Well, I knuckled down today and tasted through fifteen Petite Sirahs that had accumulated here over the past couple of months. I'm not sure why today seemed like an ideal day for big, black, tannic wines, but when the inspiration hits, one must follow it lest one's soul shrivel like a ten day old artichoke. Or something like that.
What I determined from this admittedly random and non-comprehensive sampling is that there's still plenty of Petite out there that winemakers feel an unholy obligation to slap with bargeloads of new oak, evidently as counterforce to the massive, aggressive extraction of color and tannin they also seem dead-set on providing. Weird. I just can't see how one would taste some of these wines in barrel and not think, "Well, Jeez, that's no fun."
That said, there's also at least a few truly exceptional Petite Sirahs out there, and more than a few quite good ones. You could spend a good month or two trying to track down bottles of Switchback Ridge's imposing (and super-culty) version, which is kind of mind-blowing despite or perhaps even because of its Brobdingnagian proportions, or you could track down one of the wines below. Easier to locate, not as expensive, and mighty tasty. What more do you want?
2004 Quixote Petite Sirah ($60) From Carl Doumani's (founder of Stags' Leap Winery) new venture, this is certainly not lightweight stuff (nor is the price lightweight either), but it's so silky smooth and lush that you don't even notice the power. Aromas of vanilla, milk chocolate, and black currant jam; voluptuous blackberry fruit with a black pepper finish. My notes say "yum," which seems apropos.
2004 Stags' Leap Winery Petite Sirah ($38) Just chance that I happened to taste the current release from Doumani's old haunt next to his new baby; go figure. In any case, Petite has been one of Stags' Leap's focus wines for a long time: in '04 it's definitely young, with tough tannins that clamp down at the end, but underneath them are wild berry and roast meat notes, and the scent wafting up of soy, tar and berries.
2005 Mounts Family Winery Petite Sirah ($28) This Dry Creek winery is a new name to me, but if the rest of their wines are as good as their Petite, they're well worth checking out. I enjoyed this particularly for its clear, classic Petite-Sirah-blueberry aroma and flavor, as well as the firm but velvety tannins that cover the palate but don't abuse it. The berry notes increase in complexity in the finish. Good stuff.
2005 Oak Grove Reserve Petite Sirah ($8) I've got no idea what a wine that costs $8 is doing calling itself 'reserve'—how much is the regular bottling, $2? But regardless, this is a nifty little Petite Sirah for a very modest price. It might as well be a different species from the above three, as there's none of that tongue-blanketing concentration here, but there is a nice raspberry liqueur note in the aroma, and light but sweetly raspberryish flavors. Not a wine to think about, just to glug down at a barbecue or something.
PS. If you find yourself turning into a Petite Sirah fanatic—it can happen—it's worth checking out P. S. I Love You, the Petite Sirah advocacy organization.