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Petite Sirah “garbage”? C’mon, Andy Blue!

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To say that I was shocked when I read Andy Blue’s editorial in the latest edition of The Tasting Panel would be an understatement.

It’s a sharp, almost brutal attack on California Petite Sirah—so malicious in tone that I truly don’t understand where Andy is coming from—at least, the Andy I’ve known, liked and admired for decades. He’s a polite, gentlemanly type, thoughtful, wry and scholarly–not given to diatribes or the kind of invective displayed in this hit piece.

He calls Petite Sirah a “garbage grape” and a “Frankenstein monster.” He is “offended” by it, as though Petite Sirah had personally insulted him. In what is possibly the most hyperbolic exaggeration I’ve ever read in a wine article, he speculates that Petite Sirah is “European pay back for America exporting phylloxera to them,” thereby equating the grape and wine with a pest that kills vines and almost destroyed the French wine industry. He supposes that Petite Sirah is possibly better than “toxic bathtub gin,” but—one feels—not by much. He concludes that no one “in their right mind” would choose to drink it, even over Barbera, one of the most disagreeable wines in California.

I mean, what’s going on?

I’m not saying Petite Sirah is the greatest wine in the world. I drink very little; I would not normally buy it for myself. But there are hundreds of varieties and wines I would not normally buy for myself, but which I can be objective about as a critic; I don’t loathe them the way Andy seems to hate Petite Sirah. Even the title of Andy’s piece, P.S., I Don’t Get It, seems designed to mock P.S. I Love You, the Petite Sirah trade and marketing group.

Petite Sirah has its place, definitely, in the world of robust, full-bodied and dry red wines. And there is something historically Californian about it. I’ve particularly enjoyed bottles from Madrigal, Titus, Envy, Ridge, Kent Rasmussen, Zina Hyde Cunningham, Sirius, Turley and Grgich Hills, among others (and you’ll notice that most of those came from Napa Valley). Don’t forget, some of the ancient vine field blends we so rightly celebrate in California are based, largely or in part, on Petite Sirah. You want to talk ageabiilty? A great Petite Sirah will last longer than any Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Look, properly grown, well-made Petite Sirah can be a dramatic, rich, enjoyable wine; most of them are no longer the monsters they used to be, as vintners treat the vines and wines with more respect, ending up with balanced, less alcoholic bottlings. And Petite Sirah is the ideal partner to the kinds of foods restaurateurs serve up at P.S. I Love You’s “Dark and Delicious” event, held annually at Kent Rosenblum’s Rock Wall Wine Co.: pork and beef stews, short ribs, sausages, burgers, and anything with chocolate. So, old pal Andy–a great entrepreneur and brilliant media idea man–I think you maybe woke up on the wrong side of bed when you wrote that piece.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    Some years ago, my wine group here in Los Angeles invited Sean Thackery to join us in a retrospective tasting of his wines to celebrate his career.

    He eagerly accepted — flying in from the Bay Area armed with barrel samples of his (then) latest wines, to complement the bottles we held in our wine cellars.

    We conducted a tasting of nearly every wine Sean had ever made in his career up to that point.

    An event so singularly unique that Tim Fish of Wine Spectator flew in to cover it.

    I can tell you that Thackery’s “Sirius” Petite Sirah is a splendid wine.

    No one who makes a wine that good needs to “explain,” let alone “defend” his/her efforts in elevating the stature of the grape.

    As Steve states, Petite Sirah can be found in the field blends of such wines as Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel and Geyserville “Zinfandel.”

    And of course Ridge’s York Creek Petite Sirah — especially the
    prized Devil’s Hill Vineyard bottling.

    (Our wine group also conducted a 10 year vertical of Ridge’s P.S. wines from vintages 1983 to 1993 paired against top-end red Rhones — replicating a Robert Parker/The Wine Advocate published comparison tasting. The Ridge wines were much preferred to the French Cote-Roties.)

    Speaking as a wine judge for the now-defunct Bon Appetit Magazine’s “Tasting Panel,” and a current participant at The Tasting Panel Magazine’s wine events here in town, I have known Andy for over a decade.

    He is urbane, witty, knowledgeable, opinionated (as all critics are), and — as best as I can tell — still not jaded about wine, even after all these decades. A person who continues to go out of his way to attend wine industry trade tastings and report on his impressions.

    I wish him the opportunity to taste soon a “Sirius” or other well-crafted Petite Sirah before writing off an entire grape variety.

  2. Speaking of well-crafted Petite Sirah, don’t miss Aaron Wines from Paso Robles! Aaron sources from some of the best sites in Paso, and makes absolutely beautiful, balanced, and age-worthy Petite Sirah. His wines (all of them) are not to be missed.

  3. I took a different take on this one; I also get where you’re coming from. We’re all so different with our palates that if Andy doesn’t “get it,” that’s his prerogative. I also know that PS is growing in popularity, as I’ve tracked it for the last 14 years.

