27 February 2009

Hahn Estates Wines and Two New Ingredients

As long time readers know I don't often drink the same wine twice. But recently I got a craving for a Cab Franc, and I decided to revisit the 2006 Hahn Cabernet Franc. Only this time, I had an inside connection to Hahn Estates through fellow blogger Wine Diver Girl. I shot off an e-mail asking for any interesting trivia about the wine, something beyond the shelf talkers and data sheets.

I was amazed at the response.

From Winemaker Paul Clifton, explaining how the Cab Franc got popular because of the winery's delicious Meritage:

"I can’t remember specific vintage, but the wines were so good, we decided to bottle up Cab Franc on it’s own for the National Market. (Maybe it was the 02’ vintage). It turned out not to be a great seller. The problem- there wasn’t much demand. I believe it took more than 2 years to sell out of that vintage. So, we tried to kill it as far as offering anymore once we got through that vintage. Six months or so went by and all of a sudden we had folks, particularly on the east coast, asking where it went. The marketing team asked the winery to blend/bottle up a small amount to satisfy the die-hards, so we did. For whatever reason, it started taking off and it is now a mainline wine that we produce."

Assistant Winemaker Greg Freeman chimed in with, "Paul C. nailed it on the head with his info. He doesn’t mention the brilliant job he does with the subtleties of blending that take place in the crafting of this wine, the variations of micro-percentages of related varietals are often what make or break these wines." Greg mentioned that his sister was a huge fan of the Cabernet Franc, so next I heard from Georgeanne Freeman:

"The Hahn Cab Franc (CF) has the aroma and taste of cherries jubilee (with far less sugar than your mother would use), hints of almond and mocha. There's a bit of "dirt" but it's not heavy barnyard; more light & fluffy well composted mulch (think peat moss). It is NOT syrupy (thank you, Paul!)... I like the CF with marzipan (brings out the almond notes), chile rellenos, english trifle, buttery sea bass or steak au pauve."

The recommendation for chile rellenos stuck in my head, and I also happened to have a bag of sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes) in the fridge. I'd never eaten them before, and despite the resemblance to the iris bulbs my mother used to plant I was really curious. So I decided to make stuffed bell peppers with roasted sunchokes.

But before I go further into the food, what about the wine? I've long maintained that this wine is the perfect way to get to know Cabernet Franc, and after trying the grape on its own you can better appreciate it in Bordeaux or Meritage blends. It's very mild and smooth, with aromas of cherry, chocolate, and green tomato leaves. Flavors are somewhat vegetal with more cooked cherry notes and a touch of toast. Really well put together, and an absolute steal at $13.

I stuffed the peppers with lean ground beef, a little frozen mirepoix (perfect for these dishes), ricotta, mozzarella, various Italian herbs, and Muir Glen chopped tomatoes. The sunchokes were washed, scrubbed, steamed briefly, and then roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper along with the stuffed peppers. Many recipes recommend peeling sunchokes, but they have an uncooperative topology. Add to that my love of the deep flavor in peels and my hatred of peeling root vegetables, and you get the rustic side dish seen here. Sunchokes are like potatoes crossed with carrots; there's a peppery sweetness that's a lot of fun, and they're very filling for such small tubers.

The wine went along quite well, and my dining companions were pleased with the combination of flavors. Though I must admit the stuffed peppers needed a little tangy punch, ably provided by Heinz 57 sauce. (Sometimes you just have to kick it old school.)

Normally I serve a white wine first with a soup, salad, or seafood course, but this time I reversed matters. Red wine with the simple meal and white wine with dessert. My second new ingredient was quince, which I'd always heard of but never got around to eating. I'm now in love--it looks like a yellow apple, but has a much more interesting flavor. If you click on the picture of the quince you'll get a gigantic version, suitable for use as a desktop background. Out of the thousands of pictures I've taken, portraits of produce make me the most happy, and I love to share them.

I sliced up the quince and sautéed the pieces in butter with a dash of brandy. I toasted a few points of leftover white corn tortillas, sliced up a little chunk of goat cheese that was like Neufchâtel, and drizzled it all with honey. (In retrospect, I realize what I was really craving was a mess of New Mexican sopaipillas.) When I popped open the 2007 Hahn Chardonnay, I was pleasantly surprised with a caramel, buttered popcorn aroma. It's one of those wine scents I haven't encountered in a while, and it went well with the dessert. Nicely oaked with rich pear and caramel flavors.

