This bottle is another case of me seeing an interesting varietal on the shelf in a wine shop and not being able to help myself. Not so long ago when I was just starting to learn some less obvious things about grapes and wine I learned that Petite Sirah, a wine I knew from the USA, was called Durif in Australia. I now know that a huge number of grapes change their name from region to region or country to country, but having that one bit of data made me feel like I knew something that was a bit rarefied. Of course, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know, but I will always treasure that brief point in time where I felt like I was one up on the world in terms of knowing something. Alas, now that I know nothing, and worse than that, what I thought I knew wasn’t quite right.
So the wine today is in fact one of the aforementioned varietals, the Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah 2008. Again, from general to specific, this is a wine from the USA, and from California in particular. However, the grapes are sourced from multiple vineyards across at least two American Viticultural Areas, and in fact two counties, so California is the most specific area of origin that can be put on the label. The website is much more specific, but I’ll get to that.
At one point I thought I’d have a consistent format in terms of region, grape, producer and then wine. I’m covering all those points, generally speaking, but I’m going with the topic that’s most interesting for me as the opener. In this case, it’s the grape, Petite Sirah. As I mentioned, I had been under the impression that it was another name for Durif, but that’s only part of the story. DNA profiling from the University of California, Davis in the late 1990s revealed the name was being used by four different grape varieties. One was Durif, but some vines called Petite Sirah were in fact Syrah, Peloursin, and a Peloursin x Durif crossing. As I mentioned with regard to the origins of Sauvignon Gris in Chile, confusion over grape varieties is quite common. I think generally these days if something is labelled Petite Sirah, it’s the same as Durif, but perhaps not always.
So anyway, for Petite Sirah that is also Durif, the variety came into being as a cross between Peloursin and Syrah and was spread throughout southeastern France in the second half of the 19th century. It was known as resistant to downy mildew but was not seen as a high quality grape. It has since all but disappeared from France, but is quite common within North and South America, particularly California. It does well in warm regions, and produces a dark, balanced, tannic red wine. It’s often blended with Zinfandel, giving some backbone to go with the perfume and fruit.
So, California. It’s a big place, and they grow wine all over it. I just so happen to have a map of California’s Winegrowing Regions in front of me, courtesy of the California Wines stand at vinexpo 2011 and it lists 111 AVAs. (It turns out it’s also online, here.) However, rather than talk in generalities (or to try to specifically address all 111), I’d rather talk about the AVAs from which these grapes came, Clarksburg and Lodi. They’re near one another, however, Clarksburg is in Sacramento County while Lodi is in San Joaquin County. The AVA system in the USA allows the use of county names if grapes are from the same county but different AVAs, but if they’re from different counties, the AVA goes to the state level, hence this is a wine of California. They’re both not far from Sacramento itself, in what’s broadly termed the Central Valley, though the map I have refers to it as the Inland Valleys region, made up of the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley. Given that Chile also has a Central Valley, perhaps they want to avoid regional confusion.
I’m sure there are worlds of difference between Clarksburg and Lodi, but for the purposes of this blog I’m going to lump them together. Both describe themselves as Mediterranean climates with warm days and cool nights, with dry growing seasons and rain during the winter. Having lived in San Francisco, I can attest to the blast of cool air from the sea that goes straight through the Golden Gate towards Sacramento every evening, blanketing the city in fog and cold air. Soils range from granitic and rich, through to sandy loams, with heavy clay regions and well-drained stony soils thrown into the mix. Bogle in particular describes their Clarksburg vineyard as having fertile clay and peat soils, while the Lodi vineyard is of sandy loam. Both regions feel the influence not only of the cool sea air of the Pacific in the evening, but also the impact of various rivers that run through the area toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
Bogle Vineyards is family run operation, with the family having been involved in farming in the area for six generations. Their first vineyards were planted in the 1970s, and their holdings are now in excess of 1500 acres. Their website lists 8 varietal wines from vineyards throughout northern California, as well as a Zinfandel/Petite Sirah/Mourvèdre blend and a ‘Port’ from Petite Sirah. (The EU’s lawyers have not completely conquered California as yet.)
In the glass this wine is a very dark purple, though not so much that it has dark legs. The nose has a reserved fragrance, with a little perfume and blue fruit coming through. On the palate, it has a medium plus body, with a very pleasing array of flavours – plums, blueberries and spice, along with some tannins and vanilla from the oak. I think agreeable is a good term to describe this wine, in that it’s well made and is likable, but it’s not challenging. There is some acidity, but it doesn’t keep up with the fruit or even the tannins. That said, it is very easy drinking, and it’s a good value for its price point. An everyday wine.