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Chiarello Family Vineyards Roux Old Vine Petite Sirah 1999
Chiarello is a passionate advocate for great wines surrounding a great meal and he has always sought perfect wines to complement his own culinary style. Little did he suspect that he'd find a gem of a vineyard in his own backyard. As he tended his property, he found long neglected 94-year old vines, waiting to once again produce great wines.
To create these wines, Chiarello enlisted one of the top "old vine" winemakers in Napa Valley, a master at creating rich, dynamic wines from the ultra-ripe fruit of older vines. The 94-year-old Petite Sirah and Zinfandel vines were revived by Michael and Thomas Brown ("2010 Winemaker of the Year," Food & Wine Magazine) using head pruning and dry farming. These two time-honored methods historically used for both Zin and Petite Sirah in California allow the vines to ripen grapes evenly and flourish in the absence of water.
In its first several years, Chiarello Family Vineyards was named Editors Pick, Top Scoring California Sirah (Wine Spectator) with a 92 Rating; Editors Pick, Top Scoring California Zinfandel (Wine Spectator) with a 90 Rating; Top Ten Bottle From Napa (Food & Wine Magazine) and In Napa, Zinfandels Show Off Their Grace, (New York Times, Frank Prial, 11/13/02). It has continued the high scoring tradition, as 10 years later Chiarello Vineyards receives consistent ratings of 90+ scores.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production and tourism, the Napa Valley is the AVA that brought worldwide recognition to California winemaking. The area was settled by a few choice wine families in the 1960's who bet that the wines of the area would grow and flourish. They were right. The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when vineyard lands were scooped up and vines were planted throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, from large conglomerates to small boutiques to cult classics. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that lend even more character specifics to the wines. Furthest south is Carneros, followed by Yountville, Oakville & Rutherford. Above those two are St.-Helena and the valley's newest AVA, Calistoga. These areas are situated on the valley floor and are known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are a few mountain regions as well, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs. Those include Howell Mountain, Stags Leap District, and Mt. Veeder. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from more time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
With its deep color, rich texture, firm tannin, and bold flavors, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah. The variety was originally known as Durif, but took on its more popular moniker when it was imported to California from France in 1884. Despite its origins, it has since become known as a quintessentially Californian grape. It has been commonly utilized as a blending partner for softer Zinfandel and other varieties, but has also found success as a single varietal wine. It is most commonly grown in Lodi and the Central Valley, and to an extent in Sonoma and Napa counties.
In the Glass
Petite Sirah wines are typically deep, dark, rich, and inky, with concentrated flavors of blueberry, plum, backberry, black pepper, sweet baking spice, leather, and cigar box, and chewy, chocolatey tannins. Notes of vanilla and coconut can be found in examples with significant amounts of new oak.
Petite Sirah’s full body and bold fruit make it an ideal match for barbecue, especially brisket with a slightly sweet sauce, and other rich meat dishes. The variety’s heavy tannins call for fatty protein and strong flavors that won’t get drowned out by the wine.
Don’t get Petite Sirah confused with Syrah—it is not, as the name might seem to imply, a smaller version of Syrah. It is, however, the offspring of Syrah (crossed with an obscure French variety called Peloursin), so the two grapes do share some characteristics despite being completely distinct varieties.