Petite sirah on a winter evening

  • Years of isolation: an eight-bottle pack of David Phinney’s 8 Years in the Desert is available at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd for under $1,000. The collection comes with a signed copy of the winemaker’s book, Eight Years in the Desert

    Years of isolation: an eight-bottle pack of David Phinney’s 8 Years in the Desert is available at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd for under $1,000. The collection comes with a signed copy of the winemaker’s book, Eight Years in the Desert

Petite sirah is one of the world’s least planted grapes, and there is probably more in California than anywhere else.

First created in France about one hundred and fifty years ago from a cross between syrah and the almost extinct peloursin, it is sometimes referred to as durif, or petite syrah.

Anthocyanins give vivid colour to blueberries and raspberries and their high levels in this grape cause it to produce one of the deepest coloured wines. I have always been a big fan and felt that it induces a feeling of warmth so needed in January.

Our Bogle 2016 Petite Sirah (their spelling) is from Clarksburg and I will let their winemaker describe it: “Dark purple stains the glass, while inky and succulent blueberries and blackberries overwhelm the palate.

“Juicy plums and rhubarb come together, followed by touches of roasted, savoury and earthy tones that round out the mouthfeel.

“Supple and spicy, this full-bodied wine was aged in American oak for 12 months. Toasty vanilla, mocha and a bit of cocoa combine with ample tannins to create a finish with structure and character.”

This was the first grape that Warren Bogle planted in 1968 and Wine Enthusiast Magazine rates their 2016 90/100. $22.95.

Bogle 2015 Phantom is a very enjoyable blend of 44 per cent petite sirah, 44 per cent zinfandel, 2 per cent cabernet sauvignon and 10 per cent merlot.

If you are in the mood for a rip-roaring glass of deliciousness, you really should buy a bottle and just feel all the Californian sunshine and friendliness while enjoying a steak, or just a plate of cheese and crackers in front of the fire. $30.40.

This week, we had pan-seared rosemary lamb chops at home, and they made me think of J. Lohr Paso Robles’ Tower Road 2015 petite sirah.

Wine Enthusiast rated it 92/100 and wrote: “Intriguing, deep and dark on the nose, this bottling offers aromas of root beer, black-cherry sauce and vanilla. Framed by upright, yet polished, tannins on the palate, fresh flavours of blackberry and blueberry are lifted by vanilla spice. This is an easy to like, yet heavy-duty, wine. Editors’ choice.” $33.25.

The 1,200-acre Stags Leap AVA in the heart of Napa Valley is famous for cabernet sauvignon, and although Stags’ Leap Winery is right below the rock outcrops that the legendary giant stag leapt across, they are possibly best known for their petite sirah.

Continuing the same time-honoured techniques that have made petite sirah one of the winery’s staples, winemaker Christophe Paubert practised simple and traditional methods to show the uniqueness of the petite sirah fruit.

Avoiding over-extraction, the wine went through a relatively short maceration period (nine to 12 days on average) that included fermentation, and two of these lots were co-fermented with viognier to reinforce the floral character of the petite sirah.

The wine is aged for 12 months in American oak barrels (25 per cent new), allowing the spiciness of the oak to complement the natural spice character of the varietal.

The final blend included small amounts of syrah, grenache and other mixed Rhône varietals to bring further complexity to the finished wine. $64 for the 2015 vintage.

We now go back to 1995 when young David Swift Phinney spent some time studying in Florence and it was here that he became interested in wine.

In 1998 he founded Orin Swift Cellars (his dad’s middle name and his mom’s maiden name) and zinfandel was his first wine, but more about that in a moment as I must tell you about Orin Swift Machete Petit Sirah 2015, that includes some syrah and grenache.

It is a brooding hue with viscous consistency, powerful aromas of creme de cassis, boysenberry and ripe cherries are complemented by a soft minerality and hints of dark chocolate.

The entry is smooth with dark plums and a charred meatiness that floods to create a velvety texture that lingers. Robert Parker rates it 93/100 and writes: “Opens with scents of black forest cake, cassis and menthol with a medicinal undercurrent and a waft of chargrill. Medium to full-bodied, firm and chewy, it has a compelling earthy/savoury character and a long spicy finish.” $69.20.

Every once in a while something so new, so exciting and so exceptional happens, and that is the case this week!

We have delivered to our own stores, and the two Discovery Wines stores, virtually our total allotment of a new wine from Orin Swift called 8 Years in the Desert. We also carry his Abstract, Palermo, Mercury Head and Mannequin, but now I must tell you the story of 8 years.

The first grapes that David worked with were zinfandel. A wine based on this grape, with one of his idiosyncratic names, became so popular that another wine group offered him $40 million for the name. He sold, but with the agreement that he would not work with zinfandel at Orin Swift for eight years.

Just to keep you up to date, in 2016 the new owners sold it for $285 million. (Sorry I do not feel it prudent to give you the name as “others” sell it here).

After the years of isolation in the desert, David is now free to work with any grape variety. The 2018 8 Years in the Desert is 53 per cent zinfandel, 23 per cent syrah, 20 per cent petite sirah and 4 per cent grenache that rated 96/100 at one tasting.

Critic Wilfred Wong comments: “This is a mouthful of wine that explodes on to the palate with the strength of a complex medley of berries. Pair it with slow-grilled baby back ribs.” $62.35.

We have a few very, very special gift packs of 2016 8 Years in the Desert and I understand that we may be the only island to get them. This was the first vintage and it is in an eight-bottle pack (of course) along with a signed book by David.

Each bottle has a different label that I understand will be used over an eight-year life span of new vintages. You will be able to look into the future!

Let’s just say that they are under $1,000 and I have seen them listed in New York for $999.99.

This column is an advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. E-mail or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn has stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George’s (York Street, 297-0409). Visit<;/i>

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Published Jan 17, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 16, 2020 at 10:51 pm)

Petite sirah on a winter evening

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