This was not a fancy dinner party, and frankly the dishes are pretty rustic and basic when you get right down to it. But it was a pleasure to try two wines from the same winery with the simple meal, and the warm and informative responses from the winemaking team only enhanced the experience. Big thanks go out to the good folks at Hahn, and be sure to check out their Meritage as well.

25 February 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: The Doctor Manhattan

In honor of the upcoming Watchmen film, I looked around for a Doctor Manhattan Cocktail. Finding none, I decided to build one of my own. For those unfamiliar with the influential 80s graphic novel that deconstructed the superhero mythos, catch up with a brief bio. For the purposes of this post, all you have to know is that he's a light blue glowing entity with god-like powers.

I don't know how the movie is going to turn out, but everyone should read Alan Moore's original Watchmen graphic novel, rated by TIME as one of the top 100 novels of all time. (Just because it's a comic book doesn't mean it's not serious, get with the times people.)

Benito's Original Doctor Manhattan Cocktail

2 oz. Orange Vodka
1 oz. Blue Curaçao
½ oz. Simple Syrup (or more, to taste)
Juice of half a lemon or lime
Sparkling water to top it off

Mix the first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir until chilled and mixed, then strain into the glass of your choice (I used a sort of highball glass). Add sparkling water to taste.

It is obviously strong on the orange flavor, and will get you a full day's worth of Vitamin C in one glass. And yes, it's more colorful and fruit-flavored than a lot of the cocktails that I've posted here, but I've got to admit it's a lot of fun. Quick and bracing, to be served when a margarita would be appropriate. Bonus points if you put one cherry in the bottom of the glass and one on on the rim to simulate the hydrogen atom sigil on the Doctor's forehead.

23 February 2009

Grace's Birthday Dinner 2009

As Grace is always willing to be my test subject for new recipes, strange ingredients, and other gastronomic explorations, I was more than happy to cook dinner for her birthday party this weekend. Her only request was crab, and my mind was thinking Mexican.

We started out with a pretty basic set of crab legs and clarified butter, though dusting the legs with Old Bay before putting them in the oven provided a delicious twist.

Next up was what ended up being a huge hit amongst the gathered attendees: homemade guacamole. I honestly didn't do anything special, just combined avocado, onion, lime juice, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, and a dash of salt, served with good organic blue corn chips. Fresh ingredients make a big difference, and tossing it together mere moments before serving helps out. Plus it's better than some of the processed guacamoles out there, which are basically Crisco with 2% avocado and green dye.

I was really in the mood for fajitas, so I grilled up chicken, ostrich, and buffalo along with the usual onions and peppers. A few people present got to try ostrich for the first time. It's a fun meat to cook; I wish I could find more cuts around here.

What to pair with such a dish? Popular Tex-Mex is a notoriously difficult wine pairing, but my advice in such situations is always to roll the dice, run with something weird or obscure, and hope for the best. This wine beat the odds and worked out very well--the 2006 Wolfgang “Gru-Vee” Grüner Veltliner from Austria. $13, 12% abv. Apricot and floral aromas, medium acidity with a peach flavor, dry but still fruity. I bought the wine on a whim but ended up very happy with it. And providing a friendly design (musical notes and the fun abbreviation Gru-Vee) is genius for the oft-intimidating Germanic wine labels. I should note that the ladies present stuck to their beverage of choice, Coors Light, a more traditional and equally valid pairing for such a meal.

Dessert was provided by the guest of honor. She made her awesome crème brûlée, which I photographed for a previous post. All in all, yet another satisfying dinner party and another successful trip around the sun for our dear Grace.

20 February 2009

Benito vs. the Cigar: Partagas Natural #10

Winter can be a rough time for the cigar lover. For many it's too cold to stand outside for an hour, and the dry air makes it difficult to maintain the proper humidity unless you've got a really good humidor and humidity control system. I find it to be a perfect time for cigars packed in tubes.

While the glass or aluminum tube isn't a perfect seal, it does a pretty good job of protecting the cigar against lots of environmental factors. They're also popular for taking to the golf course, traveling, gifts, or any occasion when you don't want to lug around a travel humidor. This is a Partagas Natural #10, 7½"x49. Cameroon wrapper, Dominican and Mexican filler. Cherry and cedar flavors, wonderfully mild. A long thin cigar smokes faster than a thick cigar, but the length still allows for a moderation of flavor. Highly recommended, and it's light enough for the novice or occasional cigar smoker.

