These days, Concannon Vineyard is just another part of multi-billion dollar The Wine Group and its wine is mostly ordinary grocery store stuff. A couple of decades ago, though, Concannon made some of world’s best petite sirah, a red grape that is little known and perhaps even less respected. I was lucky enough to have a taste of those days when I had dinner with an old Concannon petite sirah.
My pal John Bratcher brought the wine, the 1997 reserve petite sirah; I made sausage parmigiana with my mom’s red sauce; and Lynne Kleinpeter added her keen palate and quick wit.
The Concannon petite sirah, which cost just $25 when it was released in 2001, did not disappoint. That this wine, made in the supposedly less prestigious Livermore Valley from what is supposed to be a lesser grape, aged for almost 20 years with such grace speaks to how silly we are when we assume that something not anointed by the Winestream Media isn’t worth drinking.
The wine’s color was just starting to brown and the cork didn’t come out cleanly. Other than that and a bit of sediment, this was a wine that had aged exquisitely — soft but still delicious dark plum fruit, a hint of spice and earth, supple tannins, and a balance and integration that you can only hope for when a wine ages this long. We took our time with it, making sure it lasted the entire dinner. This was not an experience to be rushed.
John told us that the Concannon family, whom he had worked with, made reserve from a vineyard so old that the grape juice was actually dark and powerful enough to use as ink. This partly explains why the wine aged so well, but it’s also a testament to the Concannons, who wanted to make a wine that would, literally, stand the test of time. Which it did.
Sadly, this Concannon petite sirah isn’t available unless you know someone who was smart enough to save a bottle. And, ordinarily, I don’t write about wine that you can’t buy. But this was such a moment in my wine drinking life that I wanted to share it. My only regret? That this post is the only way most of you will get to taste it.
Photo courtesy of Splash, using a Creative Commons license
The Wine Curmudgeon long ago accepted the fact that petite sirah didn’t taste like petite sirah, that it had been bastardized by Big Wine to taste like a darker fruit version of grocery store merlot on the cheap end and by high-end winemakers to taste like high-alcohol syrah or zinfandel.
So it is with great joy that I can report that the Pennywise ($12, sample, 13.5%), a California red wine, tastes like petite sirah. Really. And for only $12, which means it’s probably closer to $10 at many retailers.
Look for lots of plum, some herbal notes, quietly done fake oak, and even tannins and acidity to round everything out. The latter surprised me even more than the plum, since it seems to be the goal of most large producers to take tannins and acidity out of cheap red wine so as not to offend consumers (and that the wine suffers is just a minor inconvenience). How much did I like this wine? I’m recommending it even though the tasting notes say the finish includes “toasted cedar plank,” which is one of those descriptors that makes most of us reach for a beer.
This is a burger and weeknight pizza wine, in which the wine will do its job and make the food taste better. That’s a fine accomplishment for a $10 red wine. That it’s petite sirah is even better.
Why does the Wine Curmudgeon do a Fourth of July wine post (for seven consecutive years, in fact)? Because the holiday is a birthday party, and what do we do at birthday parties? Drink wine and celebrate, of course.
Consider these bottles for your Fourth of July wine — and don’t forget the porch wine concept, where what you drink has as much to do with how hot it is as anything else:
?Villa des Anges Old Vines Ros 2013 ($9, purchased, 12%): This rose from the south of France, made with cinsault, features barely ripe strawberries and is so fresh that it almost doesn’t taste like wine. Highly recommended, and certain to be in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame. Yet another example of what a great grape cinsault is for rose.
? Pacific Rim Riesling 2011 ($10, sample, 11.5%): Washington state white is medium dry, with a touch of lime fruit, honey in the middle, and wonderful oiliness. A sophisticated sweet wine, and especially for the price. Chill this, sit on the porch, and you won’t mind too much how hot it is.
? Handcraft Petite Sirah 2011 ($10, sample, 14.5%): Intriguing, inexpensive California red that benefits from the addition syrah and zinfandel — more structure, less over the top fruit. It has petite sirah’s plumminess and spice, but isn’t too heavy (despite the alcohol).
? Gloria Ferrer Private Cuvee NV ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This sparkling wine, without a UPC code, was on sale at Kroger at one-third of what it would have cost in the restaurant where it was supposed to be. How it ended up in a grocery store is a mystery, but if you see it at this price, buy it — firm bubbles, some caramel, and fresh green apple fruit. Failing that, the Ferrer Sonoma Brut, often on sale around this price, is an equally fine value.
More Fourth of July wine:
? Fourth of July wine 2013
? Fourth of July wine 2012
? Wine of the week: Stephen Vincent Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
? My lunch with Provence
Consistency is the difference between great cheap wine and ordinary cheap wine. Two Buck Chuck, for all of its acclaim, does not taste the same from year to year, and its quality goes up and down with regularity. Even better made wines, like Meridian, suffer from this problem. One vintage will be terrific and the next will be much less than that (which is why its chardonnay is dropping out of the $10 Hall of Fame next year).
Bogle's wines, on the other hand, do not have this problem. I have been writing about cheap wine for almost 20 years, and for almost 20 years I have always depended on Bogle. It has never let me down. The petite sirah ($10, purchased) is the winery's showpiece, an outstanding example of the producer's quality and consistency. It is always clean and always varietally correct, which means it's not the same thing as a syrah and is not made to taste like one. This is saying something given the current trend toward blending varietal wines to make them sweeter and fruitier in a misguided attempt to appease the American palate.
Look for berry fruit, a touch of oak, and tannins at the end that give the wine some welcome oomph. This is a burly red meat wine — pot roast and gravy, stews that have been cooking all day, and the like. Highly recommended, and the kind of $10 wine to drink to celebrate the blog's third birthday. It's the kind of cheap wine that makes writing about cheap wine a pleasure.