This evening over dinner at Lalime's, we had the better part of a bottle of a Petite Sirah by Girard, which I'd never tasted before. Rated a 93 by the Wine Enthusiast, it warranted a serious try.
I'm not sure when I discovered Petite Sirahs. 35 years ago, when I first began to taste wines, I was strictly a Bordeaux and Pinot man, and occasionally a Burgundy man (when I could afford it). Over the years, I've strayed far afield, but somehow neglected this fine grape. Some years back, we began to delve into Zinfandels, a wine which California vintners have been doing very well with. These potent wines can be overwhelming. Especially for novices, they can create the impression that wine tasting and appreciation is just a matter intensity and emphasis, whereas someone schooled in European wines generally finds Zins and Sirahs and brash young Cabernets to be harsh and much too forward.
The Girard 2007 has all of the intensity of the best French reds, but it lacks subtlety (in exchange for power). This Girard is sufficient as a meal in itself, or--to put it more succinctly--it is the centerpiece of any repast: The food is more like an accompaniment to the wine, than vice versa. If wine this strong is not your thing, avoid strong Petite Sirahs!
This Girard has almost a burning cherry quality, blueberry skin, chocolate, tobacco, charcoal and graphite accents, with a smooth finish that hangs in the air like frozen smoke. Once it gets a lock on your taste buds, you're sort of ruined for other flavors. I had an Idaho pork prime rib, honey mustard glaze, mustard-fruit chutney, rosemary Tom Thumb carrots, pickled beets, while M had Sonoma quail truffle with Meyer lemon emulsion, grilled radicchio, purple Peruvian potato salad. These straightforward dishes were dominated by the Sirah, as one would expect, and we did much better with the cheese and condiments plate earlier on.
One complaint against the highest rated reds is that they're often too complex and overpowering to be "food" wines, that they're really best in a wine tasting, or just with crackers. Their resulting ratings are in consequence sometimes not to be trusted with respect to their use as accompaniments, or for special occasions. The wine tasting culture has developed almost as a separate tasting segment of the food world. Wine enthusiasts and wine maniacs may consume it as if it were a drug, to be sampled and steeped in, without the distractions of food or ceremony.