers tasting note concludes that the wine exhibits an intense berry fruit character with typical black pepper flavours.

So what is it like now? The colour is a deep purple core with a rim that has definate browning, reddening to it. On the nose the aromas are quite well mixed, the berry fruits still quite evident but with more mature aromas too. There is blackberry and an almost plum like aroma with licoriceroot and almost cocoa flavours mixed in there. There is also quite a feral character - not quite leather but some form of animal hide like aroma, slightly smoky and a touch spicy - perhaps cloves and other exotic middle eastern spices. On the palate the black pepper character seems to be more obvious, but the main elements are the fruit flavours - black plums and brambles with coconutty oak character and a touch of tobacco - think aged cuban cigar. The finish carries a slightly smoky edge which if im honest im not too keen on, and there seems to be something almost "dirty" at the end, slightly fungal/foresty/black soil like. But apart from that it is absolutely bloody amazing wine, the tragedy is that this represents my last bottle of the Ridge "obscure" varietal wines that I love so much. My last bottle of the Bridgehead Mataro was consummed some years ago, and they ripped it all up due to viral contamination, so it is never to be replaced. I havent seen the York Creek Petite Sirah on the UK market for a number of years now, it seems they are playing safe over here with the two "Zins" and the frankly disappointing Monte Bello. Ive been trying to get hold of some of their ATP wines for a number of years, but they just dont have enough to spare. We actually did a Ridge Gourmet a couple of years ago, and while the Zins and the Chardonnay were amazing, the biggest disappointment was the Monte Bello which was an anticlimax after all Ive heard about it. For me Ridge will always be about the underdog, the obscure varieties that made me fall in love with their wines. I just hope that I can find some more to keep up the magic.


Sonadora said...

Hello! Thank you for participating! I am a big fan of the Ridge wines, but have only had the Zinfandels myself. I will have to keep an eye out for their PS.

Peter May - The Pinotage Club said...

Thanks for your review.

I have a bottle of the Ridge York Creek 1995 Petit Sirah Ibought from The Wine Society in 11/2005 for £16; but I have just checked their web site and not found it