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Enjoying Petite Sirah at Dark & Delicious



I went to Dark & Delicious, the big Petite Sirah event that my friends, Jo and Jose Diaz, hold every year, through their P.S. I Love You advocacy group. As usual, it was at Kent Rosenblum’s Rock Wall Wine Co. facility,  in an airplane hangar at the old Alameda Naval Air Station, which was given up by the U.S. Defense Department years ago, and whose extensive buildings now are available for rent by private companies, like Rock Wall.

It was a gorgeous night; the island city of Alameda is located across the Bay from San Francisco, and I only wish I’d taken some photos of the S.F. skyline and the amazing new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, all lit up against a starry night sky. But I didn’t. Sorry ‘bout that.

I love Dark & Delicious for several reasons, among them the quality of the food. Jo and Jose recruit local restaurateurs and caterers, and because the wine is Petite Sirah (and “dark and delicious” are perfect descriptors for the wines), the food tends to be rich and heavy: lots of barbecue, sausages, paella, pork, beef, wild boar, Ahi tuna, not to mention irresistable chocolate. I have to admit I’m a bit of a ravenous carnivore at these things: it’s with a mild sense of guilt that I make my rounds of the tables, inhaling everything, stuffing myself silly. Food, or rather the enjoyment of it, is one of the distinctive properties of being alive, particularly for us humans, who, if we’re lucky, have access to such gorgeously prepared delicacies. If I was a young pup and just starting out, I might consider being a chef, like a guy I met at D&D, Tyler Stone, who was making Petite Sirah sorbet using liquid nitrogen with a huge machine that puffed out clouds of white smoke. Tyler reminded me of a young Tyler Florence or Bobby Flay–an ambitious, good-looking chef whose name just might be a household word someday (well, at least, in foodie households).

The Petite Sirahs themselves were amazing. A Mounts and a Tedeschi in particular blew me away. How good Petite Sirah has gotten over the years. It used to be a big, brawny, tannic wine, a sort of redneck cousin to Cabernet Sauvignon, but nowadays the best wines have polished up their images and become truly elegant–although they still have Petite Sirah’s swagger.

Just for the heck of it, here are the top Petite Sirahs I’ve reviewed for Wine Enthusiast over the last six months: Stags’ Leap 2010 Ne Cede Malis, Ballentine 2010 Fig Tree, Grgich Hills 2009 Miljenko’s Vineyard, J. Lohr 2011 Tower Road, Retro 2009 Old Vine, Raymond 2010, Galante 2010 Olive Hill, Peachy Canyon 2011, Ancient Peaks 2010 and Alta Colina 2010 Ann’s Block. Note the proliferation of Central Coast sources; Petite Sirah no longer is just a Napa-Sonoma phenomenon.

A tip of the hat to Jo and Jose, for always pulling D&D off with such artful precision. Unless you’ve done one of these big events yourself, you can’t even imagine all the prep work that goes into them–not to mention all the opportunities for disaster. That D&D goes off so effortlessly is a testimony to their organizational skills.

Speaking of events, here are a few I’ll be going to in the near future: World of Pinot Noir, the Pinot Noir Shootout, In Pursuit of Balance, the Paso Robles Cabernet Collective, the Chardonnay Symposium and the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. The Wine Bloggers Conference invited me back, after a lull of a couple years, to be on a panel for their Santa Barbara conclave, July 11-13, although I won’t know for two or three weeks if I can make it. I like getting out on the road and going to stuff, especially if I can bring Gus, which I usually can. If you’re planning on attending any of these events, look me up.Gus


  1. Steve,

    In Pursuit of Balance (I.P.O.B.) is the subject of this weekend’s Wall Street Journal “On Wine” column by Jay McInerney:

    In essence, they espouse a return to making earlier style California Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays.

    The replanting of Napa and Sonoma due to phylloxera led to newly-adopted vinicultural practices (e.g., new clones, greater planting density, new trellising configurations, drip irrigation, canopy management, new yeast strains).

    Eschewing longer hang times and sorting tables, and adopting “field blends” of variously ripened grapes and wild yeast fermentation won’t necessary turn back the clock to 1970s and 1980s era wines.

    I would encourage you to query enology professors at UC Davis and Fresno state on whether the phylloxera-replanted vineyards intrinsically produce more extracted, higher alcohol California wines . . . or whether this is a volitional choice by winemakers.