    In 2002, there were only 62 growers and producers combined. Today, there are over 1,000… Yeah, that many producers DARE to put PS on a bottle as a variety. Critics aren’t getting about 90-95 percent of those wines, as they don’t make it to wine writers. Why? They are guaranteed to sell them all through direct sales, wine clubs, and a secret weapon for winemaker dinners. Most of the 90-95 percent only produce 500 cases or less cases. THIS is why they don’t send to any writers. Why get someone writing about how horrible it is, and perhaps influence sales, when it’s a cash cow for them already.

    If it’s so unpopular, why do so many wine companies sell through their Petite Sirah’s, before the next vintage turns over?

    A curmudgeon is always good for making us “think” about his own problems, forcing us to make our own conclusion… Versus influencing sales. For me, I’ll have Andy’s Petite and he can have my foie gras. Fair is fair.

    I also wrote about this one… http://www.wine-blog.org/index.php/2015/07/14/more-brewhaha-from-andy-bluehaha/

  4. One can understand that some people do not care much for Petite Sirah. You have allowed that you personally do not buy it.

    But you have said that Mr Blue is wrong. OK. BUT then you, if I read you correctly, take a wholly gratuitous whack at Barbera? How is that different from what Andy has done?

    So, while I do believe strongly that there can be no disputes in matters of taste, I would also suggest that dissing Barbera, a grape that is enjoying a significant run of good form in the Sierra Foothills, is inappropriate and unfortunate.

  5. Sam Harpinger says:

    Steve, I completely agree with you about Andy Blue’s “malicious tone” and how the piece is hyperbolic, and I, like you, don’t quite understand where he is coming from. But I must say, you are calling the kettle black in a lot of ways. When reading Andy’s piece, the first thought that came to mind was your smear post of the Livermore Valley right before you handed the territory to Virginie at WE. Also your post last week about bloggers not knocking other bloggers. You speak with so much hate, quite frequently, and don’t seem to see it. You are easily one of the most opinionated people I have come across in the industry, and seem to find a way to be offended anytime anybody doesn’t agree with you.

    Let’s let the hate subside. 2 posts in the last week of yours are in response to other people’s writings. I miss the days when you wrote detailed pieces about regions, varieties, winemakers. Not responses to other people’s poor journalism.

  6. Bob Henry says:

    “Barbera, one of the most disagreeable wines in California.”

    Ouch!

    Don’t tell that to Jeff Runquist.

    From the Sacramento Bee
    (August 12, 2014, Page Unknown):

    “Barbera Best On Its Own or Blended?”

    Link: http://www.sacbee.com/food-drink/wine/dunne-on-wine/article2606533.html

    By Mike Dunne
    “Dunne on Wine” Column

  7. Bob Henry says:

    From the St. Helena Star
    (February 18, 2010, Page Unknown)

    “Remembering the Martini Barbera and Cabernet Sauvignons”

    Link: http://napavalleyregister.com/star/news/opinion/columnists/george-starke/remembering-the-martini-barbera-and-cabernet-sauvignons/article_13c7d783-c0ac-508b-a306-300631ae5378.html

    By Star Staff

  8. I don’t know Andy Blue, and I like Petite Sirah, but I can sympathize. Sometimes you just don’t “get” something. You fail to see what the fuss is about. You don’t fit the demographic. Your head is turned more readily by other things. You have a blind spot. That column was perhaps too baldly stated, but human.

  9. Jonathan King says:

    When I started tasting wine in the early ’70s, I grew to appreciate the petites of that era for their distinct varietal character … or what I took to be that. They were cheap (Valley of the Moon’s was $1 a bottle, same as their “special” zin) and flavorful, and — especially important to me as a young cook — they provided a zinfandel alternative (for burgers, lasagnas, and stews) with an identifiable flavor profile. Perhaps these were the unbalanced “monsters” mentioned in the mainbar — but I do find that the few modern-day petites I’ve purchased (for $$$, not $ anymore) and drunk have lacked that distinct character I once so valued. They’ve got loads of depth and richness, but I couldn’t ID the varietal one time in ten, I don’t think.

    I also loved Sebastiani’s Sonoma barbera around the same period, for much the same reasons that I liked cheap and rustic petite sirahs: tasty as heck, not-zinfandel, and super food-friendly.

  10. Bob Henry says:

    Jonathan,

    What a blast from the past? Consider Inglenook Charbonos:

    “Rare But Well Done: Charbonos by Inglenook Are Neither Common Nor Costly”

    Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/1989-08-06/magazine/tm-46_1_inglenook-charbono

    Bob

  11. Bob Henry says:

    And more “recently”:

    “The Queen of Charbono”

    Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2000/nov/08/food/fo-48532

  12. Bob Henry says:

    Talk about a “coastal” vineyard!

    Pacific Star — home of Charbonos:

    http://www.pacificstarwinery.com/

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