Petite sirah can seem like a runaway Mustang, impossible to tame.
But Natalie West, winemaker of Healdsburg’s Foppiano Vineyards, apparently has what it takes to tame the spirited grape. West is behind our wine-of-the week winner — the Foppiano Vineyards, 2011 Russian River Valley Petite Sirah at $25.
“At first, the wine is rough and wild, with heavy tannins and huge acidity,” West said. “As it ages, all the different components start to mellow and blend together to create a beautiful, elegant, complex wine. It’s amazing to see the metamorphosis.”
At Foppiano, petite sirah has always been a focus, and West said she treats the grape like pinot noir to tease out its elegance.
“The biggest challenge about producing petite sirah is tannin management, both in the vineyard and in the winery,” West said.
“It is very easy to get an out-of-balance, over-extracted petite sirah. Gentle handling and monitoring of the wine in all stages ensures the right tannin balance,” she added.
What the uninitiated don’t know is that petite sirah is full of potential, a grape with limitless possibility, West said. “People don’t realize how complex and elegant petite sirah can be.”
“It is a big red wine, however it can have lovely acidity, beautiful fruit expression, excellent tannin structure and age-ability of the best cabernet sauvignons,” she added.
West, who studied at UC Davis, said she has been immersed in the grape culture since childhood.
“My parents have vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley that I grew up on, and of course there were always vineyard related chores,” West said.
“Winemaking is such a wonderful process — to be outside in nature, to follow the seasons, to use a scientific base (yet able to ignore the science if you wish), and to have a lifestyle that promotes great food and great company,” she added.
Wine of the Week: Scouting for the tastiest red wines
Wine writer Peg Melnik had a blind tasting this week of red wines. The range of reds included pinot noir, petite sirah and Bordeaux red blends. The best quality for the price is our wine-of-the-week winner, and top honors go to the Foppiano Vineyards for its 2011 Russian River Valley Petite Sirah at $25. It’s a snappy petite sirah that’s turning heads.
Foppiano Vineyards, 2011 Russian River Valley Petite Sirah, 14.9 percent alcohol, $25. ★★★★
A sassy petite sirah. (Is there any other kind?) Its concentrated black fruit, coupled with its bold spice, make it irresistible. Notes of blackberry, herbs and cracked pepper. A standout.
Other impressive wines:
La Crema, 2012 Monterey Pinot Noir, 13.5 percent, $23. ★★★1⁄2
This is a refreshing pinot with bright red fruit and crisp acid. Aromas and flavors of plum, strawberry and mineral. Vibrant. The quality of the pinot makes this a very tasty find at this price point.
Seven Deadly Zins, N.V. Lodi Zinfandel, 15 percent, $16. ★★★1⁄2
This zin is edgy, loaded with fruit and spice. Notes of raspberry, blueberry and cracked black pepper. Juicy.
Coppola Rosso, 2012 California Red Blend, 13.4 percent, $12. ★★★1⁄2
A rustic red blend of zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon and syrah. A tasty range of flavors — cherry, plum, strawberry and mocha. Easygoing. A smart pick.
Frei Brothers Reserve, 2012 Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County Zinfandel, 14.8 percent, ★★★
A snappy zin with layered flavors. It has a great fruit component — blueberry and raspberry jam. This zin backs up the fruit with a kick of spice — anise and cracked black pepper. A good value.