The graphic novel here is The Quitter by Harvey Pekar, with art by Dean Haspiel. Harvey Pekar is famous for his American Splendor series of comic books, drawn by dozens of different artists over the years. We're not talking about superheroes in spandex leaping over tall buildings: the autobiographical books are about an old guy in Cleveland complaining about his life or musing on the world around him. For instance, the award-winning Our Cancer Year was co-written with his wife and covered a painful struggle with his diagnosis and treatment.

The Quitter takes a lot of stories that had been told piecemeal over the years and documents Pekar's early life in an orderly fashion. His childhood with Jewish immigrant parents, his pugilistic teenage years, and his aimless and conflicted early adulthood. Sounds depressing, right? Well, it can be, but I'm a fan of Pekar for two reasons. 1) He's brutally honest and regardless of who is drawing him, it's evident that this is a living and breathing human being. 2) It's a sometimes loving, sometimes harsh, but always real view of my second city, Cleveland. I've walked through the neighborhoods and patronized the little local establishments that serve as the backdrop of the stories, and reading them can take me back instantly.

18 February 2009

A Couple of Marietta Reds

The last time I tried the Lot series of Marietta was back in 2005, and it was only my second wine review on this site. I found myself thinking recently, "I really need to give that another shot." The idea kept bugging me, and I picked up a bottle a few days ago. Upon bringing it home, I threw it in the cellar, only to discover that a month ago I'd had the same idea and bought a bottle of the exact same wine.

First up in this Marietta review is the NV Marietta Old Vine Red Lot #47. $13, 13.5% abv, comprised of a proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

I poured the bottle into a decanter (though I've used an iced tea pitcher in the past), and let it breathe for about two hours before tasting. Aromas of blackberries, plums, chocolate, with a lovely plum and pastry flavor. There's a lot of this dark berry, full-fruit business going on with red wines these days, but occasionally you get one that reminds you of a slice of toast and jam from your childhood, or of a plum tart eaten during the holidays.

I had it with a beef filet marinated in a chipotle sauce. Good and spicy while not overpowering the wine or the steamed vegetables.

Later I tried the 2004 Alexander Valley Petite Sirah, $17, 76% Petite Sirah, 22% Syrah, 2% Viognier. I was hanging out with my friend Paul, and I'll once again apologize for not only spilling a glass on his carpet but also breaking the glass in the process. OxyClean and a steam cleaner got it out--no product placement here, it was seriously like magic. Despite the staining qualities, this PS was quite nice. Light cinnamon nose, with strong tannins and a full bodied flavor. Full prune, blueberry, and leather, as well as that dark quality one comes to love in Petite Sirah... and hate on carpets.

16 February 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: Orgeat Syrup

Sometimes things go awry in the kitchen. Enjoy this cocktail-related disaster.

With a complete lack of scientific or sociological research, I think that there are a few stages in the growth of a cocktail enthusiast:

1. Enjoy a classic cocktail that someone else prepared. Bask in the glow of educated mixology.

2. Begin the research phase.

2a. Have your friends the Squirrels give you what is essentially a textbook on the history of cocktails, saving you months of digging through hundred-year-old archives.

3. Purchase an obscure bottled ingredient that isn't very popular even in its country of origin. Alternatively, collect multiple orange-based liqueurs.

4. Begin amassing bitters. Worse, begin developing firm opinions on various bitters.

5. Make your own obscure, outdated ingredient.

And that's where I am. Oh, there are further levels, including purchasing your own gin distillery and developing a trendy new extract of honeysuckle blossoms, but I crossed level 5 when I made my own orgeat syrup.

Pronounced or-zhat, it's an emulsion of water and almond oil that is mixed with sugar, vodka, and orange flower water. The result is a cloudy syrup that adds flavor and structure to certain old school cocktails. Plus you get to be the coolest kid on the block by bragging that you've got orgeat on hand.

The website I linked provides the detailed instructions, but my best advice would be to purchase almonds that are already blanched (i.e. briefly boiled and skinned). Skinning half a kilo of almonds ranks as my new least favorite cooking activity, easily knocking off the following: de-veining shrimp, making pierogies, and anything related to pastry. Some of the almonds slip right out of the skin, but others fight it. The skins get everywhere and stick to everything. Your opinion of the nut quickly goes from "Hey, I don't have to eat peanuts in First Class!" to "This looks like the last time the cicadas hatched."

