By Rick Riozza

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.


And there’s a real following among us Californians who just go crazy over this stuff. It’s what a red wine drinker desires when meeting up with a large steak & potato.

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.
  • PMDL & Co. Wine Agency offered the 2012 Jaffurs “Thompson Vineyard” Santa Barbara.
  • The Angeles Wine Agency presented the 2011 Miro Cellars Dry Creek Sonoma Valley.
  • Total Wine and More provided the 2010 Puccioni Dry Creek Sonoma Valley .
  • 3rd Corner Wine & Bistro supplied the 2010 La Coquerel Calistoga Napa Valley

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 cognoscenti who were not 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 finishdid very well with an average score of 18. Only “Minnie” and “JJ” “didn’t quite like it—just not my favorite.”

The Jaffurs did not score as well, with “Flippy” finding it “too tannic and too young” and pretty much everyone else felt this needed food. To me, that’s exactly the point—I scored it much higher and would look for this wine at our local restaurants to enjoy.

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 or I’d recommend aerating it for at least four to six hours.

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.”

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.

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 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!

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