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Elyse Rutherford Petite Sirah 2003
In 1987, Ray & Nancy started Elyse Winery with 286 cases of Zinfandel from the Morisoli Vineyard, which is still a cornerstone vineyard source for the winery. After a decade of nomadic winemaking at various custom crush facilities, in 1997 they purchased a small winery and vineyard on Hoffman Lane, the home of Elyse Winery and tasting room.
One of the world's most highly regarded regions for wine production as well as tourism, the Napa Valley was responsible for bringing worldwide recognition to California winemaking. In the 1960s, a few key wine families settled the area and hedged their bets on the valley's world-class winemaking potential—and they were right.
The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980s, when producers scooped up vineyard lands and planted vines throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, and today Napa is home to hundreds of producers ranging from boutique to corporate. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux blends. Napa whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that claim specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil. Farthest south and coolest from the influence of the San Pablo Bay is Carneros, followed by Coombsville to its northeast and then Yountville, Oakville and Rutherford. Above those are the warm St. Helena and the valley's newest and hottest AVA, Calistoga. These areas follow the valley floor and are known generally for creating rich, dense, complex and smooth reds with good aging potential. The mountain sub appellations, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs, include Stags Leap District, Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley (farther east), Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain District and Diamond Mountain District. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from a lot of time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
With its deep color, rich texture, firm tannins and bold flavors, there is nothing petite about Petite Sirah. The variety, originally known as Durif in the Rhône, 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, commonly utilized as a blending partner for softer Zinfandel and other varieties, but also finds success as a single varietal wine. It thrives in warmer spots, such as Lodi, Sonoma and Napa counties.
In the Glass
Petite Sirah wines are typically deep, dark, rich and inky with concentrated flavors of blueberry, plum, blackberry, black pepper, sweet baking spice, leather, cigar box and chewy, chocolaty tannins.
Petite Sirah’s full body and bold fruit make it an ideal match for barbecue, especially brisket with a slightly sweet sauce or other rich meat dishes. The variety’s heavy tannins call for protein-rich and strong flavors that can stand up to 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 genetic characteristics despite being completely distinct.