But after the boiling and steeping and straining, and the sugar and the vodka, I was ready for the last ingredient: orange flower water. I had a hard time finding this, and now I know why. It reminded me of three things: old lady perfume circa 1983; a product called FlyNap used to anesthetize fruit flies for genetics experiments; and worst of all, diaper rash ointment. Obviously I've led a charmed life if this one aroma evokes three distinct and disparate memories.

It tastes kind of like sweet soy milk, or just a bunch of almonds, but it's hard to get past that orange flower water smell. I considered trying it in a cocktail, but since I couldn't stand the thought of orgeat syrup or what it took to make it, I couldn't bear to potentially ruin a cocktail. So down the drain it went.

I'm not knocking the website where I got the recipe, and I'm sure some folks love the stuff. Frankly I think you'd be better off with a splash of Amaretto or other almond-flavored liqueur.

13 February 2009

2006 Beringer Sauvignon Blanc

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a Victorian artist* and poet who was fascinated by his pet wombats. While history is yet to determine my fame in comparison to Rossetti, I have no qualms with voicing my own odd obsessions, such as golden beets.

On a recent Sunday dinner I decided it was time to pair the golden beet with pasta. But in what form? I roasted the half dozen small beets, peeled them, and diced them. I cooked down a 28 oz. can of Muir Glen tomatoes, added the beets, and shortly before serving, I tossed in a pound of dandelion greens to wilt. Al dente orecchiette were added, a half cup of the pasta water, and it was time for serving. A little Parmigiano Reggiano and a dash of sea salt for flavor. I had a couple of turkey thighs braising, providing a small and savory meat aside the larger vegetarian dish.

It's an odd sort of pasta dish, but one that won me a lot of licked-clean plates around the table. The dandelion greens were a little difficult to pick out of the dish, but I'd tried some raw and cooked, and can now cross them off my list of Vegetables To Try. It felt weird paying for something that grows wild in my backyard, but then again I've got two dogs with enthusiastic bladders and various strays roam through the yard, so I'll shell out the $2 for clean organic dandelion greens.

For the wine it was time for the screwcap white hanging out in the fridge door: the 2006 Beringer Sauvignon Blanc. $15, 13.9% abv. Lemony yet smooth, light and refreshing with a few grassy elements. This is a pretty decent baseline Sauvignon Blanc if you want an introduction. It's no Sancerre or Bordeaux Blanc, and frankly when I want this grape I crave the citrus explosions from New Zealand. But California Sauvignon Blanc has its place, and this wine performed well with this simple winter dinner.

*I saw his Beata Beatrix at the Art Institute of Chicago back in '95. Still one of the most beautiful paintings I've ever seen with my own eyes.

11 February 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: Fee Brothers Bitters

I've mentioned various bitters in my cocktail posts, but I'm finally getting around to writing about my treasured bitters from the good people at Fee Brothers of Rochester, NY, who use old family recipes going back to 1864.

Previously I've written about Angostura and Peychaud's, two of the more well-known bitters out there. Angostura can be found at grocery stores and liquor stores around the country, and I love it enough to use it in marinades. Peychaud's is perfect for New Orleans cocktails but tastes like cherry cough syrup elsewhere. My advice: use Angostura freely and wherever possible (I even cook with it sometimes), but save the Fee Brothers for when you're trying to achieve a specific flavor profile or enhance an existing component of the drink.

What are bitters? Well, they don't make your drink bitter. Think of it like salt or hot sauce in your food; it's tiny bit of a powerful ingredient that can make the whole meal sing in your mouth. Same thing with cocktails: a touch of bitters can brighten up an otherwise dull concoction. And I must stress, we're only talking about drops here, not a pint of fluorescent green margarita mix.

Often bitters are complicated mixes of lots of herbs, spices, fruits, and/or vegetables along with a strong dose of alcohol and a little glycerine. Think old patent medicines and you're on the right track. Indeed, Angostura continues to list various medical benefits on its oddly-sized label. Bitters have been a lesser-known curiosity for the past several decades, but the whole mixology craze is bringing them back. What a great time to be into cocktails!

The eight bitters in this set are Old Fashion, Lemon, Grapefruit, Rhubarb, Peach, Cherry, West Indian Orange, and Mint. Much pleasure can be had simply from sniffing these from time to time. The Old Fashion is closest to the standard Angostura and has a root beer flavor that lends well to drinks like the Manhattan. Lemon, Grapefruit, and Orange get used for any sort of citrus cocktail, and the others have their proper times and places. Rhubarb, my Ace of Spades, is reserved for those occasions when I need to assert hipster cocktail domination over all others.

