There were several reasons why Kris and I cracked open a bottle of an old favorite, Concannon's Petite Sirah, tonight.
One reason was that Wannabe Wino's description of her recent "wine find", Mounts Family Winery (in particular their Petite Sirah), had me hankering for one myself. Another reason is that Concannon bottles have a nifty raised relief image on them (barely visible in the photo), and I was just commenting yesterday on how I was a sucker for such "bottle dressing". But the *real* reason I wanted this PS tonight is that yesterday's tasting of the Cèdre Cahors Malbec/Merlot blend oddly reminded me very much of the taste of Petite Sirah.
Thanks to my trusty Vacu Vin, I knew that the remainder of last night's Cahors would still be in prime condition to taste side-by-side with this "fresh" bottle from our collection. Would my "wine memory" of Concannon's Petite Sirah be correct - would there be similarities between tonight's bottle and last night's Cahors Malbec/Merlot blend?
Before we get to the tasting notes and answer that question, I want to take a look at the Petite Sirah grape, and at Concannon's role in popularizing this interesting varietal. As I mentioned in my previous tasting notes of a Bogle Petite Sirah last month, Petite Sirah is a completely different grape from Syrah/Shiraz (those two are the same grape, by the way). So while Petite Sirah sounds like Syrah, they are in fact completely different grapes. Petite Sirah is believed to be a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, also known as Durif after its creator, Dr. Francois Durif, who performed the cross in the late 1800s. So like Syrah/Shiraz, Petite Sirah/Durif are also synonyms for the same grape.
Petite Sirah (or "PS" as fans like to call it) even has its own "support group" aimed at marketing this misunderstood grape. The name? PS - I Love You. "Not just for love letters anymore!" They have done a great job at coming up with this extensive history of the Petite Sirah grape. One thing that jumped out to me from this list was a news article from 1890 written to describe the "Million Grape Cuttings" sent from Concannon to the Mexican Government for experimental planting throughout Mexico. One of the grapes mentioned by name in this 1890 article is Petite Sirah. Again, in 1904 there is a historical document from Concannon, written in French, presumably to obtain Petite Sirah/Durif cuttings from France for planting in California's Livermore Valley.
The Livermore Valley
"The Livermore Valley? Where's that?" you may be asking yourself. Located just past the verdant green (in the rainy winter season) rolling hills of San Francisco's East Bay, the Livermore Valley may not immediately spring to your mind as a premier California wine-growing region. But that was not always the case. As detailed in a recent Vinography post,
the Livermore Valley was once one of the most well-known wine growing areas in the United States, having as many acres under vine as the mighty Napa. Early pioneers of California's viticultural heritage compared the Livermore Valley, with its ancient stream beds and gravely soils, to Bordeaux's famous Graves region (whose very name means simply "gravel"). These well-drained soils were thought to be the ideal location for reproducing Bordeaux's success in California.
But while Napa's renown grew, Livermore's gradually faded with few of the original vineyards recovering from the effects of Prohibition. One of the few wineries that *did* manage to pull through was Concannon. Founded by James Concannon in 1883, they proudly proclaim "America's First Petite Sirah" right on the wine label.
The Concannon Petite Sirah displays the characteristic inky ruby purple color of a PS (Dark & Delicious, says PS I Love You). It has a very fruity nose of jammy blackberries. Big and juicy, the berries follow through to the palate with hints of chocolate and the chalky tannins which I also associate with Petite Sirahs. It was this chalky tannin structure that made me think of Petite Sirahs will tasting last night's Cahors blend.
So how does this Petite Sirah compare to the Cahors Malbec/Merlot blend? They *did* have several similarities - I had my wife taste them blind, and she initially picked the Cahors as the Petite Sirah. As the Concannon opened up, that fruit really started jumping out at which point distinguishing the two was far simpler. However, the serious dose of tannins serves to keep all that fruit in check, making for an overall balanced and enjoyable wine.
If you like big, fruit-forward reds and enjoy playing with the tannins on your tongue, then the Concannon Petite Sirah is for you. If you like a little less fruit, a little more spice and slightly smoother yet still big and chalky tannins, then I'd go for the Chateau du Cèdre Héritage Cahors. Both are excellent wines, and for around $12, you can't go wrong!