Petite Sirah 

Petite Sirah has had a long and somewhat confused past. First mentioned back in the 1880s in California to describe a group of dark grape varieties, it properly refers to the French grape Durif, that grape's parent, Peloursin, or a cross between the two. Occasionally true Syrah has been labeled as petite, but what really matters is that after a decline in popularity, Petite Sirah is making something of a comeback. It's a grape particularly well-suited to the warm regions of California, and flavor-wise is anything but petite, producing dark, deeply fruited juice with sturdy tannins that has long been popular for shoring up weaker red blends. On its own, it's a bit like a Zinfandel but with better structure and racier acidity. Here are the panel's three favorites from the new wave of Petite Sirah:

2005 Peltier Station Petite Sirah, $16.99

Made with grapes from the northern boundary of California's Lodi region, where warm days assure a ripeness that's tempered by the acidity from the cooling influence of the Sacramento Delta. It's an area known for its rich Zinfandels, and this Petite Sirah is definitely on the big side while still maintaining admirable balance. A shifting array of aromas evolve over time, including spicy berry, dried flowers, licorice, herbs, pepper, wet slate, clove and creme brulee. Creamy raspberry and ripe plum flavors coat the palate, with toasty oak and ripe tannins rounding out the surprisingly crisp finish.

2004 Trentadue Petite Sirah, $15.99

The only wine of the group with a light kiss of true Syrah (just 5 percent). The grapes are sourced from three different regions: Mendocino, Lake County and Alexander Valley. The result is a richly aromatic wine with bright berry, currant, touches of white pepper, nutmeg and bittersweet chocolate. It's a fleshy, deep mouthful wine with smooth berry fruit flavors backed by spicy plum and silky cassis. Smooth tannins mark the long, velvety finish.

2005 Two Angels Petite Sirah, $21

The steep slopes of Lake County's High Valley, with its stone riddled volcanic soil, produces a Petite Sirah with a distinctively Rhone-like quality. It opens with meaty, earthy aromas of roasted game, curry, spice and mineral all playing against a fruity floral side of violet, berry and pomegranate. This wine shows impeccable balance on the palate with fresh and creamy black cherry fruit, silky smooth tannins and soft acidity. It's simply delicious in a relatively understated, elegant style.

This week's panel: Dave Faulk, Porterhouse Meats; David Kirkpatrick, Boise Co-op Wine Shop; Cindy Limber, Bardenay; Karen McMillin, Young's Market; Leslie Young, Spirit Distributing.

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