The cherry bitters are nearly clear, not red, and have an aroma that will forever pull you away from Maraschino cherries and back to the hand-picked Bings or Raniers of an Oregon summer. And the peach bitters will make you wonder why the Beach Boys neglected to specify the fair maidens of Georgia in "California Girls". I haven't really used mint yet, but I'm thinking Mint Juleps and some novel concoctions around Christmas.

As always, you can purchase the set of 8 Fee Brothers Bitters from my Amazon Store. You're not going to find these in retail shops, and frankly the eight bottles will last for a lifetime of the casual cocktail enthusiast. Also, since bitters are treated more as a flavoring or extract (like vanilla), there are no prohibitions on shipping throughout the US.

Beer at 3-5% alcohol gets certain restrictions... wine at 10-15% gets even more... liquor at 40% gets into really complicated federal regulations. But bitters, at 45% alcohol, have zero restrictions and you don't even have to be 21 to order them. In the words of Russian philosopher Yakov Smirnoff, "What a country!"

09 February 2009

2005 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon

Over at Wolfchase Wine & Spirits beside Costco I came across the 2005 Educated Guess Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. $20, 14.1% abv. 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 2% Petite Verdot, 1% Malbec.

There's only one way to sum up the first impression of this wine: cherry and cream cheese Danish. There's a jammy cherry element, then a buttery/toasty pastry aroma, followed by a creamy undertone that makes you crave a cup of coffee. Once it hits all parts of the tongue and goes down the gullet, you've got some tart acidity, firm tannins, and a little bitter finish. After breathing, there are notes of fresh cut grass and green pepper. Nicely complex, and I'd be curious to see how this develops with even more time in the cellar.

I keep saying "don't buy wines based on the label", yet I keep doing it. What can I say... a blackboard full of chemistry diagrams (specifically regarding oxidation and reduction)? The memory scent of chalk dust tickling my brain? I'm a sucker for certain fonts, artists, and references. It's kind of like the old advice that fancy fishing lures aren't made to catch fish, they're made to catch fishermen.

Keep this in mind as a gift for that quiet 20-something in your family that spends far too much time reading science fiction novels and playing video games, but give it with the condition that he has to drink it with a girl... that's not his mom or sister.

I'm not trying to be cruel here, I'm saying this as someone that once spent more time around elderly librarians than available women my own age. Some of the best advice I ever got was from a beloved great uncle who, upon giving me a graduation gift, said, "I want you to spend this on wine, women, and song. If you try to spend this on books or anything practical I'll kick your ass." Based on his background in military intelligence I really didn't have a choice.

06 February 2009

2004 Bell Sonnette

I had a crazy idea the other day of a vaguely Japanese steak dinner, something to break up the meat-and-potatoes routine. Or the organ meat and odd critters routine. I started things off with some miso soup. I cheated here, using a concentrated miso import, but my fellow diners and I were very happy with the results. To the savory broth I added chopped green onions, cubed firm tofu, and plenty of enoki mushrooms. Enokitake have a great buttery flavor, as well as a texture that's like a bean sprout when raw and like a noodle in soup. Don't overcook these, but they add a lot of flavor to dishes. (Plus I love the fact that they look like some crazy wild thing you'd find growing on a dead log in the forest. Forbidden fungus... Mmmmmmm...)

I promise that I'll get my konbu and katsuobushi together to make a real bowl of miso shiru. Watch this blog for a future update!

For the main course I had organic grass-fed ribeyes marinating in soy sauce, slow roasted to rare in the oven and then seared off in a hot skillet. I also made another batch of the Napa cabbage and watermelon radish slaw from a few posts ago. Might as well enjoy it while those beautiful radishes are still around.

The wine was the true star of the evening. The 2004 Bell Sonnette is from Napa and was a real treat. $50, 14.6% abv. 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc, and 11% Petite Verdot. This was a gift from my friend Paul, and I'm going to be hard pressed to top this one in 2009. I've always been a fan of Bell, and this little treasure is worth getting if you can find it--this was bottle 212 of 2398. (He got it from Wolfchase Wine & Spirits, I don't know if anyone else has it.) It's curious to think that, assuming two people per bottle, only 5000 people will get to try this wonderful wine. Makes me wonder what small run wines will never even cross my path.

There's a nose of chicory coffee, plum, and nutmeg. Medium tannins with dark berry flavors and a long, long finish. It's distinctly California without being a fruit bomb. Excellent balance, and I commend the nearly quarter volume given to Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot, two wonderful grapes that so often are only present as a splash.

