When it comes to wine values, it’s not just about price, although price these days is certainly a key consideration. After all, what good is a $10 wine if it’s flat and uninteresting? Why drink a $20 bottle if it’s just OK? The same question can be asked about wine at any price. As I have often said, life is just too short for bad wine.
So, just where do you find the best values? It’s a question I’m often asked, and I have consistently said that France, Spain and Italy offer some of the best wines for the money, regardless of price. California has its moments, but at the lower end I have always found it challenging. There is still a great deal of surplus California juice out there being bottled as some wine concept by people who probably know more about marketing than winemaking.
All of which is to say that I got excited the other day when a bottle of $10 California red came my way from Ravenswood, the Sonoma County winery best known for its zinfandels. However, this new release was not a zinfandel, but Ravenswood’s 2006 California “Vintners Blend” Petite Sirah, and it was one of the more satisfying budget California reds I’ve tasted in recent years.
Petite sirah, in case you haven’t discovered it, is the “other” California red and, for my money, perhaps the most intriguing one at that. Yes, I know that lovers of California cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir or zinfandel may disagree. But there is something earthy and wild about petite sirah, which is a genetic cousin of the better-known syrah and, in its better examples, all but screams out, “This is interesting wine.”
That’s exactly what happened when I opened Ravenswood’s petite sirah, which is marked by a complexity that belies its modest price. For one thing, the fruit is first rate — big, but not over the top. Alcohol weighs in at a relatively modest and welcome 13.5 percent. The grapes come from growers in both Sonoma County and Lodi; hence the more generic “California” appellation.
The fruit is rich and ripe, mainly blackberry, and is accented by notes of tobacco and sage with ample acidity and an impressively long finish (remember this is $10 wine). It’s framed, or structured, with moderate tannins that are often missing in typically soft, generic California reds at this price.
While petite sirah is growing in popularity, it is still often used as a blending wine that provides color (deep) and structure when combined with other varieties. In this case the tables are turned. Ravenswood’s wine is 92 percent petite sirah and eight percent syrah.
While Ravenswood has produced limited quantities of of petite sirah since 1992, the 2006 “Vintners Blend” is the first to be released broadly. I enjoyed it with a simple roasted chicken. An herb stuffing was a particularly nice match for the wine. I would certainly consider it as a budget turkey wine and with your favorite grilled steak. In these tough times, this wine is a tough one to beat.
Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at