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Two Petite Sirahs from Retro Cellars

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Retro Cellars is a good winery and they make good Petite Sirah, with both a Napa Valley and a Howell Mountain appellation. I always gave them pretty high scores: generally low 90s, and always with a Cellar Selection recommendation. Petite Sirah is, of course, a very particular wine; you have to be in the mood for this rather heavy, full-bodied variety. With winter fast approaching, it’s a great choice for full-bodied stews and roasts. Anyhow, Retro sent me two new 2012s to review, so here we go.

Retro 2012 Petite Sirah (Napa Valley), $40, alcohol 14.5%. It’s nice to think that I would have known this was Petite Sirah even without actually knowing it (which I did), because of the color. There’s no other California wine this black, and I do mean black, with an utterly impenetrable core. Even at the rim, there’s barely any color, maybe 1/32nd of an inch of garnet. The wine smells as dense as it looks, offering up heaps of blackcurrants, with hints of espresso, violets, unsweetened dark chocolate, grilled meat bone and graphite, with a jacket of sweet, toasted oak. In the mouth, no surprises! Big, luscious, thick in tannins, huge in blackcurrants, with a spicy finish. Serious wine, mind you, port-like for a cold winter night, if a little soft. Yes, the tannins are formidable. But they’re sweet, ripe tannins, not the numbingly hard kind, so I wouldn’t mind drinking this wine tonight. Still, it will age for many years, not necessarily getting “better” (whatever that means), but shedding sediment and seemingly gaining sweetness. Score: 93 points.

Retro 2012 Old Vine Elevation Petite Sirah (Howell Mountain), $50. They call it “Elevation” because it’s the mountain wine, as opposed to the regular Petite, which is from Pope Valley. The official alcohol is 13.4%, but it doesn’t taste delicate, the way a 13.4% Pinot Noir would. It’s a big wine, drenched in 100% new French oak for thirty months. That’s a lot of wood, but the wine handles it deftly, because the fruit—blackberries, blueberries, blackcurrants—is so incredibly concentrated. The tannins are bigtime, too. There are all sort of complexing tastes: anisette, dark chocolate shavings, charred beef, prosciutto, and exotic spices: cinnamon, clove, pepper, cardamom. How is it different from Retro’s Napa Valley Petite Sirah? It’s not really. A tad more intense, more focused, better structured. Well, those are the sorts of things you pay extra for. In this case, an additional ten bucks is worth it. Interestingly, 60% of the blend comes from the Park Muscatine Vineyard, which dates to the 1890s, which must also account for the wine’s unusual depth. It’s terrific to drink now with something rich, like short ribs, and it will age for at least twenty years, softening over time as it sheds sediment. Score: 94 points.

  1. Although I mostly drink European wine, I love it when I can get my hand on a good California Petite Sirah, which is rare here in Maine. I recently bought a couple of bottles of a recent Ridge PS in Massachusetts, and I also got ahold of a bottle of Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores PS. Plus a found a 2008 Rosenbloom on a closeout. Very good.

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