Petite Sirah 

The story of this grape goes back to the 1880s, when it was first referenced in California. Plantings for petite sirah have historically been a mix of several different varieties, including syrah, but recent DNA testing has shown the majority of petite sirah vines to be durif, a rather obscure French hybrid that has all but disappeared from that country. It has fared better in the New World, though lately it has been somewhat eclipsed by true Syrah. Still, the grape has a lot to recommend, being anything but petite in flavor. Filled with rich, ripe fruit, this full-bodied red makes for a great winter warmer. Here are the panel's top picks:

2006 Bogle Petite Sirah, $9.99

This wine opens with floral aromas highlighted by fresh strawberry and blackberry with a healthy dose of vanilla and toasty oak. That oak carries through on the silky palate in this nicely structured wine. Made in a fruit-forward, crowd-pleasing style, supple, sweet cherry fruit dominates, but it is nicely balanced by a healthy hit of acidity. A perennial best buy, the Bogle Petite Sirah never disappoints.

2006 C.G. Di Arie Petite Sirah, $30

An inky rich wine with a voluptuous nose that's marked by dark berry fruit with round, toasty oak, licorice, plum, leather and spice. Bright bing cherry flavors explode on the palate, in this crisp and lively wine that shows remarkable persistence. Not your typical California petite, this one could pass for an old world Cote du Rhone with its supple tannins, food-friendly acid balance and long, smooth finish.

2005 Peltier Station Petite Sirah, $16.99

The aromas are light and elegant but remarkably multi-layered with black cherry, ripe berry, currant, plum, black pepper, nutmeg and touches of mint, fennel and spice. Much bolder flavors fill the mouth with ripe red fruit backed by creamy cocoa, coffee and spice. Smooth tannins add texture throughout, coating the tongue on the long smooth finish of this classic California petite sirah.

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

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