I don't do a lot of Asian cooking (and this meal barely qualifies), but I think I've been neglecting it in my culinary self-education. Plus it gives me the excuse to try a whole lot of new weird and wonderful ingredients.

04 February 2009

Benito vs. the Cocktail: Meyer Lemon

I am deeply in love with the Meyer lemon, that wondrous cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. After years of merely reading about them, the little beauties started showing up here in Memphis, but only in the late winter/early spring. In that regard they're like Girl Scout cookies: scarcity makes you crave them, and binge on them when available. As a Southerner who was raised on sweet tea with lemon, I can say that a wedge of Meyer lemon in said beverage is ten times better.

I've cooked with them, made them into lemonade, eaten them raw, and recently have experimented with them as a superior cocktail ingredient. For the first try I went with an established recipe built on a classic cocktail: the Meyer Lemon Sidecar. 2 parts Brandy, 1 part Cointreau, 1 part Meyer lemon juice. This has a surprisingly spicy quality, and is rich and satisfying. I'd suggest using 2 oz/1 oz/1 oz and splitting it between two people--a little goes a long way.

I decided to make up one of my own... And with the theme of saving money by using seasonal ingredients and the connection to a previous economic downturn, I decided to enter it in MxMo XXXVI: Hard Drinks for Hard Times, hosted by Rowley's Whiskey Forge. (This is sort of like Wine Blogging Wednesday for the cocktail world.)

I don't mean to glorify criminal activity*, but based on the name of the lemon I had to name this after famed Jewish gangster Meyer Lansky. He was born in Russia, so it had to have vodka, and he ran gambling operations in Florida and Cuba, so it had to have rum, he rose to power in the Depression, so it's timely...

Benito's Original
Meyer Lansky Cocktail

Juice of 1 Meyer lemon
¾ oz Vodka
¾ oz Rum
½ oz Cointreau
A slow pour of a little pomegranate juice

Once I mixed up the above (just stirred in a glass with ice, the pomegranate juice added last over a spoon so that it would sink to the bottom), I discovered a very pleasant pink grapefruit aroma and taste, so I boosted this with a few drops of grapefruit bitters. Serve in a tall thin glass or a Champagne flute. Beautiful and refreshing, ought to work for a brunch cocktail as well.

The ideal garnish would be a poker chip with a slot sawed into it so you can stick it on the rim of the glass.

*He mainly seemed to be guilty of providing gambling services in states that didn't allow it, doing accounting work for other criminals, and some possible tax problems. He was only convicted in the 50s of a minor gambling charge. Most of us have friends or family members that are guilty of far worse. This wasn't a guy that was going around killing cops or breaking kneecaps.

02 February 2009

Two Petite Sirahs

Despite the fact that these two PS wines come from opposite ends of the earth, they use the same spelling. The whole (Petit ∨ Petite) ∧ (Sirah ∨ Syrah) ⇒ "a strong dark red wine" confusion hurts the grape overall and creates problems in inventories and web searches. Sales of PS wines could be huge but are potentially tracked as four separate varieties*.

There's no authoritative answer to this dilemma, so I always just go by what's printed on the bottle. But the abbreviation PS is growing on me, thanks in no small part to the advocacy group P.S. I Love You.

First up is the 2005 Big House Prodigal Son Petite Sirah. $13, 13.9% abv. Pure Petite Sirah from Paso Robles in California. Decanting is definitely recommended--it's got a powerful strawberry jam aroma that needs to blow off before you can properly enjoy it. Aromas of berries and tomato leaves, flavors of rare beef and black cherries. Strong, strong tannins. For some strange reason, this bottle is about an inch taller than other Bordeaux-style bottles.

This winery used to be owned by Bonny Doon, but was sold off a few years ago. The wines are still quirky and fun, though despite the rumors these are not actually produced by prisoners (I've covered real prison wine in a prior post).

Our second wine is directly opposite in body to the first one. The 2007 De Bortoli Petite Sirah is, as far as I know, the first time I've had this grape from Australia, and I hope it's not the last. $10, 13.5% abv. Earthy nose on top, with plum aromas. Surprisingly mellow with mild tannins and a pleasant cherry flavor. A delicate wine that tastes a few years older than its birthdate. Excellent bargain for the quality, and next time I'll try it with something more sophisticated than pizza.

*By Google popularity:
"petite sirah" - 402,000 results
"petite syrah" - 121,000 results
"petit sirah" - 36,500 results
"petit syrah" - 28,300 results