    ~~ Bob

  2. Guss I do hope you can make it down to the wine bloggers conference in Santa Barbara early. A group will be coming to Ventura County a day early to taste wines and have a dinner. Our area will be a big sponsor. Gwendolyn Alley a blogger will be coordinating these folks. My parents are members of the Ventura Counnty winery association. I’m their winery dog Sandi Sue. I can’t wait to meet you. Feel free to contact my mom Chris via emai. She met you at the Chardonnay Symposium .

  3. Dear Steve,

    Thanks so much for a great story on our PS I Love You’s Dark and Delicious Petite Sirah® night. Jose and I are still in recovery… This morning I have to go empty the dishwasher and refill it with the final dump buckets and water pitchers. There’s inventory to do, so that everything is tucked away for next year, and I know what to purchase come January 2, 2015.

    The one element that you bring to your story that even I haven’t written about yet is the cadre of things that I constantly and unavoidably worry about, during the day of set up and the day of D&D. You wrote… “you can’t even imagine all the prep work that goes into them–not to mention all the opportunities for disaster.”

    Ah, the opportunities for disaster… Running out of glasses is a huge potential, for instance. This year I had six volunteers call in sick… How to manage with a bare bones volunteer staff? (We pulled it off, but I think right by the hair of our chinny chin chins…) I also had five foodies that dropped like flies just before the night arrived… One had a roof collapse from the rain the week before and was in repair mode. The four others were sick with the flu (like our volunteers)… Some said they’d come in just the same (dedication beyond belief), and I insisted that they would be better off recovering. I also privately knew we’d all be better off if everyone was in great health, versus being there and spreading germs. (The past two years in a row, I was so sick after the event that my game plan for this year was to not have that happen again. Knocking on wood; so far so good.)

    Planning and pulling off an event is a massive undertaking. It’s so very special when it’s over to have someone who has a gift with words like you do, to take the time to let others know that the night was worth all that goes into it; before, during, and for me now… after. Most especially, being thankful for every element that made the compound…

  4. Dear Sandi Sue, many woofs! for the invitation. We hope to come to WBC.

  5. @Bob Henry: Perhaps post-phylloxera plantings result in greater extraction. If so, in the case of Pinot Noir I believe that’s caused by the Dijon clones, which were developed to ripen in a colder climate that California. But it’s also a conscious decision by winemakers.

  6. Steve,

    For those who wish to read up on Pinot Noir clones, I proffer these:

    ~~ Bob

  7. Frequently it is said that the Dijon clones are inappropriate for California Pinot regions because they were selected for their performance in a colder climate. I will leave for another day whether Burgundy is truly a cooler climate than, say Green Valley or Anderson Valley. Perhaps some winemakers who worked in Burgundy can weigh in on this, or some of the climate data junkies. What I can offer is having worked for years with Dijon clones growing side by side with heritage selections (Swan, Pommard) in Marimar’s vineyard in Green Valley. Harvesting of these clones is separated by days, not weeks, and the order varies by vintage conditions. It is not like there is rapid sugar accumulation in the Dijon clones (115, 667, 777) that pushes them in before the heritage selections.

  8. Bob Henry says:

    Steve, et. al.:

    On the question I posed about the 1990s replanting of California vineyards due to phylloxera — resulting in the loss of “old vines” grape varieties, and the adoption of drip irrigation — see this I.P.O.B. seminar discussion:

    From Wine-Searcher (March 11, 2014):

    “California Vines Age Prematurely”

    By W. Blake Gray

    Summary: An early addiction to irrigation might be the reason that vines planted in California in the 1990s are not aging gracefully.


  9. Bob Henry says:

    Steve, et. al.:

    And on the question of high alcohol levels, see this news report:

    ~~ Bob

    “Newly Identified Yeast Makes Lower-Alcohol Wine”

    Summary: A team of researchers at the Australian Wine Research Institute have isolated a strain of yeast that, in lab tests, has produced lower-alcohol wines. During trials, an Aussie Shiraz was made with alcohol levels 1.4 percent lower than a conventionally produced wine from the same must. In a test with Chardonnay, alcohol was 0.9 percent less.


  10. Bob Henry says:


    On canopy management and taming high alcohol levels, see this article:

    “The Effect of Leaf Trimming to Delay Grape Ripening:
    A Beneficial Technique for a Changing Climate?”


    ~~ Bob

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